Lies, SIM Lies, and Statistics!

Simulation software can prepare you to spot virtual lies.

Posted Jul 11, 2015

OK, it’s not exactly what Mark Twain meant (or said), but it seems that simulation training software for lie detection can be quite effective.

Recently, I attended the Police Security Expo in Atlantic City, NJ. A product that caught my attention was a simulation exercise for investigative interrogation. If it works, I thought, it could be a great teaching tool for the criminal justice master’s program I direct.

I’ve experienced SIM-type trainings, such as those that Paul Ekman offers for micro-expressions observation. The models can be quite realistic and his training had worked for me, so I went over to the conference booth that displayed the product.

The company’s clever name is SIMmersion and its reps offer skills training for interrogation, as well as for job interviews. My interest was the interrogation.

Source: SIMmersion

On a large screen, I saw “Jennifer Lerner,” the simulated suspect, responding to questions about some missing files. Thanks to my prior deception detection training, I spotted her red-flag behaviors right away, but the clues were subtle.

I wanted to know more.

The software creator, Dale E. Olsen, was on hand. An experienced polygraph examiner who blends a variety of interrogation models, he’d worked on simulations as early as the mid-1990s to show the FBI. The agency found it effective for new field agents. The word spread to other law enforcement agencies, and the demand inspired Olsen to found SIMmersion in 2002.

Once licensed to use the product, you acquire resources on the website to help prepare for the training exercise. First, you get the case. In essence, there has been a significant theft of valuable digital files, and only three researchers have clearance to access them. All are suspects.

The motive appears to be financial, so you get facts about each of the researchers’ financial conditions, as well as their personnel files and relevant facts about the company.

But you're not just left to your own devices. You also receive tips on how to prepare for the interview, build rapport, spot deception, and get a confession. The point is to get virtually immersed in visual and auditory cues so you can spot certain expressions and behaviors that will help you to plan your strategy.

The interview phase requires you, the investigator, to build rapport, ask specific “diagnostic” questions, and identify an interrogation theme (motive): I did it for my family, I’m getting even, I did it because I'm clever, or I spotted an opportunity. You are warned not to promise anything, and in the event that you get an admission, you're encouraged to acquire as much useful information as possible.

Time is of the essence, because the files must be recovered before they’re sold, so you'll feel a realistic sense of pressure. You get ongoing feedback about your progress and a post-interview score (which you can aim to improve).

Let's talk about Jennifer. To create the various versions of the 35-year-old suspect, the software team auditioned over two-dozen actresses and listened to a lot of dialogue. As a result, the SIM character comes equipped with different personalities, roles, motivations, and responses, so you can practice with her in several different ways. She might be cooperative, neutral or resistant. It's up to you to figure out how best to talk with her.

So, I mentioned "lies, SIM lies, and statistics." Here’s the “stats” part, according to material I picked up at the conference:

After a 3-day training session and a month-long trial in one study with 17 officers at Winona State University, a follow-up survey from 60% showed that 91% agreed that the techniques were effective. It was a small study with a moderate return, so not necessarily significant, but it’s easy enough to experience for oneself whether the SIM scenarios assist. The reps are eager to help with trial experiences. You can also see some clips on YouTube or the company's website.

The point of this software is to assist law enforcement, security personnel, and intelligence analysts to develop, practice and refine their observation skills and interrogation strategies.

It’s a fascinating digital tool. Because licensed individuals can use it at their convenience, as often as they want, it appears to be an effective way to train rookie investigators to learn basic skills for approaching suspects.