Incongruous Behaviors

Written By: Reid
Sep 01, 2009

A fundamental principle of behavior symptom analysis is that truthful suspects send the same message on all three channels of communication.* Deceptive suspects may send different messages within the channels of communication.* One category of this possible symptom of deception is called incongruous behavior because the suspectis nonverbal behavior contradicts what the suspect is saying on the verbal level.* Consider the fisherman who is verbally describing reeling in a fish that is two or three feet long but when he portrays the length of the fish with his hands, the distance between his fingertips is about twelve inches.* This inconsistency suggests that perhaps the fish was smaller than described.

It is possible that the fisherman simply was not good at estimating distances with his hands.* However, it is much more likely that his hands were telling the truth and his mouth was not.* A suspect has more conscious control over the verbal channel of communication than nonverbal communication. Consequently, when incongruous behaviors are observed, the channel causing the dissonance is probably the verbal one. i.e., the suspectis nonverbal behavior is more likely accurate.

Many incongruous behaviors are the result of the truth unconsciously ileakingi from the deceptive suspectis body.* On the verbal level, a suspect may adamantly deny talking to her husband on the day in question, while at the same time, her right hand is mimicking a phone conversation.* Another suspect being questioned about placing his hand on a teenageris breast may state that he put his hand on her stomach but, as he demonstrates on his own body, he clearly places his hand over his own breast.

This source of incongruent behavior is often fleeting.* After a moment or two, the suspect realizes the inconsistency and adjusts his nonverbal behavior to conform with his verbal statement.* The following are examples of fleeting incongruent behaviors:

iI only fired one shot!i* (The suspect initially holds up two fingers)

iThe car took off up the street.i (The suspect first points down the street)

iHe had a scar running down his left cheek.i* (The suspectis finger points to her own right cheek, then switches it to her left.)

iI hit her with an open hand.i (The suspectis right hand is initially clenched in a fist)

There is a natural association between a nonverbal head nod and a verbal iyesi response.* These two behaviors, within different channels of communication, typically reinforce each other.* However, not all head nods reinforce a iyesi answer.* When listening to a question, a suspect may nod his head indicating that he understands the question or agrees with a statement made by the investigator. Head nods that occur during the asking of a question should be interpreted as understanding the question.* However, if the head nod occurs during a verbal denial, it should be considered incongruous behavior, as the following example illustrates:

Q:* Have you ever thought about having sexual contact with your daughter?

A:* That is something I would never do.* (The suspect is nodding his head iyesi)

The hand shrug is another behavior that may reveal unconscious thoughts.* The underlying message being sent when someone shrugs their hands is, iI donit knowi or, iI donit care.i This nonverbal behavior can either support or contradict a verbal response. An innocent suspect may be asked, iWhy do you think someone started that fire?i* It would be appropriate for that suspect to shrug his hands as he explains that he is not sure but that he knows the homeowner has been worried about making his next mortgage payment.*

On the other hand, it would be inappropriate for a suspect to shrug his hands during the following response:

Q: Joe, once we complete our entire investigation, how do you think it will come out on you?

A: Well, it should come out just fine. (Hand shrug)

Even though this suspect is saying that the investigation will come out fine, his nonverbal behavior is sending the message, iIim not sure.i

It is common for deceptive suspects to feign anger during an interview or interrogation.* One of the key indicators that differentiate real and feigned anger is incongruous behaviors.* Anger is one of the emotional steps within an entire psychological process that starts with frustration and concludes with physical aggression.* Consequently, by the time a suspect is legitimately angry, he will exhibit nonverbal symptoms of physical aggression.* Conversely, suspects who pretend to be angry may be yelling at the top of their lungs, but they have crossed arms, look up at the ceiling or pace back and forth within the interview room n there is an inappropriate lack of aggressive nonverbal behaviors directed toward the investigator.

A different source of incongruous behaviors occurs when a suspect is spontaneously constructing a false statement and is unable to coordinate the verbal and nonverbal channels of communication.* During our training seminars, we show the interview of a young woman who falsely reported to the police that she was the victim of an abduction.* During her description of the event she states that she got behind the wheel of her car and that the abductor sat next to her, in the middle seat.* The problem is that she is pointing to her left, which would place the abductor on the pavement outside the car.

When a suspect creates a false alibi or an alleged victim fabricates a crime, he may be so focused on the false verbal statement that the nonverbal channel is not yet ion boardi with the verbal account. *Of course, after re-telling the lie several times, the nonverbal channel catches up and learns to appropriately reinforce the verbal statement n detecting deception is always easier the first time a lie is told.

In conclusion, an investigator should always be alert for incongruous behaviors that may occur between a suspectis verbal and nonverbal channels of communication - truthful suspects send the same message on all channels of communication but deceptive suspects may not.* Incongruous behaviors may be fleeting, and therefore, the investigator needs to pay close attention to the suspectis initial nonverbal behaviors to make certain they reinforce the suspectis verbal statement.* Especially when eliciting an initial open account from a victim or an initial alibi from a suspect, the investigator should look for possible inconsistencies between nonverbal actions and the verbal description. Incongruous behaviors are less likely to occur after a lie has been repeated.

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