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Guidelines for Understanding Nonverbal Behavior

NCJ Number
Polygraph Volume: 13 Issue: 4 Dated: (December 1984) Pages: 314-320
M McKinnon
Date Published
7 pages
Seven rules for interpreting nonverbal behaviors are presented, with emphasis on the avoidance of misuse of standard advice aimed at determining when someone is lying. These rules are helpful during interrogation of suspects.
Most recent articles on reading people's nonverbal behaviors assume that all people are basically alike. However, the research literature shows that this underlying assumption is false. The same behaviors have different meanings in different situations, and people often display different behaviors in sending similar messages. The first rule should be to read the subject's behavior against that of the general population, while being aware that this comparison merely provides the groundwork upon which other observational guidelines must build. After identifying similarities in people's nonverbal behaviors, it is important to identify the differences. Thus, the subjects must be considered to be their own baselines and their behavior when questioned about the case compared with their behavior when undergoing background questioning. The next rules are to read behavior in the context in which it occurs, to consider clusters of behaviors rather than single behaviors, and to note behavior repetitions and the questions which generate them. The final two rules are to reserve judgment as long as possible to avoid projecting assumptions and biases onto the subject and to be aware of the subject's frame of reference. A glossary and a list of nine references are provided.


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