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Deception Detection

In the midst of two wars and the fight against Al Qaeda, the CIA is offering operatives a chance to peddle their expertise to private companies on the side — a policy that gives financial firms and hedge funds access to the nation’s top-level intelligence talent, POLITICO has learned.

TBA focuses on the verbal and nonverbal cues that people convey when they aren’t telling the truth. Psychologists familiar with the method say it works because human beings just aren’t hard-wired to lie well. Holding two opposing ideas in your brain at the same time — as you have to do in order to tell a lie — causes a phenomenon they term “cognitive dissonance,” which creates actual physical discomfort. And when people are uncomfortable, they squirm. They fidget ever so slightly, they pick lint off their clothes, they shift their bodily positions.

Agents look for the physical indicators of lying. They watch for a person shifting anchor points. If the person is leaning forward on one elbow, does he switch to the other one? Interrogators watch for grooming gestures such as adjusting clothes, hair or eyeglasses. They look to see if the person picks at his fingernails or scratches himself. They watch for the person to clean his surroundings — does he straighten the paper clips on the table or line up the pens? If he does, he could be lying.

To obtain verbal clues, agents listen for several kinds of statements. They’ll listen for qualifying answers, phrases that begin with words like “honestly,” “frankly” or “basically.” The agents will be listening for detour phrases like “as I said before …” They’ll want to hear if the person invokes religion — “I swear to God” — or attacks the questioner: “How dare you ask me something like that?”

Other red flags: Complaints —“How long is this going to take?” Selective memory —“To the best of my knowledge.” Overly courteous responses —“Yes, sir.”

Often, BIA deploys its CIA-trained operatives to analyze quarterly corporate-earnings calls. Those conference calls are an important Wall Street ritual that serves as a direct line from the corporate boardroom to the trading floor.

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