Telling and detecting lies in a high-stake situation: the case of a convicted murderer

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All deception studies published to date have been laboratory studies. In such studies people lied only for the sake of the experiment, consequently the stakes were usually low. Although research has shown that most spontaneous lies told in real life are trivial, such studies tell us little about lies where the stakes are high (such as police/suspect interviews). In Study 1, we discuss the behaviour of an actual suspect while he was interviewed by the police in a murder case. Although the man initially denied knowing and killing the victim, substantial evidence obtained by the police showed that he was lying. On the basis of this evidence, the man confessed to killing the victim and was later convicted for murder. To our knowledge there has been no other study published that has analysed the behaviour of a liar in such a high-stake realistic setting. The analysis revealed several cues to deception. In Study 2, we exposed 65 police officers to six fragments (three truthful and three deceptive) of the interview with the murderer and asked them to indicate after each fragment whether the man was lying or not. The findings revealed that the participants were better at detecting truths (70% accuracy) than lies (57% accuracy). We also found individual differences among observers, with those holding popular stereotypical views on deceptive behaviour, such as ‘liars look away’ and ‘liars fidget’ performing least effectively as lie catchers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-203
Number of pages17
JournalApplied Cognitive Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2001


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