The Language and Cross-Cultural Perceptions of Deception

While much research has shown that some linguistic features can indicate a person is lying, this line of research has led to conflicting results. Furthermore, very little research has been done to verify that these supposed linguistic features of deception are universal. In addition, few studies have researched the cross-cultural perceptions of deception, which knowledge could greatly improve the detection of deception across cultures. The current study addresses these gaps in the literature by analyzing and comparing truthful and deceptive discourse of eight native English-speaking Americans and eight non-native English-speaking Ghanaians. The discourse was elicited in one-on-one interviews where each interviewee spontaneously responded to questions about themselves. Later, interviewee responses were judged by 47 native English-speaking Americans and 35 non-native English-speaking Ghanaians. The results showed that Americans and Ghanaians lie differently—Americans’ lies were more superfluous and redundant; had more pronoun inconsistencies, adjectives, adverbs, and modal verbs; and had fewer negative emotion words than their truths. Ghanaians’ lies, on the other hand, also had more pronoun inconsistencies but had fewer negations than their truths. Furthermore, the groups’ baseline speech differed in superfluousness, positive emotion words, word count, and response latency. Regarding detecting deception, Ghanaians were slightly more accurate and significantly more confident in detecting lies than Americans. Both groups were slightly more accurate and confident in judging the veracity of statements within their own cultures. Neither group, however, demonstrated truth- or lie-bias cross-culturally. These results have implications for law enforcement investigators and analysts who can learn the differences between Americans’ and Ghanaians’ truthful and deceptive speech so as to more accurately detect deception through language. In addition, cross-cultural deception perception research can improve cross-cultural communication and understanding.

Thesis Author: Laing, Brent Logan

Year Completed: 2015

Thesis Chair: Wendy Baker Smemoe

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