Let Their Words Do the Talking

Verbal cues to detect deception.

Text Bridges

The seven commonly used Text Bridges that signal deception.

Text Bridges

Lying by omission is the preferred method to lie. Liars tell the truth up to the point where they want to conceal information, skip over the withheld information, and tell the truth again. Successful liars construct sentences that allow them to skip over withheld information to make the story appear truthful. Constructing a sentence to span the information gap replicates building a bridge across a river. A road stops at the river's edge, a bridge spans the river, and the road continues on the opposite bank. Bridges come in a variety of designs, but each design must adhere to specific construction standards or structural failure occurs. Likewise, sentence construction must follow certain grammar rules. Truthful people use the same grammar rules as deceptive people to construct sentences. Isolating the grammatical devices used to bridge information gaps identify intentionally or unintentionally withheld information. The grammatical devices used to bridge information gaps, referred to as Text Bridges, serve as markers to locate withheld information; however, withheld information does not always indicate deception.

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Text Bridges allow people to transition from one topic to another without detailing tedious, lesser-included activities. For example, in the sentence "I got up, and then I took a shower, and then I ate breakfast," the Text Bridge then signals withheld information. The withheld information does not necessarily constitute deception. The communicator did not want to bore the listener or reader with the lesser-included activities of taking a shower and eating breakfast. However, Text Bridges used at critical times during interviews or conversations may signal deception.

Text Bridges comprise three categories: subordinating words, adverbial conjunctives, and transition words. Some Text Bridges overlap categories depending on the context of the sentence but, regardless of their grammatical function, they still act as Text Bridges. Subordinating words connect unequal but related ideas and create time gaps. Subordinating words include: after, although, as if, as long as, because, before, even though, if, in order, that, since, so, that, than, through, unless, until, when, where, wherever, and while. For example, a husband suspected of killing his wife arrived home at 5:00 p.m. and made the following statement to the investigating detective, "After I came home, I found my wife dead." The subordinating word after creates an information gap from the time the man came home until the time he found his wife dead. The murder suspect wanted to give the impression that he arrived home and immediately found his wife dead; however, this was not the case. The murder suspect arrived home at 5:00 p.m. but did not indicate what time he found his wife dead. A time gap exists from 5:00 p.m. until the suspect found his wife dead. During this information gap, the murder suspect got into an altercation with his wife and killed her. The murder suspect hid the physical altercation with his wife by using the Text Bridge after.

Adverbial conjunctives connect two complete ideas. Adverbial conjunctives include: accordingly, however, besides, nevertheless, consequently, otherwise, again, indeed, also, moreover, finally, therefore, furthermore, then, and thus. Adverbial conjunctives create information gaps. For example, a young boy told his parents "I was playing with my toys and then Tommy came over and hit me." The adverbial conjunctive then bridges the information gap. In reality, the young boy took the toy Tommy was holding when he approached. In retaliation, Tommy struck the young boy. The young boy instigated the attack by taking Tommy's toy but used a Text Bridge to make himself appear as if he was the victim by withholding incriminating information.

Transitional words connect themes and ideas or establish relationships. Transitional words group into four basic categories: 1) time, 2) contrast, 3) result, and 4) addition. Transitional words indicating time include: after, afterward, before, during, earlier, eventually, finally, first, later, meanwhile, since, then, and until. Transitional words indicating contrast include: however, in contrast, indeed, instead, nevertheless, on the contrary, on the other hand, and yet. Transitional words indicating result include: because, consequently, as a result, on account of, so, then, therefore, and thus. Transitional words indicating addition include: also, and, besides for example, furthermore, in addition, moreover, and too.

The following example illustrates how transition words create information gaps. A motorist wrote the following description of his automobile accident: "I saw the stop sign. Before I entered the intersection, I looked both ways, drove into the intersection and was struck in the right passenger door by the other vehicle." A witness told the traffic investigator that the motorist did look both ways at the intersection, but he did not make a complete stop at the stop sign. In reality, the motorist did see the stop sign. He did look both ways before entering the intersection, and the other vehicle did strike the motorist's passenger side door; however, the motorist failed to write that he did not stop at the stop sign. The motorist used the Text Bridge before to bridge the withheld information.

The most commonly used Text Bridges include then, so, after, when, as, while, and next. This easily memorized list of Text Bridges provides a powerful tool to identify where people withhold information during interviews or conversations. The following illustration demonstrates how Text Bridges can be exploited. A student wrote a statement in response to an allegation that she took $20 from her professor's office during the first class break. Pursuant to an informal investigation, the student wrote a narrative account of her activities from the time she entered the building until the end of the first break. The following is a copy of her statement:

"I arrived at 7:45 a.m. with Jenna. I came into the room, put my bag at my desk and Jenna and I went to the little snack area to get some coffee. I returned to the classroom and sat at my desk. At 8:50 we went on a break. Jenna and I went to the bathroom. After that I came back to the classroom and Jenna stayed in the bathroom. She came back to the classroom soon after. We sat at our desk and waited for our class to continue."

The critical time in the narrative is at the first class break when the $20 was taken. The section of the narrative that addressed the break is, "At 8:50 we went on a break. Jenna and I went to the bathroom. After that I came back to the classroom and Jenna stayed in the bathroom. She came back to the classroom soon after." `The student used the Text Bridge after which created an information gap from the time she went to the bathroom and to the time she came back to the classroom. This information gap in the student's narrative covered the time she walked to the instructor's office and stole the $20. After conducting an informal interview, the student admitted taking the $20. The student used the Text Bridge after to conceal the fact that after she went to the bathroom and before she returned to the classroom she walked down the hall to the instructor's office and stole $20. In addition to the use of a Text Bridge, the student misdirected the reader. The student was asked to provide an account of her activities not Jenna's activities. The student focused on Jenna's activities to substitute for the missing time when the money was stolen.

In a more practical example, a parent wanted to know what his daughter did on the previous evening when she was permitted to drive the family car. This is a delicate situation because, as parents, we don't want to destroy the tentative bonds between parents and teen-aged children. The conversation went like this:

Dad: What did you do last night?

Daughter: I went to the library and then I came straight home.

The Text Bridge then signals missing information, which does not necessarily mean the daughter is lying. The missing activities could be that she checked out books, walked from the library to the car, got in the car, drove home, etc. Although this Text Bridge does not automatically signal deception, as a parent I would want to know what the missing information was. The part of her response that I find troubling is the Push-Pull Word straight. The only circumstances in which the daughter could use the word straight if it pushes off not straight or crooked. Push-Pull Words were discussed in a previous post on this blog. The Text Bridge then and the Push-Pull Word straight together signal deception. After some further questioning, the daughter admitted that she went to the library the previous night for 5 minutes. She did this, so she would not have to lie to her parents. The daughter also said she case straight home....straight home from a party! The Text Bridge then and the Push-Pull Word straight betrayer her deception.A booklet titled Fibs to Facts contains additional parental tools to detect deception.

Text Bridges do not necessarily indicate deception. Both liars and truthful people use Text Bridges. Text Bridges signal missing information. If the missing information is deemed valuable, additional inquiries should be made to reveal the intentionally or unintentionally withheld information. Text Bridges were the subject of my doctoral dissertation. An indepth examination of Text Bridges and other verbal indicators of deception can be found in Psychological Narrative Analysis: A Professional Method to Detect Deception in Oral and Written Communications or in a booklet titled Catch a Liar, which contains my lecture note. Additional information can also be obtained from my my web site at words-talk.com.

 

John R. "Jack" Schafer, Ph.D., earned his degree in psychology from Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, California and served as a behavioral analyst for the FBI.

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