Cognitive research leads to improved lie detection processes and training adopted by professionals in forensic, intelligence, security and commercial settings
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Portsmouth
Unit of AssessmentPsychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Summary Impact TypeLegal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Clinical Sciences, Public Health and Health Services
Psychology and Cognitive Sciences: Psychology
Summary of the impact
The innovative Cognitive Load (CL) technique, based on cognitive theory,
yields significantly superior lie detection results by capitalising on the
fact that interviews can be devised that are more difficult for liars than
truth-tellers. This CL technique, pioneered by Vrij, is used for ethical
information-gathering interviewing and undercover and interrogation
purposes by police, military and intelligence agencies worldwide. Training
of these law enforcement professionals as a result of our research has
been implemented. An insurance company has adopted a revised protocol as a
result of applying our research and has implemented an industry-leading
product for reducing fraudulent insurance claims.
The successful detection of deception during investigative interviews
with suspects is of paramount important in security and counter-terrorism
contexts. However, research shows that the cues to deception that emerge
in investigative settings are largely unreliable and that observers who
rely on nonverbal cues distinguish truths from lies at 54% accuracy (i.e.
just above chance). Traditionally, verbal and nonverbal lie detection has
focused on the difference in emotions that liars and truth tellers
experience. The approach has significant shortcomings and the US National
Academies' National Research Council (2003) concluded that the level of
arousal of interviewees could not reliably be used to discriminate between
truth tellers and liars. Further, arousal-based approaches have been shown
to elicit false confessions and inaccurate information due to pressure
imposed on interviewees.
In contrast, our research has identified ethical, non-pressurising
interview strategies that are more cognitively demanding for liars than
truth tellers. The development of the innovative Cognitive Load (CL)
technique, which was led by Professor Aldert Vrij (Professor of Applied
Social Psychology, University of Portsmouth) from 2003 onwards in
collaboration with international experts, yields significantly superior
detection rates (72% in cognitive load experimental conditions versus 58%
in standard conditions in 13 published studies to date) by capitalising on
the fact that interviews can be devised that are more difficult
cognitively for liars than truth tellers . Several techniques have been
derived, developed and empirically tested using the CL technique. The CL
technique incorporates two core elements:
(i) The rationale underpinning the cognitive load approach is that lying
is cognitively more demanding than truth telling [4, 5]. Our research
demonstrates that interviewers can exploit the differential levels of
cognitive load that truth tellers and liars experience during an interview
to discriminate more effectively between them. As lying is more
cognitively demanding than truth- telling, liars will have fewer cognitive
resources available when the demands of the interview are increased.
Cognitive demand can be increased in a number of ways (e.g., by eliciting
the account in reverse order or requiring the interviewee to maintain eye
contact with the interviewer during the interview). Under these conditions
liars leak more cues to deceit and observers are better at detecting their
(ii) The unanticipated questioning approach is based on the finding that
liars prepare answers when anticipating an interview. Planning makes lying
easier, and planned lies typically contain fewer cues to deceit than
spontaneous lies. However, the positive effects of planning will only
emerge if liars correctly anticipate which questions will be asked.
Interviewers can exploit this limitation by asking questions about central
aspects of the event that liars do not anticipate. We have demonstrated
that asking unanticipated questions (e.g., questions about spatial and
temporal information) or asking questions in an unanticipated format
(e.g., request a drawing) result in more cues to deceit and facilitate lie
detection . We have also recently demonstrated that in an airport
setting (when asking questions about a forthcoming trip) questions about
transportation are more effective for lie detection purposes than
questions about the purpose of the visit.
References to the research
 Vrij, A., Fisher, R., Mann, S., & Leal, S. (2006). Detecting
deception by manipulating cognitive load. Trends in Cognitive Sciences,
10, 141-142. (5-year IF: 14.86; 2011 IF: 12.58; 1/84 Psychology)
This paper, in the top journal in general psychology, outlines the
innovative idea that people can become better at lie detection by using
specific cognitive-based interview protocols.
 Vrij, A., Mann, S., Fisher, R., Leal, S., Milne, B., & Bull, R.
(2008). Increasing cognitive load to facilitate lie detection: The benefit
of recalling an event in reverse order. Law & Human Behavior, 32,
253-265. (5-year IF: 2.65; 2011 IF: 2.16; 16/136 Law; 12/59 Psychology,
social). DOI: 10.1007/s10979-007-9103-y.
This paper, in a top journal in the psychology and law area, demonstrated
for the first time that imposing cognitive load on interviews increases
observers' ability to distinguish between truths and lies.
 Vrij, A., Leal, S., Granhag, P. A., Mann, S., Fisher, R. P., Hillman,
J., & Sperry, K. (2009). Outsmarting the liars: The benefit of asking
unanticipated questions. Law & Human Behavior, 33,
159-166. (5-year IF: 2.65; 2011 IF: 2.16; 16/136 Law; 12/59 Psychology,
social). DOI: 10.1007/s10979-008-9143-y.
Another paper in a top journal in the psychology and law area demonstrated
for the first time that asking unexpected questions increases observers'
ability to distinguish between truths and lies. REF 2 Output: 4-AV-003.
 Vrij, A., Granhag, P. A., & Porter, S. B. (2010). Pitfalls and
opportunities in nonverbal and verbal lie detection. Psychological
Science in the Public Interest, 11, 89-121. DOI: 10.1177/1529100610390861.
This unique official journal of the American Psychological Society
features comprehensive reviews of issues relevant to the general public.
This paper provided an overview of what typically goes wrong in lie
detection and how people can improve their lie detection skills, including
using our cognitive load approach.
 Vrij, A., Granhag, P.A., Mann, S. & Leal, S. (2011). Outsmarting
the liars: Towards a cognitive lie detection approach. Current
Directions in Psychological Science, 20, 28-32. 5-year IF:
5.131; 2011 IF: 3.92; 12/125 Psychology, multidisciplinary). DOI:10.1177/0963721410391245.
An article in the official general psychology journal of the American
Psychological Society, which provided an overview of our innovative
cognitive approach to lie detection.
(1) Vrij, 1/10/2003 - 31/12/2006: £136,182: Interviewing to detect
deception. Economic and Social Research Council, Research Grant,
(2) Vrij, 1/11/2005-30/4/2007: £44,555: Cognitive load, arousal and
lying: Arousal-suppression and compensatory response. Economic and Social
Research Council, Research Grant, RES-000- 22-1632.
(3) Vrij & Fisher, 2006-2009: £352,000: Eliciting and detecting cues
to deception in brief interactions .UK Ministry of Defence and US
Department of Defense.
(4) Vrij, 2009: £156,482: Lying about intentions. UK Ministry of Defence.
(5) Vrij, 1/2/2010-31/7/2013: £1,050,296 (£222,854 to Portsmouth).
Detecting Terrorist Activities: Shades of Grey — Towards a Science of
Interventions for Eliciting and Detecting Notable Behaviours. Engineering
and Physical Sciences Research Council, Standard Research, EP/H02302X/1
(6) Vrij, 2010: £133,470: Lying about intentions II. UK, Ministry
(7) Vrij, 2010: £112,000: Lying in insurance claims. Innovation
(8) Vrij, 2010: £78,200: Lying about intentions III. UK, Ministry
(9) Vrij, 2010: $165,000 (£107,142). Interviewing to elicit cues to
deception I. American Federal Bureau of Investigation, J-FBI-10-009.
(10) Vrij, 2011: $165,000 (£107,142). Interviewing to elicit cues to
deception II. American Federal Bureau of Investigation,
(11) Vrij, 2012: $250,000 (£164,474). The effect of using
interpreters on rapport, eliciting information and cues to deceit I.
US High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, J-FBI-12-194.
(12) Vrij, 2012: $125,000 (£82,237). Interviewing to elicit cues to
deception III. American Federal Bureau of Investigation,
(13) Vrij, 2013: £935,031 of which £192,669 to Portsmouth. `The
deterrence of deception in socio- technical systems'. Engineering
and Physical Sciences Research Council, EPSRC. Collaboration with
University of Cambridge, University College London and Newcastle
(14) Vrij, 2013: $257,500 (£160,938): The effect of using
interpreters on rapport, eliciting information and cues to deceit II.
US High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, J-FBI-12-194.
(15) Vrij, 2013: $152,000 (£96,202): The effect of cognitive load lie
detection training on practitioners' ability to detect deceit.
American Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, J-FBI-10- 009)
Details of the impact
Professional law enforcement training and practice has been influenced
by Cognitive Load research
The reach of our innovative Cognitive Load (CL) techniques is global.
Since 2003, Vrij has delivered over 50 training sessions on using the
cognitive load approach to police (Belgium, Canada, Italy, Norway, South
Korea, The Netherlands, US, UK), intelligence services (Australia, Israel,
Singapore, UK, US), judges (New Zealand, US), legal professionals (The
Netherlands, UK, US), bankers (UK), psychiatrists (Italy, UK), social
workers (Denmark, Finland, South Korea, The Netherlands, UK) and insurance
agencies (The Netherlands, UK).
Since 2010, Vrij has worked with the US Federal Law Enforcement Training
Center (FLETC) to incorporate the cognitive load approach into the
training of law enforcement personnel. FLETC is a Congressionally-mandated
organisation responsible for providing initial and advanced training to
all 91 US Federal law enforcement agencies and trains almost 70,000 law
enforcement personnel per year. Vrij's CL technique has been included in
the FLETC Introduction to Criminal Investigation Training Program (January
2013), the Advanced Interviewing for Law Enforcement Investigators
Training Program (June 2012) and the basic interviewing course for
criminal investigators (January 2013) .
The Singapore Police Force's entire training in lie detection is based
upon Vrij's work, which they find highly applicable in practical contexts.
They have used CL lie detection techniques successfully in several high
profile and sensitive cases, and share their lie detection knowledge with
Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. .
In Canada, The Edmonton Police Service and other police forces in Alberta
(e.g., Calgary Police Service) have included Vrij's CL lie detection
techniques in their interview and interrogation training programs. To date
600 officers have been trained in CL lie detection and the approach is
considered to be a valuable addition to an investigator's toolkit, used on
a regular basis .
Intelligence training and practice has been influenced by Cognitive
Since 2006, UK and US intelligence agencies have funded research across 11
projects into the Cognitive Load lie detection approach, to the value of
£1,447,474 (Grants 3, 6, 8-15, section 3). Vrij's CL lie detection
techniques have been adopted and are in use by intelligence organisations
worldwide including in the UK, US, Australia, Israel and Singapore.
Adopters include the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure
(CPNI, Defence, UK), which provides advice to a range of organisations
responsible for the national security infrastructure. According to the
CPNI they "have found the research useful in advising a number of
organisations on interviewing strategies across a range of security
contexts, and has received positive feedback on the usefulness of the
research findings and their practical application to investigative and
security interviewing" .
US intelligence end-users include the High Value Detainee Interrogation
Group (HIG) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The HIG/FBI have
agreed that, on request, confidential information can be provided on the
impact of Vrij's work regarding HIG/FBI highly sensitive operational
activities. . For security reasons, intelligence services cannot reveal
their sensitive activities. However, the significance of the CL lie
detection approach to these US and UK end users is demonstrated by the
sustained funding for this research.
A business has adopted the Cognitive Load lie detection techniques
CL lie detection techniques (adopted since 2009) are an important aspect
of training delivered by New Intelligence, an Australian company that
delivers interview training to Australian police, and other public sector
organisations including Australian Tax Office, Australian Customs and
Border Protection Service, Australian Defence Force, Commonwealth
Department of Immigration and Citizenship, and Commonwealth Department of
Infrastructure. New Intelligence delivers CL lie detection training to
more than 1200 trainees per year. The CL techniques are used frequently in
the field and provide distinct advantage to investigators .
A new service has been commercialised as a result of applying
Cognitive Load research
The Innovation Group PLC (IG) is an international organisation that inter
alia provides commercial services to insurance companies. Their
activities include conducting telephone interviews with potential
claimants on behalf of motor insurance companies. Since 2010, Vrij and
Leal have worked with IG to implement the CL lie detection approach into
their processes and commercial services, in order to assess the veracity
of insurance claims during telephone interviews with claimants. As a
result of employing a CL lie detection based interview protocol the
percentage of claimants who decide to drop their claim after being
interviewed by IG has risen to 65-72% (compared to an industry average
30%). This gives IG the competitive advantage of a unique product in their
Sources to corroborate the impact
(1) Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (US) — letter from Chief,
Behavioral Science Division confirms details about how our work has been
integrated into federal law enforcement training and practice.
(2) Singapore Police Force — letter from Chief Psychologist and Director,
Home Team Behavioural Sciences Center (Home Land Security and Home
Affairs) provides details how our work is used by Singapore Police,
Security, Intelligence and Border Control services.
(3) Edmonton Police Service (Canada) — letter from Detective, Homicide
Section — Major Crimes Branch gives information about how our research
findings have been incorporated into police training for Canadian Police
(4) New Intelligence (Australia) — letter from the Managing Director
(former Detective Sergeant, a Criminal Intelligence Analyst and former
head of the Violent Crime Analysis Unit within the Queensland Police) who
oversees the provision of Interview Training to Immigration, Customs,
Welfare, Private Insurers. The letter confirms the adoption of our
research into training provision and products of the company. http://www.newintelligence.com.au
(5) The Innovation Group PLC (UK) — a letter from the Head of Technical
Claims, describing the impact of the adoption and commercialisation of CL
research by the company and the unique selling point and industry leading
service which has resulted. http://www.innovation-group.com/uk/about-us
(6) Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI, Defence,
can provide details on a confidential basis about how CL lie detection
techniques are employed by government and law enforcement agencies in the
UK, including in an aviation and border security context.
(7) The High Value Detainee Interrogation Group and Federal Bureau of
Investigation (US) have sponsored Vrij's research since 2006. Chief for
Research, Defense Counter-Intelligence and Human Intelligence Center —
Behavioral Science Program can provide details about how these US
intelligence agencies are using the cognitive lie detection research in
their professional training and practice. Can corroborate the information
provided in (1).
NB. In considering the evidence, please note that the majority of our
intelligence service contacts are not permitted to reveal their identity
and/or discuss or allude to highly sensitive security activities, even to
a confidential REF panel.