MODERATORS OF NONVERBAL INDICATORS OF DECEPTION: A Meta-Analytic Synthesis

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Abstract

In many legal proceedings, fact finders scrutinize the demeanor of a defendant or witness, particularly his or her nonverbal behavior, for indicators of deception. This meta-analysis investigated directly observable nonverbal correlates of deception as a function of different moderator variables. Although lay people and professionals alike assume that many nonverbal behaviors are displayed more frequently while lying, of 11 different behaviors observable in the head and body area, only 3 were reliably associated with deception. Nodding, foot and leg movements, and hand movements were negatively related to deception in the overall analyses weighted by sample size. Most people assume that nonverbal behaviors increase while lying; however, these behaviors decreased, whereas others showed no change. There was no evidence that people avoid eye contact while lying, although around the world, gaze aversion is deemed the most important signal of deception. Most effect sizes were found to be heterogeneous. Analyses of moderator variables revealed that many of the observed relationships varied as a function of content, motivation, preparation, sanctioning of the lie, experimental design, and operationalization. Existing theories cannot readily account for the heterogeneity in findings. Thus, practitioners are cautioned against using these indicators in assessing the truthfulness of oral reports.

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