Research on Statement Analysis
According to the Association for Psychological Science, "Research reveals that verbal methods of deception detection are better than nonverbal methods, despite the common belief that nonverbal methods are more effective."
Pitfalls and Opportunities in Nonverbal and Verbal Lie Detection
Published February 11, 2011
The Number 3
Over the years, I have found that when deceptive people have to come up with a number they will often use the number three. Other interviewers have also noticed this pattern. Therefore, the number three has become known as the "liar's number." The one exception is when alcohol is involved. We all know what that deceptive number is; 'Officer, I only had two drinks!"
I have not done any studies to see if deceptive people do rely on the number three. Currently this belief is based on observations as the number three will often appear in deceptive statements. In 2009, I did a study on deceptive language. Two of the studies did produce some interesting results on the use of the number three.
I asked 100 people to write a statement about what they did on a particular day from the time they woke up until the time they went to sleep. From the time they got up until 1:00 p.m., the person was to write a truthful statement about what he or she did during that time period. For the time period of 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., the person was told to make up a story about what he or she did during those five hours. From 6:00 p.m. to the time the person went to sleep, the participant was asked to write a truthful statement about what he or she did during the evening hours. The goal of this study was to compare truthful language with deceptive language in an effort to see how the language changed and how it remained consistent. The study showed that the participants changed their language when being deceptive. Because everyone has their own vocabulary, the changes varied with each participant. Therefore, the study did not identify any specific pattern in regards to changes in language.
Although it was not one of the study's objectives, the study showed that the number three often appeared in the deceptive portion of the statements. The participants had to write an untruthful statement for the time period of 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Because of these time parameters, most of the participants started their deceptive story by mentioning the 1:00 time period as in, "At 1:00, I..." As they continued to write their deceptive story, the participants would also mention several other time references as they wrote about what they allegedly did. Most of them would end the deceptive portion of their story by mentioning the 6:00 time reference as in, "At 6:00, I..." As instructed, they finished their story with a truthful statement.
The study showed that when the participants wrote their deceptive statements, 48% of the time the first time reference mentioned was 3:00 or 3:30. This does not include the 1:00 p.m. time reference which was the starting point for their deceptive statement. The breakdown of what time reference was mentioned first when writing a deceptive story is as follows.
1:30 = 6%
2:00 or 2:30 = 23%
3:00 or 3:30 = 48%
4:00 or 4:30 = 14%
5:00 or 5:30 = 8%
Remember this was not a study on the number three and the study has several flaws in regards to the number three. There were only five numbers (1-5) the participants could choose. The majority of the time (52%) the participants did not first select the time of 3:00 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. However, it is interesting that 48% of the time when writing a deceptive story and given the choice of mentioning five numbers, the first time reference mention was 3:00 or 3:30.
In another study, 100 participants were told to write a fictional story about arriving home and finding that their house had been broken into. The goal of the study was to see what type of language would be used when writing a deceptive story from start to finish. The participants were told they could write anything they wanted to in making up the story but they had to include the following information in their statement:
1. The time they arrived at their residence.
2. Their front door was open.
3. The television in the living room was on.
4. Their gun collection was missing.
5. The number of guns that were stolen.
6. The value of the stolen guns.
In this study, the participants were not limited to any set of numbers when referring to how many guns were stolen. Since everyone has their own definition of the word collection, I expected to see a wide range of numbers which is what happened. The numbers used to describe how many guns were stolen ranged from 2 to 50. Here is a breakdown of the numbers used and how many people used that number in their story.
Number of guns taken
How many people used this number|
None of the participants stated that only one gun was taken from their residence. This is because every participant viewed the word "collection" as referring to more than one gun.
The number that was used the most often to state how many guns were stolen was the number three. 15% of the participants stated that three guns were taken from their residence. The next number that was frequently used was the number five; 11% of the participants used this number.
When we look at the double digit numbers, we see that the number most often used was the number thirty. Five people used this number.
When we consider all of the numbers we see that the number three appeared 21 times with the numbers 3, 30 and 35. The next closest number was two. It appeared 15 times with the numbers 2, 20, 21, 23, 24 and 25.
Again, the goal of this study was not to see if deceptive people use the number three. However, it is interesting that the number three was used more often than any other number.
What I have said all these years is that when the number three appears in a statement take a closer look at it. Ask a few more questions about this area of the statement. The use of the number three is not an absolute but an indication of deception. If the only suggestion of deception in a statement was the number three, I would most likely conclude that it was a truthful statement.
When a person is describing an incident his story will be comprised of three segments. In the first segment, the subject will tell us what he was doing before the incident occurred. In the second segment, he will describe the incident. In the third segment, the subject will end his story by telling us what he did after the incident was over. We can determine if a story is truthful by examining how much time is devoted towards each of these three segments.
Truthful stories will generally follow a pattern of 25 - 50 - 25. The before incident segment will consist of approximately 25% of the entire statement. Approximately 50% of the story will be about the incident and 25% of the story will be devoted towards the after incident segment.
Deceptive stories generally have a ratio of 35 - 50 - 15. They will have a good beginning. The majority of the statement will be devoted towards describing the incident. However, the after incident segment will be very short. A deceptive person usually forgets to include a significant ending to his fabricated story. Once he has told his lie about the incident, he thinks that is all he needs to say. In real life, there is always something else going on after the incident is over.
In 2009, I asked 100 people to write a fictional story about being confronted and robbed. 92% of the participants used the 35 - 50 - 15 percentages in writing their deceptive story. They described what they were doing before being robbed. They then described the robbery. After the robbers left the scene and the incident was over, they ended their story very quickly. The far majority of them ended their story by saying they called the police to report the crime. What they did not mention was talking to the police, filing a report, calling a friend, any emotions they were experiencing, etc. Since none of this happened, a deceptive person fails to include this type of information. He focuses more on the incident in trying to make his story sound believable.
One might say the reason 92% of the participants had a very short after incident segment is because they were instructed to write about the incident (the robbery). The problem with that theory is that without instruction all 100 of the participants also wrote about the before incident segment. They were not solely focused on the robbery but wrote about what they were doing before the robbery occurred. However, once they told their lie about the incident they ended their story very quickly.
Standing - Sitting - Laying
The words "standing," "sitting" and "laying" when used as a verb mean someone is performing the action such as "He is sitting in the chair." When these words are used as a verb to refer to an inanimate object, deception may be present in the statement; "The door was standing open." Doors are not capable of standing. Someone had to perform the action of opening the door. We do have to take into consideration that for some people phrases such as "the door was standing open" may be part of their vernacular.
In an effort to study the words "sitting" and "laying," I conducted a study in 2009 in which 100 participants were given a scenario of going to a friend's house to hang out. The participants were told that they brought a bag of marijuana to the friend's house. After entering the house, they placed the bag of marijuana on the dinning room table. Soon thereafter, the police entered the house and arrested the participant and his friend for possession of marijuana. The friend is innocent but the participant is guilty of possessing marijuana since he or she brought it to the house.
The participants were then asked to write a statement for the police. The participants were told to lie and write that they did not bring the marijuana but that the marijuana was already at the house when they arrived. The participants were told to describe where the marijuana was when they entered the house.
In describing the marijuana being on the dining room table, 28% of the participants stated that the marijuana was "sitting on the table." In addition, 13% stated the marijuana was "laying on the table." In total, 41% of the deceptive writers used what is considered to be deceptive language. The shortest sentence is the best sentence; "The marijuana was on the table." It is theorized that a deceptive person will often use the words "sitting" and "laying" in regards to an inanimate object because he is the one that performed the action. To validate this, I plan to conduct another study to see if truthful people will use these words when talking about an inanimate object. Remember these unique words are only an indication of deception.
Study Conducted by Lt. Tracy Harpster
In 2006, Lt. Tracy Harpster with the Moraine Ohio Police Division conducted a study of 911 homicide calls. The purpose of the study was to examine the linguistic attributes of the 911 calls to see if there were any indicators of guilt or innocence. Lt. Harpster examined 100 homicide calls made by fifty innocent individuals and fifty guilty individuals. An innocent individual was defined as someone who had no involvement with the homicide. A guilty individual was defined as someone who committed the homicide or had direct involvement in the crime. The study revealed several interesting factors that relate to Statement Analysis.
The "Huh Factor"
One area the study focused on was the "Huh Factor." This was defined as the caller responding to a dispatcher's question with the comment "Huh?" "What?" or "Do what?" This would be an indication the caller is not tracking his responses. He is acting as if he has been caught off guard.
"911, what is your emergency?"|
"I just came home and my wife has fallen down the stairs, she's hurt bad and she's not breathing!"
"How many stairs did she fall down?"
Although the caller may not know the exact number of stairs his wife had fallen down, he should be able to give the dispatcher an estimate. His response indicates the caller was confused and was not paying attention to the dispatcher's question. The investigation revealed the caller had killed his wife and made up the story about her falling down the stairs. When asked a specific question about his fabricated story, the caller was not able to immediately answer the question so he relied on the "huh factor."
It was hypothesized that callers using this tactic would be guilty of being involved in the homicide. This variable appeared in 12% of the 911 calls. Of that percentage, 91 % of the callers were guilty and 9 % were innocent.
In Statement Analysis, we find that when a subject answers a question with any type of question, it means he was asked a sensitive question. The subject does this to stall for time so he can think about his answer. The interviewer should recognize this tactic and try to determine why the question is so sensitive. In the 911 study, this was a strong indication of guilt. In Statement Analysis, this sensitivity is an indication of guilt or that the subject is withholding some information.
"Did you launder any money?"|
"Did I launder any money? No."
The subject answers the question with "No." However, he first answered the question with a question. He does this by repeating the question asked of him. This is a typical way of stalling for time. In this case, it turned out the subject did not launder any money but he knew money was being laundered. Because he was thinking whether or not he should reveal this information, this caused him to answer the question with a question and not give an immediate "No."
Resistance In Answering
Another variable the 911 study looked at was the "Resistance to Answer Indicator." This was defined as the 911 caller's refusal to answer the dispatcher's relevant question. In one example, the caller reported that his girlfriend needed medical attention.
"Did something happen to her; was this more than just an argument?"|
"That's all I'm trying to report."
The caller does not answer the dispatcher's question regarding how the injuries occurred. When the officers arrived the girlfriend was dead. The boyfriend was eventually convicted of causing her death.
It was theorized that a caller who resisted in answering the dispatcher's relevant questions would be guilty of the committing the crime. The study showed that this variable appeared in 26 percent of the 911 calls. Of that number, 100% of the callers were guilty.
In Statement Analysis, if a person does not answer the specific question the person is withholding information. While this may seem to be an obvious conclusion the problem is the use of this tactic often goes unnoticed. The subject will give an answer to the question asked of him but he will not answer the specific question.
"Did you take the money?"|
"I would never do that."
The question, "Did you take the money?" requires a "yes" or "no" answer. While the subject did give an answer he did not state "yes" or "no." Therefore, he has not answered the specific question. His resistance in answering the specific question means he is withholding information. In this case, the information is that he did take the money. His answer, "I would never do that" is not a denial.
In the 911 study, not answering a question was a 100% indicator of guilt. In Statement Analysis, this is a 100% indicator the person is withholding information. This information may be that he is guilty or that he has information which would help in the investigation.