Saturday, May 22, 2010

Signs of deception in Lance Armstrong's denials

There is a vast amount of research on detecting deception by observing how individuals respond to questions. Both verbal and non-verbal signs have been tested and the research suggests that verbal cues are often quite revealing of whether a person is lying.

When using the cues to detect deception, investigators look for patterns since no one cue is 100% predictive. I read an analysis today that was emailed to me that points out many verbal cues that Lance Armstrong exhibits in his comments regarding Floyd Landis' accusations.

It's common for those who are lying to use phrases or oaths to sound more sincere. Oaths such as: "I swear to God" or "To tell you the truth" are used more often by someone who is deceptive than one who is telling the truth.

One of the most reliable verbal cues that a person is lying is what's known as a weak denial. When I cover this topic in my Fraud Examination class, I show a video of President Clinton being asked about his interactions with Kathleen Willey who was accusing the President of sexual harassment.

The investigator asked President Clinton: "Does it refresh your recollection that you called her and invited her to come to your room that night, Sir?" In response, President Clinton says: "I do not believe that I did that, Sir." This is a classic example of a weak denial and is a very strong cue that the President was lying. In other words, he should know if he invited her to his room and a typical innocent person will offer a strong denial such as: "Of course not! I never invited her to my room!"

A similar verbal cue that a deceptive individual will use is to not clearly deny the allegation but to use other, more ambiguous, phrases that might imply he is denying it. For example, a fraud perpetrator will often say, "I have nothing to hide" instead of "I didn't take the money." Again, this is a form of a weak denial.

In Lance's case, if he's innocent he will be more likely to just say: "I never did any of the things that Floyd is accusing me of." If guilty, he will be more likely to say something like: "I have nothing to hide." Or, "Landis has no proof." Why not just say "I didn't do what he is claiming and I've never used performance enhancing drugs?"

Another verbal cue found in those who are lying is for the person who is guilty to attack the accuser. If the person is innocent, he will be more likely to offer evidence of his or her innocence and not spend time trying to make the accuser look bad.

In the video below, Lance Armstrong responds to the accusations that Floyd Landis made this week. Watch the video below to see if you think Lance's comments reflect weak denials or strong denials. Also, note whether he offers proof of his innocence or attacks Floyd's character instead.


  1. Don't forget "we" have nothing to hide, "we" this and "we" that. IOW, strength in numbers and the Livestrong brand. "Who are you gonna believe, this admitted doper or all of us?" There's an army of defenders out there already who are very loyal for various emotional reasons.

    Based on Lemond's recollection from 2007, perhaps Landis wanted to come clean, but was harassed or at least convinced into keeping the lid on the can of worms. That's just speculation though.

  2. Piotrek: If the doping in professional cycling is as widespread as it looks like it is, there has to be tremendous pressure on people like Floyd to 'keep the lid on', as you say. Sort of the Pro Cycling Mafia...

  3. Well, I disagree with you. You have to take other factors into account as well. If you ask Armstrong this question first time and if that is my response, I can agree, he got something to hide.

    But if you been asked that question, million times, for years, you get into pressure of saying more than what you normally say. Dont think that rule applies anymore. After some point u say, wtf, how many times I need to repeat myself. Remember, this might be only few number of times you heard him say that, but he might have said it million times.

    Consider this example, you have a good suspicion that your gf cheats on you. But one day she claims that u cheated on her and you deny. But she keeps going on and on about it, wont you say,"look at yourself first". Will that mean you are lying, since you are attacking the accuser.

    Its like Charlie Munger said, if all you have is a hammer, every nail needs a beating. All it feels like here is, someone read through a short book on behavioral guide, and you reached a conclusion and proving your hypothesis right on one small variable.

  4. @The_Ponderer these cues aren't perfect predictors. I don't think Mark would say that Lance's attacks on Landis definitively prove that Lance is lying. Instead, liars have a greater likelihood of exhibiting the cues mentioned above, and the fact that Lance exhibited many of the aforementioned cues supports the conclusion that Lance is MORE LIKELY to be lying than had he not exhibited these cues. Mark also mentioned that investigators look for patterns when evaluating cues to deception. I would encourage you to look at prior denials of doping allegations by Lance and by other accused cyclists--over time Lance and others have consistently exhibited these cues to deception.

    p.s. If you would like to know what the academic literature has to say on cues to deception, a good place to start is this paper ( published in Psychological Bulletin.