When someone is acting suspiciously at an airport, subway station or other public space, how can law enforcement officers determine whether he's up to no good?
The ability to effectively detect deception is crucial to public safety, particularly in the wake of renewed threats against the U.S. following the killing of Osama bin Laden.
UCLA professor of psychology R. Edward Geiselman has been studying these questions for years and has taught investigative interviewing techniques to detectives and intelligence officers from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Marines, the Los Angeles police and sheriff's departments, and numerous international agencies.
He and three former UCLA undergraduates -- Sandra Elmgren, Chris Green and Ida Rystad -- analyzed some 60 studies on detecting deception and have conducted original research on the subject. They present their findings and their guidance for how to conduct effective training programs for detecting deception in the current (April) issue of the American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, which is published this week.
Geiselman and his colleagues have identified several indicators that a person is being deceptive. The more reliable red flags that indicate deceit, Geiselman said, include:
If dishonest people try to mask these normal reactions to lying, they would be even more obvious, Geiselman said. Among the techniques he teaches to enable detectives to tell the truth from lies are:
If someone in an airport or other public space is behaving suspiciously and when approached exhibits a majority of the more reliable red flags, Geiselman recommends pulling him or her aside for more questioning. If there are only one or two red flags, he would probably let them go.
Geiselman tested techniques for telling the truth from deception with hundreds of UCLA students, and the studies he and his co-authors analyzed involved thousands of people.
Detecting deception is difficult, Geiselman said, but training programs can be effective. Programs must be extensive, with an education phase followed by numerous video examples, and a phase in which those being trained judge video clips and simulate real-world interviewing. Training should be conducted on multiple days over a period of a week or two.
"People can learn to perform better at detecting deception," Geiselman said. "However, police departments usually do not provide more than a day of training for their detectives, if that, and the available research shows that you can't improve much in just a day."
When Geiselman conducted training with Marine intelligence officers, he found that they were impressively accurate in detecting deception even before the training began. In contrast, the average college student is only 53 percent accurate without training, and with abbreviated training, "we often make them worse," he said.
"Without training, many people think they can detect deception, but their perceptions are unrelated to their actual ability. Quick, inadequate training sessions lead people to over-analyze and to do worse than if they go with their gut reactions."
Geiselman is currently developing a training program that he hopes will effectively compress the learning curve and thus will serve to replicate years of experience.
The cognitive interview that Geiselman and Fisher developed works well with both criminal suspects and eyewitnesses of crimes. Geiselman thinks these techniques are likely to work in non-crime settings as well, but said additional research should be done in this area.
In the next year, Geiselman plans to teach police detectives techniques for investigative interviewing and spotting deception through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Rural Policing Institute for underserved police departments. He says this will be a perfect fit for him because he comes from Culver, Ind., a small town that has fewer residents than UCLA has psychology majors.
Later this month, Geiselman will travel to Hong Kong to provide training in investigative interviewing to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
An instructional course Geiselman taught on investigative interviewing before the second Iraq war resulted in cognitive interviewing techniques that were used to interdict some insurgent activity in Iraq, perhaps saving many lives, he was later informed.
Geiselman also has worked with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department on effective techniques for interviewing children who may have been molested and has interviewed crime victims for police departments around the country in murder cases gone cold. His research has been funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
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