The Significance of Listing in Behavior Symptom Analysis

Written By: Reid
Jan 01, 2004

Listing, as a behavior symptom, describes a series of events or information included within a subject's response. In the following dialogue both of the subject's responses illustrate an example of listing:

I: "Why didn't you tell your wife about these allegations of sexual abuse against you?"

S: "Well, first, I wanted to wait to see what the actual allegations were. Second, I didn't want to upset her and third, I never really had a chance to talk to her in private about it."

I: "Why do you think an adult would have sexual contact with a child?"

S: "Maybe they have psychological problems or perhaps they were abused when they were young. It could be that the child did something to instigate the whole thing."

There are two important considerations with respect to listing by a subject. The first is that the subject decided, for some reason, to offer multiple answers within their response. The second is that, at a preconscious level, the subject decided on the order in which to present the multiple answers.

Listing as an indication of a rehearsed response

In mentally preparing for an interview the deceptive suspect may anticipate certain threatening questions and prepare rehearsed responses to those questions. Consider, for example, the suspect guilty of a robbery who must explain why he was late arriving home from work the evening of the robbery. Obviously, he cannot tell the truth (that he was late because he was robbing a liquor store) so he must develop an alternative excuse. As the suspect ponders possible alternative explanations, often a number of excuses occur to him and these invariably surface as a "list" within his response e.g.,

I: "Why were you late getting home from work that night?"

S: "Well, first had a late order to fill so that put me behind schedule and second, because traffic was heavy, I decided to take a different route home and I got lost. Finally, I was running low on gas and stopped to fill up the tank and there was a line at the gas station."

When an investigator hears a response of this nature which lists explanations, a rehearsed response should be suspected. This is especially true when the response is denoted by reference points such as "first...", "second...", "third..." or, "A...", B...", "C...". This behavior suggests that the suspect is not being spontaneous in his answer but rather, is offering a rehearsed response.

In preparation for an interview, the innocent suspect does not go through this same thought process. The innocent suspect will certainly think about who may have committed the crime, why and how the crime was committed and what they were doing at the time of the crime. However, innocent suspects will not mentally rehearse their responses to anticipated interview questions. If the reader thinks back on a recent occurrence within their life where something unusual or irresponsible happened, e.g., why was a report turned in late?", almost always, there is a single principal explanation for our behaviors. Consequently, in the preceding robbery case, the following response would be more indicative of truthfulness:

I: "Why were you late getting home from work that night?"

S: "At about 4:45 my supervisor handed me a late order that had to be filled and I didn't leave work until about 6:30."

Evaluating the order of listed information

When I put together my grocery list I picture myself in the store and list in order, aisle by aisle, the groceries I need. Similarly, when I recount the scoring of a football game to a friend, I will discuss scores and plays chronologically, starting with the first quarter and ending with the last. It is human nature to organize events by proximity or time. However, what if there is no logical sequence to a series of events or information? For example, if I am asked what my favorite desserts are my response might be, "Blueberry pie, chocolate cake and ice cream." My mind somehow decided the order in which to present this list. Insight to the psychology of listing order can be helpful to an investigator.

When asked a non-threatening question, there is a tendency to place information within a hierarchy in order of psychological significance or preference. The first item listed tends to hold the most psychological significance to the speaker. During the 2003 wild fires that swept California a woman was interviewed and asked about how she was coping with the fire. Her response was, "It is so devastating. I lost my dog and I have no place to go back to". In interpreting her response, this woman was revealing that her dog was more important than her home. In a different scenario, consider that the woman's husband's body was found inside the burned down house. A response such as, "I feel so terrible. I worked years getting the house just the way I wanted it and, of course, I'm sad about my husband too." should raise some eyebrows.

Consider the following exchange of information during an interview:

I: "Who were you with last night?"

S: "James Robertson, Bob Kingston and Fred Jones. James is my neighbor and I know Bob and Fred from work."

If the investigator is interested in verifying the subject's whereabouts, the order in which these names were listed indicates that Fred Jones is not as close to the suspect psychologically as James or Bob and, presumably, would have less of a motive to lie to the investigator. Consequently, Fred Jones would be the best source to verify the suspect's alibi. On the other hand, if the investigator was interested in developing background information about the subject, James Robertson probably would be the best source to contact.

Another phenomenon relating to listing is that when a subject is asked a threatening question and presents his answer as a list, often the last item mentioned is closest to the truth. Under this circumstance the suspect, using his imagination, is often able to come up with one or two false items but then runs out of ideas and the final item mentioned is the closest to the truth. During our training seminars an interview of a deceptive suspect is shown where the investigator asks, "Why do you think someone would steal money from their employer?" The suspect's answer is, "Maybe they needed to pay more on their car insurance. Maybe they owed someone some money. Maybe to help out a friend o it could be anything." This suspect confessed to stealing the $1100 to bail her boyfriend out of jail, e.g., "to help out a friend." The suspect knew exactly why she stole the money and initially offered two misleading motives. With her creativity exhausted, the last motive suggested was the true one behind her crime.

When a subject's response to an interview question contains the behavior of listing, often additional insight can be gleaned from the response. Consequently, the investigator should incorporate, within an interview, questions that encourage the behavior of listing. The following are some suggestions:

"Why didn't you call the police immediately after this happened?"

"Tell me why you wouldn't (commit crime)?"

"Why do you think someone did (commit crime)?"

"If you were to (commit crime) what sorts of things would you be most concerned about?"

"What are some of the problems within the company that you think contributed to (investigation)?"

"What aspects of your marriage did you find most difficult?" (Spouse homicide)

"What government policies most bother you about America?" (Terrorism)

Permission is hereby granted to those who wish to share or copy this article. In those instances, the following Credit Statement must be included "This Investigator Tip was developed by John E. Reid and Associates Inc. 800-255-5747 /" Inquiries regarding Investigator Tips should be directed to Toni Overman