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Nonverbal Communications in Interrogations

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 49 Issue: 11 Dated: (November 1980) Pages: 6-9
M S Kuhlman
Date Published
4 pages
The effective use of nonverbal communications in police interrogations is discussed, with particular reference to its proper application when interviewing mentally disturbed persons.
Interrogators must be able to use their own nonverbals correctly. Facial expressions may convey an attitude of sincerity, shock, surprise, humor, sorrow, or concern. Meaningful communication is also dependent upon the tone of voice, inflections in delivery, emphasis on words, the use of guttural sounds, body space, body movement and gestures, proper use of time, control of profanity and slang, appropriate physical appearance, and studied use of attire. When interviewees lie, a myriad of biological and physiological processes taking place in their minds and bodies can be recognized by skilled interrogators. The indicators of lying include perspiration flow; flushing or paleness of the skin; pulse rate increase or decrease which is apparent from the appearance of visible veins in the head, neck, and throat; dry mouth and tongue; excessive swallowing; respiratory changes; muscle spasms; licking of the lips; thickened and blurred speech; stuttering; darting eye movements; rigidity of the body; the 'playing' of the hands with each other; clenched fists; and cold, clammy sweat in the palms of the hands. Nonverbals appear most prominently in the face, and facial tics often indicate lying. Many subjects who are on the verge of confessing will pick their fingernails, scratch themselves, dust their clothing, or fumble with small objects. Interrogators should politely terminate such conduct so that telling the truth remains as the suspects' only channel of tension relief. However, all persons do not exhibit the same nonverbals under similar circumstances. For example, a flushing or blushing face on an easily embarrassed person does not necessarily mean that the person is concealing the truth. Furthermore, mentally disturbed persons often exhibit signs of their illness which are similar to indicators of lying. Interrogators must alter their own nonverbal tactics when they deal with such persons; they should not use the 'hot and cold' method, bluffing, or emotional approaches with the mentally ill to avoid receiving false confessions. Thirteen footnotes are included.