Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “A liar and a copycat: nonverbal coordination increases with lie difficulty” by Van Der Zee, S.; Taylor, P.; Wong, R.; Dixon, J. and Menacere, T. (2020) in which authors investigate whether interpersonal coordination increases or decreases when somebody is lying.

We have talked about deception, how to recognize it and the observable effects it has on people, several times so far.

For this reason, we already know that most studies on deception and nonverbal behavior focus on the behavior of the interviewees, who have the task of lying or telling the truth, and on the behavior of the interviewers, who have the task of determining the veracity of the story.

However, few consider the whole interaction.

This surprises authors, because the impact that the interlocutor has on the interviewee is part of the explanations of why behavior changes when we lie.

For example, it is believed that the increasement of cognitive effort associated with the lying process is due, in large part, to the need to create and maintain a coherent story while paying attention to the interviewer’s reactions.

That is, most of the literature suggests that behavioral signals of the cognitive and social processes of lying are probably best observed in a dynamic of interpersonal behavior.

One of these behavioral signals that seem fundamental, both for interpersonal interaction and for lying, is nonverbal coordination, the synchronous movements that occur between two or more people when they are sharing an interaction.

It is believed that this type of coordination may have evolved to allow individuals to maintain harmonious relationships with members of a group, facilitating social behavior.

However, in the animal kingdom, mimicking the behaviors of the preys is a deceptive technique that allows many predators to survive.

We can extrapolate it to human relationships if we think that, as described in an article mentioned in this work, there would be a greater coordination of head movement in deceptive conversations compared to honest conversations.

Authors believe that lying could affect interpersonal nonverbal coordination in two radically opposite ways.

On the one hand, lying could increase coordination following the idea that the cognitive demands of deception would leave the liar with fewer resources to control her/his social behavior.

Why? There are studies that suggest that leading one’s own rhythmic behavior, rather than following the behavior of the interlocutor, would require inhibiting the interlocutor’s actions, or at least improving the representation of one’s own actions. And this is a behavior that demands a great cognitive effort.

Therefore, if liars have fewer cognitive resources to manage their social cues, they could be expected to demonstrate greater coordination.

On the other hand, the other option is related to the tendency of people to paralyze in response to stressors or social threats. This “freezing” could lead to decreased coordination.

Signs of deception, such as pupil dilation or increased tension, could indicate that lying is indeed stressful. Thus, liars who “freeze” might be expected to show reduced coordination compared to people who tell the truth.

To verify this, authors carried out two experiments in which, basically, participants were explained that they should lie at different levels (simple, complex or very complex lies), infiltrate in a group, among other activities. What is interesting is that their nonverbal behavior was monitored while the participants carried out these tasks.

Among the results obtained are the following ideas.

The main and most interesting thing is that there seems to be evidence that nonverbal coordination increases along with the difficulty of lying.

This would be consistent with the first hypothesis, which maintains that mimicry would increase when the cognitive effort appears, due to a greater dependence on the automatic processes of interpersonal behavior.

Furthermore, this finding is consistent with the idea that automated processes can become more frequent when people are cognitively loaded.

Having obtained these results makes automatic mimicry a hitherto unexplored clue to deception.

When trying to appear credible, liars may implement countermeasures such as avoiding behaviors associated with lying or deliberately displaying behaviors associated with honesty. It could also be possible that the consequence of these effects may be reciprocal coordination, which has the effect of diminishing the interviewer’s ability to identify deception.

This would suggest that lying is not always more difficult than telling the truth, especially when it comes to simple lies.

In future investigations, the authors would like to investigate who is leading the change in the degree of coordination, whether the interviewee or the interviewer, since they consider it a very interesting point.


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