Beware the “Othello Error” Reply

Bethany Jilliard as Desdemona and Dion Johnstone as Othello. (Photo by Michael Cooper).

By Chris Simmons

This phenomenon occurs when a truthful person, realizing they aren’t believed, immediately exhibits stress indicators as if they were lying. The only effective way to prevent this defensive reaction is to appear to have total belief in your counterpart’s story (at least initially). Then, once you tell him/her that you believe they are lying, ignore all further stress indicators. In doing so, you will have protected the accuracy of your behavioral baseline regarding their normal (i.e., truthful) patterns.

This blunder takes its name from a scene in the Shakespearean play wherein General Othello misreads the reaction of his wife (Desdemona) to news of the death of Cassio – one of his lieutenants.

Wired For Sound: The Secrets of Auditory Eye Movements & Behaviors 1

By Chris Simmons

Recalling a sound-centric event triggers one of two involuntary behavioral cues known as auditory eye movements. If the individual’s eyes go down and to their left, they are remembering what they heard. If, however, they are trying to remember what they said to someone or thought (i.e., an “internal sound”), their eyes will remain level as they look to their left.

The “Communication Paradox:” How Little You Know About Life’s Most Important Skill noted how the five senses are rooted in our everyday vocabulary. For example, someone might say: “How would it sound if I told you we need to send you to Miami for two weeks? Would that be music to your ears?” He/she is clearly speaking from an auditory perspective. Thus, when asking someone for an auditory recollection, use hearing-associated words to enhance the speed and effectiveness of their memory. This also keeps you on the same “verbal highway,” reducing the risk of miscommunication.

In contrast, auditory construction (i.e., lying) is revealed when an individual’s eyes move to their right in response to an asked or anticipated question. Remember, deceptive cues manifest in a series of “behavioral tells,” so be prepared for other common signs of deceit such as changes in their narrative’s level of detail, the introduction of qualifying phrases or hedges, etc.

Additionally, a deceptive person with an auditory speech preference will often refer to previous conversations in their responses (e.g., “As I’ve told you before…”). This is a psychological form of stress relief, emotional distancing and feigned cooperation because even if he/she lied during the cited conversation, their current statement is – in fact – true. As a result, the liar is calmer and may exhibit few (if any) signs of deception because their focus is the fact that the referenced conversation occurred, not the event in question.

Evaluating Truthfulness and Detecting Deception Reply

By Doctors David Matsumoto, Hyi Sung Hwang, Lisa Skinner & Mark Frank

FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

While interviewing the suspect who claims ignorance about an incident, the witness who saw it happen, or the informant who identified the perpetrator, the detective asks a question that will eviscerate the perpetrator’s story. As the suspect prepares to answer, he looks up and to the left, purses his lips, tenses his eyelids, and brings his eyebrows down.

The investigator knows that a suspect displaying shifty eyes and gaze aversion and looking up and to the left when answering uncomfortable questions is exhibiting signs of lying. The suspect is not totally disinterested, but he is reluctant to participate in the interview. Because the suspect’s behavior suggests dishonesty, the detective prepares to drill still deeper in the questioning.

Unfortunately, this investigator likely would be wrong. Twenty-three out of 24 peer-reviewed studies published in scientific journals reporting experiments on eye behavior as an indicator of lying have rejected this hypothesis.1 No scientific evidence exists to suggest that eye behavior or gaze aversion can gauge truthfulness reliably.

Some people say that gaze aversion is the sure sign of lying, others that fidgety feet or hands are the key indicators. Still others believe that analysis of voice stress or body posture provides benchmarks. Research has tested all of these indicators and found them only weakly associated with deception.2

Relying on false clues, or signs, about lying can have dire consequences.3 It can lead to inaccurate reads that witnesses, suspects, or informants are lying when they are not or that they are telling the truth when there is more to the story. Reliance on false clues leads to misplaced confidence about the strengths and weaknesses of cases and can lead an investigator down dead-end paths. Moreover, a false read can have deadly consequences.


Years of research have led the authors to focus solely on the most verifiable behavioral cues to lying.4Many studies have involved a randomly selected sample of people assigned by chance to lie or tell the truth. Unfortunately, such studies feature participants with no personal, financial, or emotional investment in the lie or any fear of exposure to sanction if they are caught. No stakes are involved—no punishment for getting caught and no reward for fooling the investigator.

The authors’ studies involve people motivated to act against a person or group with a different ideology, placed in a situation where they choose whether to commit a crime (e.g., steal a check made out to the group they despise), and then interviewed by a retired law enforcement officer, offering them the opportunity to tell the truth or lie. The stakes involved include facing detention, enduring blasts of white noise, or, for instance, having the stolen check donated to the group they hate. These consequences would occur if the person were not believed regardless of the truth because, in real life, consequences stem from judgments, not reality. Thus, truthful individuals often are nervous in police interrogations. The authors strive to make their research practical and analogous to real-world law enforcement situations and have found that, clearly, the behavioral cues to lying differ when people are not vested in having their story believed and have no fear of detection.

The authors monitor their participants with sensors that record and analyze their facial behaviors, gestures, body movements, voice and speech characteristics, physiological indicators (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure, skin conductance, respiration), heat emanation from their faces and heads, pupil dilation, and gaze direction. In addition, the authors record their participants’ spoken words and then examine their verbal statements and style. The results have demonstrated that when motivated people lie and face consequences upon detection, clues to deception emerge and appear as leakage across multiple channels. Four of these are nonverbal (facial expressions, gestures and body language, voice, and verbal style). A fifth channel of leakage is in the actual words spoken—verbal statements.

It is not the mere presence or absence of behaviors, such as gaze aversion or fidgeting, that indicates lying. Rather, it is how these nonverbal cues change over time from a person’s baseline and how they combine with the individual’s words. And, when just the behavioral cues from these sources are considered, they accurately differentiate between lying and truth telling.5

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