Research Findings

Vetting deception detection

Developing evidence-based practices



We should be wary of unsubstantiated alternative approaches when we’re trying to improve our deception detection anti-fraud practices. Make sure that any theory you hear is backed by evidence and peer-reviewed research.

We've all seen offers for courses that promise to teach us how to detect deception in subjects of an investigation. Some are legitimate and based upon peer-reviewed empirical science. However, many are based upon ideas or notions without any solid scientific support, which can result in serious consequences. We have to learn to distinguish unsubstantiated claims from those that are evidence-based. However, this isn’t always an easy task. The aim of this column is to assist anti-fraud professionals in making such a distinction.

Science and pseudoscience of deception detection

Although the practice of detecting deceit dates back to biblical stories, empirical research regarding the detection of deception — as it is known today — started in the 1960s. In one of the first theories linking demeanor and deception, the “leakage theory” advocated that nonverbal cues, or “tells” could (unknowingly) expose emotions experienced internally by liars. (See Nonverbal leakage and clues to deception, by P. Ekman and W. V. Friesen, Psychiatry, 1969.)



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