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Outsmarting the Liars: The Benefit of Asking Unanticipated Questions

Abstract

We hypothesised that the responses of pairs of liars would correspond less with each other than would responses of pairs of truth tellers, but only when the responses are given to unanticipated questions. Liars and truth tellers were interviewed individually about having had lunch together in a restaurant. The interviewer asked typical opening questions which we expected the liars to anticipate, followed by questions about spatial and/or temporal information which we expected suspects not to anticipate, and also a request to draw the layout of the restaurant. The results supported the hypothesis, and based on correspondence in responses to the unanticipated questions, up to 80% of liars and truth tellers could be correctly classified, particularly when assessing drawings.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    To ensure that all participants (liars and truth tellers) were paid the same amount (£10), the experimenter told each participant that the interviewer had been convinced by their story.

  2. 2.

    Since we had never coded drawings before we thought it was preferential to obtain reliability codings for all drawings rather than just a selection. Please note that we did not measure the level of correspondence between the drawing and the restaurant that has been drawn. This would not have been possible for liars because we do not know whether they drew an existing restaurant and, if they did so, which restaurant this was.

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Correspondence to Aldert Vrij.

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Vrij, A., Leal, S., Granhag, P.A. et al. Outsmarting the Liars: The Benefit of Asking Unanticipated Questions. Law Hum Behav 33, 159–166 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10979-008-9143-y

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Keywords

  • Deception
  • Unanticipated questions
  • Consistency