Analysing Deception in Written Witness Statements

Isabel Picornell


Written witness statements are a unique source for the study of high-stakes textual deception. To date, however, there is no distinction in the way that they and other forms of verbal deception have been analysed, with written statements treated as extensions of transcribed versions of oral reports. Given the highly context-dependent nature of cues, it makes sense to take the characteristics of the medium into account when analysing for deceptive language. This study examines the characteristic features of witness narratives and proposes a new approach to search for deception cues. Narratives are treated as a progression of episodes over time, and deception as a progression of acts over time. This allows for the profiling of linguistic bundles in sequence, revealing the statements’ internal gradient, and deceivers’ choice of deceptive linguistic strategy. Study results suggest that, at least in the context of written witness statements, the weighting of individual features as deception cues is not static but depends on their interaction with other cues, and that detecting deceivers’ use of linguistic strategy is en effective vehicle for identifying deception.


detecting deception; witness statements; narratives; linguistic strategy; text analysis

Full Text:



Adams, S.H. & Jarvis, J.P. (2006). Indicators of veracity and deception: an analysis of written statements made to police. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 13 (1), 1-22.

Anolli, L., Balconi, M. & Ciceri, R. (2003). Linguistic styles in deceptive communication: dubitative ambiguity and elliptic eluding in packaged lies. Social Behavior and Personality, 31, 687-710.

Barthes, R. (1996). An introduction to the structural analysis of narrative. In Onega, S. & Landa, J.A. (eds) Narratology. New York: Longman.

Bestgen, Y. & the Psycholinguistics Group of the Spatial Framing Adverbials Project (2009). The discourse function of sentence-initial adverbials: studies in comprehension. Linguistic & Psycholinguistic Approaches to Text Structuring Conference, 7-14. Paris.

Buller, D.B. & Burgoon, J.K. (1996). Interpersonal Deception Theory. Communication, 6, 203-242.

Bruner, J. (1990). Acts of Meaning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Buller, D.B. & Burgoon, J.K. (1994). Deception: strategic and nonstrategic communications.

In Daly, J.A. & Wieman, J.M. (eds), Strategic Interpersonal Communication, 191-223. New Jersey: Erlbaum.

Burgoon, J.K., Blair, J.P., Qin, T. & Nunamaker Jr, J.F. (2003). Detecting deception through linguistic analysis. Proceedings of the Symposium on Intelligence and Security Informatics. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Burgoon, J.K. & Qin, T. (2006). The dynamic nature of deceptive verbal communication. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 25 (1), 76-96.

DePaulo, B.M. & Kirkendol, S.E. (1989). The Motivational Impairment Effect in the communication of deception. In Yuille, J.C. (ed) Credibility Assessment. Netherlands Kluwer Academic.

DePaulo, B.M., Lindsay, J.J., Malone, B.E., Muhlenbruck, L. Charlton, K. & Cooper, H. (2003). Cues to deception. Psychology Bulletin, 129(1), 74-118.

Dulaney Jr, E.F. (1982). Changes in language behavior as a function of veracity. Human Communication Research, 9, 75-82.

Ekman, P. (2001). Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage. 3rd edition. London: W.W. Norton & Company.

Halliday, M.A.K. (1971). Linguistic function and literary style: an inquiry into the language of William Golding’s The Inheritors. In Webster, J.J. (ed) Linguistic Studies of Text and Discourse: Volume 2 (Collected Works of M.A.K. Halliday). London: Continuum.

Halliday, M.A.K. (1973). Explorations in the Function of Language (Explorations in Language Study). London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Halliday, M.A.K. & Mathiessen, C. (2004). An Introduction to Functional Grammar. 3rd edition. London: Hodder Education.

Hancock, J.T., Curry, L.E., Goorha, S. & Woodworth, M.T. (2005). Automated linguistic analysis of deceptive and truthful synchronous computer-mediated communication. HICCS, 1, 22c.

Johnson, M.K., Bush, J.G., & Mitchell, K.J. (1998). Interpersonal reality monitoring: Judging the sources of other people's memories. Social Cognition, 16, 199-224.

Johnson, M.K., Foley, M.A., Suengas, A.G. & Raye, C.L. (1988). Phenomenal characteristics of memories for perceived and imagined autobiographical events. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 117(4), 371-376.

Knapp, M.L., Hart, R.P. & Dennis, H.S. (1974). An exploration of deception as a communication construct. Human Communication Research, 1, 15-29.

Kuiken, D. (1981). Nonimmediate language style and inconsistency between private and expressed evaluations. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 17, 183-196.

Labov, W. (1997). Some further steps in narrative analysis. The Journal of Narrative and Life History, 7, 395-415.

Labov, W. (2001). Uncovering the Event Structure of Narrative. Georgetown University Round Table. Georgetown: Georgetown University Press.

Labov, W. & Waletsky, J. (1967). Narrative analysis. In Helm, J. (ed.) Essays on the Verbal and Visual Arts. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Memon, A., Vrij, A. & Bull, R. (2003). Psychology and Law. 2nd edition. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

Prideaux, G.D. (1989). Text data as evidence for language processing principles: the grammar of ordered events. Language Sciences, 11(1), 27-42.

Rabon, D. (1996). Investigative Discourse Analysis. North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press.

Rudacille, W.C. (1994). Identifying Lies in Disguise. Iowa: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.

Sapir, A. (1987). Scientific Content Analysis. Phoenix: Laboratory for Scientific Interrogation.

Valacich, J.S., Dennis, A.R. & Nunamaker, J.F. (1992). Group size and anonymity effects on computer-mediated idea generation. Small Group Research, 2(1), 49-73.

Vrij, A. (2008). Detecting Lies and Deceit: Pitfalls and Opportunities. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Vrij, A., & Mann, S. (2001). Telling and detecting lies in a high-stake situation: The case of a convicted murderer. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 15, 187-203.

Vrij, A., Semin, G.R. & Bull, R. (1996). Insight in behavior displayed during deception. Human Communication Research, 22, 544-562.

White, C.H. & Burgoon, J.K. (2001). Adaptation and communicative design: patterns of interaction in truthful and deceptive conversation. Human Communication Research, 27, 9-37.

Woodworth, M., Hancock, J. & Goorha, S. (2005). The Motivational Enhancement Effect: implications for our chosen modes of communication in the 21st century. Proceedings of the 38th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

Zhou, L., Burgoon, J.K. & Twitchell, D.P. (2003). A longitudinal analysis of language behavior of deception in email. In Chen, H., Moore, R., Zeng, D. & Leavitt, J. (eds) Intelligence and Security Informatics, 2665, 102-110.

Zhou, L. & Zhang, D. (2006). A comparison of deceptive behavior in dyad and triadic group decision making in synchronous Computer-mediated communication. Small Group Research, 7(2), 140-164.



  • There are currently no refbacks.