Frontiers in Psychology, 4(140), 1–16p. (2013) DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00140

Exploring the movement dynamics of deception

N. D. Duran, R. Dale, C. T. Kello, C. N. H. Street, D. C. Richardson

Both the science and the everyday practice of detecting a lie rest on the same assumption: hidden cognitive states that the liar would like to remain hidden nevertheless influence observable behavior. This assumption has good evidence. The insights of professional interrogators, anecdotal evidence, and body language textbooks have all built up a sizeable catalog of non-verbal cues that have been claimed to distinguish deceptive and truthful behavior. Typically, these cues are discrete, individual behaviors – a hand touching a mouth, the rise of a brow – that distinguish lies from truths solely in terms of their frequency or duration. Research to date has failed to establish any of these non-verbal cues as a reliable marker of deception. Here we argue that perhaps this is because simple tallies of behavior can miss out on the rich but subtle organization of behavior as it unfolds over time. Research in cognitive science from a dynamical systems perspective has shown that behavior is structured across multiple timescales, with more or less regularity and structure. Using tools that are sensitive to these dynamics, we analyzed body motion data from an experiment that put participants in a realistic situation of choosing, or not, to lie to an experimenter. Our analyses indicate that when being deceptive, continuous fluctuations of movement in the upper face, and somewhat in the arms, are characterized by dynamical properties of less stability, but greater complexity. For the upper face, these distinctions are present despite no apparent differences in the overall amount of movement between deception and truth. We suggest that these unique dynamical signatures of motion are indicative of both the cognitive demands inherent to deception and the need to respond adaptively in a social context.

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