Deception and its detection are prevalent phenomena in almost all forms of social interaction. For some, lying is a relatively harmless part of maintaining relationships with friends and colleagues; for others, lie detection is a serious matter of public safety and security. However, weak theoretical and empirical support for the dominant perspective in deception research has prompted an appeal for a novel approach. As such, the current investigation presents an original experimental approach that is chiefly concerned with the contextually relevant interpersonal coordination dynamics of socially situated individuals at multiple levels of an interaction.
Motivated by the dynamical systems framework for understanding behavior, the present study was developed in consideration of specific limitations within current efforts to understand deception. First, where existing research has largely ignored the social quality of an inherently social event by focusing on individuals rather than social units, the current study treats deception as a multi-scale phenomenon that emerges, fundamentally, between interacting individuals. Secondly, this project foregoes the traditional methodology of subjectively coding discrete, individual behaviors, focusing instead on techniques that capture the flexible, adaptive, and dynamic nature of social interaction.
A fundamental hypothesis was that the coordination dynamics of co-actors would be influenced by the deceptive nature of an interaction. If the behavioral dynamics of deception differ from those of honesty, this difference may provide a basis for lie discrimination. To test this prediction, a set of experiments were performed to assess the dynamic structure of social coordination that occurs between co-actors. During a series of deception tasks, paired individuals conversed with the aim of lying undetected or detecting deception. Dynamic social coordination patterns were then assessed with respect to the ability of co-actors to detect deception.
Results support the central prediction that the effect of deception on social coordination reflects corresponding differences in task performance. That is, the behavioral dynamics of truthful interactions were characterized by more robust patterns of coordination and stability than movement during deceptive interactions. Following the assumptions within a coordination dynamics framework, these results suggest that the coupled nature of an interaction is disrupted during deception, and moreover, that this disruption may provide a means through which liars can be identified. Indeed, task performance was better (i.e., more accurate, higher confidence) for interactions that embodied characteristic patterns of movement — the behavioral dynamics of high-performing pairs exhibited less stability and coordination when one of the individuals was lying, while the behavior of low performers did not. Such a relationship between lie-discrimination ability and coordination suggests that people are sensitive to information specifying deception.
These findings provide seminal evidence of an observable behavioral process that reliably differentiates truthful and deceptive interactions: social coordination dynamics. As such, the research presented here provides valuable insight into how future work should approach the concept of deception, both theoretically and methodologically, representing a point of interest not only for many different fields in the behavioral and social sciences, but also for those concerned with law enforcement, business, politics, judicial processes, and national security.