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Stories Added - August 2009
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Trinity grad working on ‘lie detection’ system
Trinity Standard - August 2009
NEW YORK, NY. – A former Trinity High School student is working on the cutting edge of “lie detection” techniques being used by police interrogators to separate the guilty from the innocent.
Dr. Kevin Colwell, the Class of 1990 valedictorian at THS, currently serves as a psychologist at Southern Connecticut State University.
He also advises police departments, Pentagon officials and child protection workers who need to check the veracity of conflicting accounts from parents and children.
As part of that work, Colwell is helping develop new methods for police and other officials to determine when people they are interviewing are lying.
In a story published in the New York Times on May 11, Colwell noted that people concocting a story prepare a script that is tight but lacking in detail.
“It’s like when your mom busted you as a kid, and you made really obvious mistakes,” Dr. Colwell was quoted. “Well, now you’re working to avoid those.”
Colwell said by contrast people who are telling the truth have no script, and tend to recall more extraneous details and may even make mistakes. They are sloppier, he said.
Drawing on the past work of other psychologists, Dr. Colwell and Dr. Cheryl Hiscock-Anisman of National University in La Jolla, Calif., have developed an interview technique that appears to help officials separate the truth from lies.
Under their system, interviews are low-key but demanding. A person is first asked to recall a vivid memory, such as their first day of college, to give the interviewer a baseline for reading how the person communicates.
The person is then asked to freely recount the event being investigated, recalling all that happened.
Following a number of pointed questions, the person is asked to describe the event again, adding sounds, smells and other details.
Several additional stages follow, including one in which the person is asked to recall what happened in reverse order.
Studies performed of the technique indicate that people telling the truth tend to add 20 to30 percent more external detail than do those who are lying.
“This is how memory works, by association,” Dr. Hiscock-Anisman told the New York Times. “If you’re telling the truth, this mental reinstatement of contexts triggers more and more external details.”
Those who are concocting a story tend to stick to their script and add very few additional details.
This summer Dr. Colwell and Dr. Hiscock-Anisman are scheduled to teach the technique at the San Diego Police Department, which as a force of 2,000 officers.