Stopped-Action Words Signal Deception

Liars avoid providing explanations.

Posted Jun 19, 2020

Denphuni Jaisue/123RF
Source: Denphuni Jaisue/123RF

Liars use what's known as "Stopped-Action Words" to give the illusion that they completed an action or an activity when, in fact, the action or activity may not have been completed. The most common Stopped-Action Words include started, began, continued, resumed, asked, tried, and contin­ued.

In the sentence, “I started to go to the store,” the speaker used the Stopped-Action Word “started” to give the impression that he went to the store, when, in fact, he did not. If the speaker went to the store, he would have stated, “I went to the store.” In the statement, “I started to go to the store, but the phone rang,” the speaker provided the reason that pre­vented him from completing the action of going to the store.

A Stopped-Action Word accompanied by a reason for the interruption indicates truth­fulness. If people do not provide a reason for the stopped action, then the person making the inquiry should identify the intervening action or actions that prevented the speaker from completing their initial actions. The following exchange illustrates the use of Stopped-Action Words.

INTERVIEWER: How did the accident occur?

DRIVER: I saw an opening in traffic and, I started to turn my turn sig­nal on when the guy came out of nowhere and hit me. It wasn’t my fault.

INTERVIEWER: You stated that you started to turn your turn signal on. What prevented you from turning it on?

DRIVER: The car hit me.

INTERVIEWER: So, your turn signal was not on when you changed lanes.

The interviewee stated that he started to turn on his turn signal. He did not say that he actually turned it on. Stopped-Action words without explanations indicate a high probability of deception.  

The following interview illustrates another example of Stopped-Action Words. In this case, the interviewee’s actions allegedly caused the accident, although she was not involved in the accident. The interviewee denied that her actions were the cause of the accident. Witnesses reported that the inter­viewee was parked in the emergency lane on the expressway and, when she drove back onto the highway, she caused the accident.

INVESTIGATOR: Tell me what you did.

DRIVER: I entered the freeway at Exit 23, continued driving, and exit­ed at Exit 34. I didn’t stop at all on the freeway. I periodically looked in the rearview mirror and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

The driver used the Stopped-Action Word “continued,” which indicates that she did something other than driving between Exit 23 and Exit 34 with­out stopping. If the driver entered the freeway at Exit 23 and exited the free­way at Exit 34 without stopping, she would have stated. “I got on the free­way at Exit 23 and exited the freeway at Exit 34.”   

On one occasion, I asked my supervisor if I could attend some local train­ing. He refused my request. I thought his refusal was unreasonable, so I went to the training any­way. At the registration desk, the clerk looked for my name but could not find it. She said, “I can’t find your name on the registration list.” I answered, “I asked my supervisor if I could attend.” She replied, “Okay, I’ll just pencil your name in at the bottom.” I smiled obligingly and took a seat. I told the truth. I did ask my supervisor if I could attend the training. The clerk failed to ask what his response was. She automatically assumed that since I asked my supervisor if I could attend, the answer must have been “Yes” because I was at the training. Now, if the clerk would have asked me, “What did your supervisor say?” I would have responded, “He said, ‘No,'” and I would have walked away.

A smoker who says, “I’m trying to quit smoking” is really saying, “My attempt to quit smoking  is failing because something is preventing me from quitting.” A person who says, “I am trying to tell the truth” is really saying, “Something is preventing me from being completely truthful.” A person who says, “I’m trying to cooperate” is really saying, “Something is pre­venting me from fully cooperating.” The use of the Stopped-Action Word “try” also suggests that the speaker is not serious about the activity he or she is try­ing to complete because the Stopped-Action Word “try” has a built-in escape hatch. A smoker who tries to quit smoking and fails can always say, “I succeeded at trying but failed at quitting.”