The Science section of today's Times is devoted to recent forensics research. Benedict Carey wrote an interesting piece about a new approach to assessing honesty. The method isn't portrayed as foolproof or applicable in all situations, but it should be of interest to anyone who conducts interviews with subjects who are highly motivated to lie. I've conducted at least 500 such interviews and this isn't far off from the approach I've developed in my own work.
Kevin Colwell, a psychologist at Southern Connecticut State University, has advised police departments, Pentagon officials and child protection workers, who need to check the veracity of conflicting accounts from parents and children. He says that people concocting a story prepare a script that is tight and lacking in detail.
“It’s like when your mom busted you as a kid, and you made really obvious mistakes,” Dr. Colwell said. “Well, now you’re working to avoid those.”
By contrast, people telling the truth have no script, and tend to recall more extraneous details and may even make mistakes. They are sloppier.
Psychologists have long studied methods for amplifying this contrast. Drawing on work by Dr. Vrij and Dr. Marcia K. Johnson of, Yale, among others, Dr. Colwell and Dr. Cheryl Hiscock-Anisman of National University in La Jolla, Calif., have developed an interview technique that appears to help distinguish a tall tale from a true one. Continue reading