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A. Vrij, Detecting Lies and Deceit: The Psychology of Lying and Implications
forProfessional Practice

Article  in  Expert Evidence · September 1999


DOI: 10.1023/A:1008978705657

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BOOK REVIEW

A. Vrij, Detecting Lies and Deceit: The Psychology of Lying and


Implications for Professional Practice. Chichester: John Wiley &
Sons, 2000.

The author, Aldert Vrij, is a Reader in Applied Social Psychology


at the University of Portsmouth and is known internationally for
his research on deception. He focuses the content of his book on
an enormously important issue for both the practitioner working
in a forensic setting and the layperson – how to detect lying.
Specifically, this book provides a comprehensive and critical
discussion of the current understanding of deception and the
methods that have been applied (and misapplied) to detect deceit.
As Vrij highlights, deception is a common and consequential aspect
of human behaviour emerging in different degrees in nearly all
human relationships. For this reason, this text, written in a highly
comprehensible manner, will be interesting and relevant for people
with little background in psychology and law. For the reader with a
more practical interest, this book offers a great deal of information
on deception detection by professional groups, from salespeople
to Secret Service agents. Although we shall address some minor
shortcomings, overall this book is a timely, well-written, and
scholarly text that is highly recommended. Vrij’s text should
become a standard and necessary addition to the bookshelf of
anyone who needs to detect deceit to effectively carry out his or her
work.
In the opening chapter, Vrij introduces his topic with a fasci-
nating overview of the social psychology of lying and its detection.
Foreshadowing the quality of the rest of the book, the opening
chapter is a very impressive merging of empirical research findings
and case material. Readers will appreciate this approach, as it is both
scholarly and engaging. A possible minor exception is Vrij’s choice

Expert Evidence 7: 227–232, 1999.


© 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
228 BOOK REVIEW

to exemplify deceptive behaviour by frequently referring to the


Clinton scandal, first in this chapter and then elsewhere in the book.
Because it was presumably a prominent case while the book was
being written, this choice was understandable. It also demonstrates
nicely a case of lying when the “ground truth” is known. However,
most readers have heard about this case too much already and the
repeated references to it in this context are not overly exciting
(it no longer even holds much prurient value!). Having said this,
other anecdotes provided in this chapter and throughout the text are
engaging, enlightening, and informative for the reader. In particular,
the cases involving actual murder suspects were exciting and moved
nicely into a discussion of Vrij’s own recent research focusing on
criminal suspects, surely a major advance in this field. Vrij’s review
of the social psychological literature reveals many intriguing aspects
of lying in everyday life. For example, we find out that men and
women lie for very different reasons. Further, Shakespeare was
ever sagacious when he wrote in Titus Andronicus: “The milk thou
suck’dst from her did turn to marble, Even at thy teat thou hadst
thy tyranny”, in light of Vrij’s revelation that almost everyone lies
to their mother at an exceptionally high rate! Overall, this chapter
offers a good general introduction to the next major sections of this
book which focus on various manifestations of deception.
Following the introductory chapter, this book is organized into
three main sections that provide a broad overview of the use and reli-
ability of behavioural, verbal, and physiological methods of decep-
tion detection, and ends with a summary and practical guidelines for
professionals. Part I addresses non-verbal behaviour during decep-
tion. Reflecting the amount of research that has been devoted to this
approach, this section is the longest in the book. It is also one of the
richest. First, Vrij describes various hypotheses as to why certain
non-verbal behaviours ought to accompany deception. Next, he
describes types of emotional and cognitive processes that can lead to
“leakage” via non-verbal channels, such as body language and facial
expressions. He reviews a large number of studies (nicely summa-
rized in table format) and identifies some of the more consistent
non-verbal correlates of deception (for example, liars pause longer
when they speak, speak in a higher pitch of voice, use false smiles,
and tend to move their arms, hands, fingers, and legs less than
BOOK REVIEW 229

truth-tellers). Thus, it becomes clear that deceivers behave differ-


ently from truth-tellers. However, after reviewing this persuasive
evidence, the author goes on to state: “. . . the problem is that one
typical pattern of deceptive behaviour does not exist” (p. 41). Soon
after this statement, he reports that “. . . when compared to spontan-
eous lies, planned lies are associated with a shorter latency period
and a faster speech rate” (p. 42). Throughout the book, Vrij conveys
to the reader beyond a doubt that although there is no one cue to
deception, there are indeed patterns of deceptive behaviour that
are “remarkably consistent.” However, for some reason he then
concludes (on several occasions) that there are no patterns. Although
caution is admirable when considering the implications of research
findings, it seems a bit excessive here given some clear patterns of
behaviour. In this first section, Vrij also presents some of the more
informative anecdotes in the book, including a case of deception by
Saddam Hussein and his own analysis of deception by a murderer.
After outlining the literature on actual correlates of deception,
the author provides an overview of the main conceptions (and
misconceptions) that people have about indicators of lying and
some possible origins of these false beliefs (Chapter 3). A nicely
laid out table is used to present to the reader the types of beliefs
individuals have about deception cues. Vrij then reviews empirical
research addressing the ability of people to detect deceit (generally
poor), individual difference factors relating to detection ability, and
successful attempts at training people to detect deception. One of the
most useful components of this chapter is an information box (p. 98)
that outlines practical guidelines for the detection of deceit via beha-
vioural clues. (The chapter may have benefited from a discussion of
the actual content of police training manuals for deception detection.
As described recently by Kassin and Fong (1999), these traditional
training manuals often contain misconceptions about deception.)
These guidelines are well-suited for the bulletin board of any police
officer, detective, customs officer, or suspicious spouse.
The second section of this book is devoted to an overview of the
verbal indicators of deception and methods of content analysis. The
author concludes that certain verbal characteristics are more consis-
tently present in lies than honest accounts (e.g., shorter responses,
fewer self-references, more indirect replies). Specific attention is
230 BOOK REVIEW

given in Chapter 5 to Statement Validity Assessment, a contro-


versial approach developed in Germany to assess the credibility
of child abuse statements. Vrij concludes that SVA findings are
useful for investigative purposes but probably are not yet accurate
enough to warrant their presence in the courtroom. His arguments
and conclusions here and throughout the book are well-balanced
and fair. Chapter 6 is devoted to a discussion of the use of “Reality
Monitoring” as a technique that may serve as an alternative to SVA
when statements to be evaluated are made by adults and involve
more recent events. The content of the first two sections of this book
provide an elaborated and updated account of non-verbal and verbal
indicators of deceit previously co-written by this author in Memon,
Vrij, and Bull (1998).
Part III of this book begins with a description of one of the best-
known and most controversial approaches to credibility assessment
– the polygraph and its variants (Chapter 7). Overall, this discus-
sion is well written and even-handed on an issue associated with
a highly polarized debate (and expected myopia on either side).
The author describes the limitations and strengths of the polygraph
and its various methods (e.g., Control Questions Technique, Guilty
Knowledge Test) with some interesting case examples. He also
provides specific recommendations for research and practice that
would enhance the utility of polygraph testing. As the author does
effectively throughout the book, he provides guidelines for practice
and the reader has clear “take home” messages after reading this
chapter. One note: recent research focusing on new neuroscientific
methods of physiological credibility assessment, such as use of
studying neural activity with the Guilty Knowledge paradigm, are
not included, they could have been described or at least mentioned
in this chapter.
The last chapter of the book is perhaps the most valuable from a
practical standpoint. Vrij summarizes the most and least consistent
indices of deception and compares the three approaches above. Not
surprisingly, he concludes that a holistic combination of techniques
will be most useful for the lie catcher. Finally, the author again gives
some specific guidelines for catching lies which should be required
reading as part of any standardized training for professionals in
forensic settings.
BOOK REVIEW 231

Vrij is clearly one of the most prolific and knowledgeable


researchers currently working in the area of deception. His intimate
knowledge of deception both as a leading researcher and psycholo-
gical consultant in actual cases has allowed him to produce a highly
credible and interesting book. Not surprisingly then, Vrij frequently
refers to his own studies throughout the book. One minor problem
is that the author often presents the results of his own unpublished
studies that have not yet been subject to peer review and the reader
therefore cannot critically assess these aspects of his work.
Vrij ends his book with the statement: “The extent to which this
is a valid and honest account is for you to decide.” This book clearly
meets both of these criteria and represents a major advance in the
field of psychology and law. No text before this one has combined
the literatures on all major approaches to credibility assessment
and provided practical, empirically-based guidelines for detecting
deceit. In our view, this text is a timely, readable, and scholarly
account of lying and its detection and will be a major impetus
for further research in this field. Given the exciting advances that
are currently happening in this field, we look forward to seeing an
updated edition in the not so distant future.
Vrij’s book is highly recommended for researchers in psycho-
logy and law and is appropriate for both undergraduate or graduate
level university courses. It will also be an excellent resource for
the layperson who wants to avoid being duped. Most importantly,
it is highly recommended for forensic practitioners whose position
requires them to catch liars on a day to day basis.
No kidding. . . .

STEPHEN PORTER AND MARY ANN CAMPBELL


Dalhousie University
Department of Psychology
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Canada
232 BOOK REVIEW

REFERENCES

Kassin, S. M. and Fong, C. T. (1999) “ ‘I’m Innocent!’ Effects of Training


on Judgments of Truth and Deception in the Interrogation Room”, Law and
Human Behavior 23: 499–516.
Memon, A., Vrij, A. and Bull, R. (1998) Psychology and Law: Truthfulness,
Accuracy, and Credibility. London: McGraw-Hill.

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