Category: Judgement and Decision Making

Deception: Verbal Behaviour

This is the final of three posts for improving front end capacity to prevent and detect predatory physical access and programs access attacks to critical infrastructure facilitated by bogus documents. The potential of security and front line employees face-to-face with would-be attackers is often underutilized. Hereafter this article refers to security and front line employees screening for access to privileges, benefits or services as agents. The training and skills development resources to vest in these agents is contingent upon the threat and potential outcome from a security compromise.

Agents at the point-of-contact are the primary (in the first instance) information gatherers for organizations.  It is the point of intersection between the predator and the organization where they have least control over the ruse, and they know it. Risk in this context is a feeling. Automated registration systems are more efficient if the critical infrastructure is willing to accept the additional risks. Science is pretty clear that the farther away humans are from face-to-face transactions, the easier it is cognitively and thus, the more they cheat.

Quick Review

Agents are dependent on identification and other documents to make business decisions about people the don’t personally know.  Visual (nonverbal) information is processed through the prism of emotions. This automatic/experiential information processing system deep in the brain alerts conscious awareness of things to be attracted to, things to avoid, and things that are novel. Verbal information is processed in a different region of the brain. Beyond the scope of this post, the two information processing systems are connected by a neurotransmitter pathway of neurons and they influence each other depending on the circumstances in the outside environment.

It is reported from meta studies that the best results in deception management are from a combination of nonverbal and verbal red flag cues. Consequently, improving capacity to detect attacks begins with agents establishing a verbal/nonverbal behaviour baseline in order to observe the behavior of others reacting to agent authority. There is a caveat: Sometimes a nonverbal reaction is not a nonverbal response to a question, or other action. It can be a response to something else that was triggered in long-term memory.

Information Gathering by Agents

How information is gathered at the point-of-contact has implications on data collection accuracy, down the road at getting to the truth if agent concerns are escalated for more in-depth review, and in the most egregious cases to its suitability in civil and criminal proceedings.

The agent’s role is different from that of the public police. Police interviewing and interrogation skills training sometimes mission creeps into private sector interviewing training. Person’s of interest interviewed by police do not have to disclose information they feel will cause them harm. Therefore investigators are trained to develop rapport at the front end of the interview.

Agents are in a different, more advantageous situation. The person they are gathering information from wants something and cannot obtain it, without providing the agent all information the agent needs to make their decision. The agent’s role is more consistent with how the likes of psychiatrists and social workers gather information in a process for assessing the reliability of declarations and statements made to them.

The open-ended question

The tool of every professional information gatherer is the open ended question. It forces an interviewee into a editing process. They must choose what to say, and what not to say. Language leaks. Verbal red flags manifest in the structure of language the interviewee uses as they fabricate a story, avoid disclosing something, or even in specific words used to define the relationship they have with the documents they present. For example, there is a difference in relationship between “my’ document and “the” document. The real question is why is the relationship distant? Is it because it isn’t their document, or are they upset about it for some reason?

In everyday conversation with folks we listen to content – what was said. When language is ambiguous or there is information missing from the story, we cognitively fill in the blanks. Agents can’t afford to do this. Agents listen to context in responses to their questions – how things are said. They cannot make excuses for an interviewee when there is ambiguous or missing language.

Very Important Rule for Agents

There is nothing worse for business than false negatives – accusations about reliability that are unfounded.  Beliefs can be scary things. If someone believes their job is to root out deception, they will find it where it isn’t. If someone believes one particular group is more predatory than another, they will find problems with that group they won’t with other groups and that are unfounded. Bias will keep them from digging deep for clarification.

Here is a nugget:  Because the interviewee must provide all information the agent expects, the agent should begin every interview with total belief in what the person is telling them. The interviewee’s reality, whether they can be truthful or must be deceptive in order to get that which they seek, will show up in the structure of the language and words they use, and in nonverbal behaviour if there is mounting cognitive stress. 

A mindful infusion of science. A well thought out skills development implementation plan combined with practical escalation protocols for more in depth review. Doing this inside a learning culture. All of these things can improve physical and financial security at critical infrastructure. We can prevent more attacks before the occur, and increase the certainty of catching some predators the act. We can reduce the number of poor judgments which result in loss of reputation, trust and sometimes financial costs from torts where judgments have been egregious.


Affective Realism

“We do not passively detect information in the world and then react to it — we construct perceptions of the world as the architects of our own experience.”

Researchers on affective realism are arriving at a consensus that, at any  given moment, emotional state influences perception of information received through sensory channels, with the exception of smell which has it’s own channel.

These early findings have broad, real-world implications that extend from everyday social interactions, to situations with more severe consequences such as:

  • When judges or jury members have to evaluate whether a defendant is remorseful;
  • During police time-sensitive judgment to discharge a firearm in environmentally negative conditions; or
  • When front line employees are making judgments about people they don’t know, who are presenting documents for access to critical infrastructure, to board airplanes, and in other similar circumstances.

Being competent at interpreting what is behind the curtain in the behaviour of others is complicated. There is no absolute. There are many factors to consider and to scientifically research, which will undoubtedly lead to new discoveries.

The Complexity of Uniform Policing

Risk assessment for critical infrastructure assumes uniform police will run at catastrophic and violence events everyone else is running away from. Often they must make time-sensitive judgments on personal and public safety in high anxiety environments.

At the same time, the public and the courts expect uniform police , as primary sensory and verbal information gatherers, to make every judgment and decision rationally and impartially. All this happens in an environment that is often a perfect storm – dealing with their own emotions, while having to deal with the motions of others.

Intuition and time-sensitive judgments draw on prior emotions-laden experiences. The intensity (valence) and influence of these experiences in policing ranges from highly negative to highly positive, which accumulate over a career. In the worst case scenario with highly negative experiences, people end up with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

More thought is required on whether uniform police should be recruited for their emotional intelligence (EI) aptitude. More should be known and practiced on what in-service self-awareness and resiliency maintenance training is needed to  mitigate unintended consequences from environments and situational circumstances employers put uniform police in.