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Introduction to Interpersonal Deception Theory

Interpersonal Deception Theory (IDT), proposed by researchers Buller and Burgoon in the 1980s, deals with deception as it occurs in interpersonal situations.1 IDT presumes that deceivers strategically control their behaviors to maximize their deception success and credibility with others.2 Evidence suggests that during the course of a conversation, deceivers adjust to the reactions of others so that their communication style appears truthful.3 Examining the interaction from this perspective, the deception volley goes something like this: Deceivers choose from an array of verbal and non-verbal behaviors designed in their mind to increase the chance of succeeding at the deception, in return, those on the receiving end react to the deceptive message, whether consciously or subconsciously, sending signals of suspicion. As deceivers perceive this suspicion, they in turn, refine their performances to suppress such cues, working on allaying suspicion and enhancing their credibility.4

Despite popular belief, deception is not easy and actually requires a great deal of emotional, cognitive and psychological effort believed by researchers to be triggered by feelings of guilt, discomfort or fear of detection that often accompanies the lie or deceit.5 Consider the last time you told a fib (if you can’t think of one, check your pulse). Thinking back to that time, it’s likely that you became somewhat nervous, had to think hard before stating the lie, considered the consequences of being discovered, and tried at the same time to come across as sincere and believable to your counterpart. All of this requires considerable cognitive complexity. If you are someone who can repress signs of nervousness and stress and look natural under even the most difficult of circumstances, then you are more apt to be a successful liar.6 Individuals who have larger behavioral repertoires, greater social skills and communicative competence will generally be more proficient, alert, confident, and expressive, and less fidgety, nervous and rigid, making them more skilled at deception than others.7


1 Buller, D. B., & Burgoon, J. K. (1996). Interpersonal deception theory. Communication Theory, 6, 203 – 267.

2 Id.

3 Burgoon, J. K., & White, C. H. (2001). Adaptation and Communicative Design. Patters of interaction in truthful and deceptive conversations. Human Communication Research, 27, 9 – 37.

4 Burgoon, J. K. & Floyd, K. (2000). Testing for the motivation impairment effect during deceptive and truthful interaction. Western Journal of Communication, 64(3), 243 – 267.

5 Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. V. (1969). Nonverbal leakage and clues to deception. Psychiatry, 32, 88 – 105.

6 Vrij, A., Edward, K., Roberts, K. P., & Bull, R. (2000). Detecting deceit via analysis of verbal and nonverbal behavior. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 24, 239 – 263.

7 Burgoon, J. K., Buller, D. B., White, C. H., Afifi, W., Buslig, A. L. S. (1999). The role of conversational involvement in deceptive interpersonal interactions. The Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc., 25(6), 669 – 686.

 

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June 2006