IPT Book Reviews

Title: Deceptive Communication  Positive Review Positive Review
Authors: Gerald R. Miller and James B. Stiff
Publisher: Publisher: Sage Publications, Inc., 1995

Sage Publications
2455 Teller Rd.
Thousand Oaks, CA 91320
(805) 499-0721
$24.00 (p)

This short but clear book of 130 pages is a competent review of the theories and research on deception and its detection.  There is a significant body of research that is sufficient to reach some conclusions.  The book presents a somewhat alarming overview of the prevalence of deception in our society and its functions in politics, business, and advertising.  The authors take the position that there are some circumstances in which deception is desirable and maintain that an absolute moral standard that only truth is permissible is too rigid.  This conflict between morality and expedience, which has a long history in human discourse, is not resolved but the authors allow for deception to have some utility.

The theories of deception and moderating variables are summarized in a clear, understandable manner that a nonpsychologist can read and grasp.  The chapters on [he research findings are not needlessly technical but are concise summaries of complex material.  There may be some researchers in the area who may wish to raise additional points but a general read will not find anything that is not supported by research evidence.

The authors very carefully point to the "file drawer" problem as a serious blemish in the research.  Their treatment of this important problem can be readily understood by those not trained in research.  Simply put, the "file drawer" problem is that studies which fail to
produce interesting findings or which support the null hypothesis (that there are no differences between the groups or variables studied) do not get published.  The few nonverbal and verbal behaviors that may be suggestive of deception are described.  This makes it clear that what many people, including some mental health professionals, advance as way of ascertaining truthfulness does not work.  For example, there is no support for the belief that truth tellers look you in the eye while deceivers are shifty eyed.

The conclusion is that, while deception is commonplace, people do not have the ability to detect it reliably.  Although providing base line information improves the ability to do it accurately, here, too, the situation is complex and not simple.  There is a brief discussion of Criterion Based Content Analysis and the possible benefit it may have in the courtroom for more accurately assessing deception by both children and adults.  The suggested directions for future research are cogent and appear to outline the most promising avenues for the future efforts to understand deception and its detection.

In the justice system there is a heavy emphasis upon demeanor and the ability of the finders of fact, judges or juries, to read demeanor correctly and thus be able to tell who is deceiving and who is not.  This book is a sober corrective to that commonly held belief.  At the same time the listings of those nonverbal and verbal behaviors that seem to be of some value in detecting deception may be useful to attorneys and others.  This book is important for those in the justice system who are in any position where detection of deception may be a concern.  It can be read quickly.  It is understandable.  It provides solid and reliable information and does not deceive.

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies.

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