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Explanation of Theory:

Communication senders attempt to manipulate messages so as to be untruthful,

which may cause them apprehension concerning their false communication being
detected. Simultaneously, communication receivers try to unveil or detect the
validity of that information, causing suspicion about whether or not the sender is
being deceitful.

Theorists: Buller and Burgoon

Date: 1996

Primary Article:

Buller, D.B., and Burgoon, J.K. (1996). Interpersonal deception theory.

Communication Theory, 6, 203-242.

Individual Interpretations:

There are three aspects of deceptive messages:

* The central deceptive message, which is usually verbal.

* Ancillary message, which includes both verbal and nonverbal aspects of

communication that often reveals the truthfulness of a particular message.

* Inadvertent behaviors which are mostly nonverbal and help to point out the deceit
of the sender through a term called leakage.

Metatheoretical Assumptions:

Ontological Assumptions:

As far as the nature of reality, Deception Theory is very humanistic in that it views
multiple realities all contingent on the different situational factors on individuals

Epistemological Assumptions:

In terms of knowledge, this theory is also humanistic. What is discovered from the
research depends entirely on who is doing the knowing.

Axiological Assumptions:

The Interpersonal Deception Theory is humanistic in the sense of values. Values of

the individuals involved are concluded from their own values and experiences.

From the research I have found on this theory, I believe Interpersonal Deception
Theory to be mostly a humanistic theory. Besides the fact that it predicts that
humans attempt to deceive and the receiver evaluates the communication behavior
to determine the validity of the message, it has very little predictive power. It can
not predict truthfulness in a specific instance between two specific people because
such a unique event is contingent on so many things. Contingencies include whether
the deception was premeditated, if there was time available to plan, the
consequences of being detected, and the anticipated success of escaping detection.
This theory mostly explains the different types of deceptive acts, motives for
deception, and describes the factors that measure whether an attempt at deception
will be a successful act.

Ideas and Implications:

Interpersonal Deception is a useful theory for someone who has either attempted to
deceive or thought someone was trying to deceive them. It helps when looking back
on a situation to evaluate the verbal and nonverbal communication behaviors to
discover if someone has lied. This theory is usually self-serving, but can also be used
to maintain an interpersonal relationship. Everyone has lied and everyone has been
lied to, so Deception Theory is very useful and practical.


A concrete example to help understand Interpersonal Deception is an experience

between two best friends, Madeline and Isabell:

Last weekend while Isabell was out of town, Madeline got too intoxicated at a
fraternity party and kissed her best friend's boyfriend. Not only is Madeline not
telling Isabell about what happened, even when she questioned her about what she
did last weekend, Madeline lied and said she went to a friend's house and did not
even drink.

Lying happens in a dynamic interaction where liar and listener dance around one another,
changing their thoughts in response to each other’s moves. Liar behavior includes:

• Manipulating information: to distance themselves from the message, so if the

message is found to be false, they can extricate themselves. Thus they use vague
generalities and talk about other people.
• Strategically control behavior: to suppress signals that might indicate that they
are lying. For example their face may be more impassive and body more rigid.
• Image management: for example by smiling and nodding more.

Watch small children who have found out about lying. They point at their siblings, put
on their best 'innocent' expression, hold their hands behind their backs. At that age they
are very flexible and learn fast. Before long they can pull the wool very well over their
parent's eyes.

So what?

Using it

To detect liars, watch for the above behavioral patterns. People who are liars themselves
tend to be better at detecting lying because they know the techniques better.

See also

Four-factor Model


Buller and Burgoon (1994, 1996), Buller, Strzyzewski and Comstock (1991), Burgoon
and Buller (1994)