Let’s consider the context under which an individual decides to lie. First and foremost is the deceptive individual’s fear of detection. The fear of detection in a theft investigation, for instance, alters the person’s physiological and psychological perception of the world. Physiologically, the body prepares to either fight or flee the apparently threatening situation. Psychologically, the individual explodes, becoming a mass of conflicting emotions and panic. The truthful individual is not under pressure, having only to retrieve the memory of the situation. While there may be elements of nervousness, these dissipate over time as the individual becomes more comfortable speaking with the loss prevention investigator.
To prepare for the interview, the truthful person simply thinks about the circumstances surrounding the event and attempts to retrieve details prior to his conversation. The deceptive individual is worried about being detected and may attempt to prepare a story that will help him conceal his involvement in the incident.
While the deceptive individual may go to some lengths in preparing his story, most liars do not do this. Most deceptive individuals prepare a bare-bones narrative lacking the detail, emotion, and general realism of a truthful story. This bare-bones narrative told by the deceptive individual is easier to remember if asked to repeat it at a later time and also affords them an opportunity to alter the story should evidence be presented contradicting some aspect of it. Unfortunately for them, this requires them to invent details and answers on the spur of the moment during the investigator’s questioning.
Open-ended questions provide a perfect avenue for the investigator to increase pressure, or what researchers call cognitive load, without appearing confrontational. Simply saying, “Tell me more about that,” forces the deceptive person or dishonest employee to have to expand detail that may conflict with other parts of the story. In response to the open-ended question, the deceptive individual may instead talk off-topic or refrain from providing additional details about that particular area of inquiry.
The loss prevention investigator may use extended pauses or silence to encourage the individual to keep talking, even though he is not providing any additional relevant content. When this is done with the truthful individual, they continue adding detail and explanations relevant to what was being discussed. Using open-ended questions and long pauses to elicit additional information from both the truthful and untruthful is an excellent way to conduct a loss prevention interrogation. Unfortunately, some contexts don’t allow this tactic to be used.