Psychology, Research in the School

Nonverbal coordination increases with lie difficulty

The Times and the New Scientist have recently published articles about a research paper entitled ‘A liar and a copycat’, co-authored by Professor John Dixon of the Open University School of Psychology and Counselling.

In this paper, the authors demonstrate in two experiments that lying affects the interactional dynamics and non-verbal behaviour between two people. Specifically, nonverbal coordination increases under the cognitive load of lying. In the second experiment, the authors tested whether increased monitoring by the liar (as suggested by the interpersonal deception theory) could serve as an alternative explanation, but this was not the case. In both experiments, they found that the harder the lie, the more nonverbal coordination occurred.

The other authors included Sophie van der Zee, Paul Taylor, Ruth Wong, and Tarek Menacere.  


Studies of the nonverbal correlates of deception tend to examine liars’ behaviours as independent from the behaviour of the interviewer, ignoring joint action. To address this gap, experiment 1 examined the effect of telling a truth and easy, difficult and very difficult lies on nonverbal coordination. Nonverbal coordination was measured automatically by applying a dynamic time warping algorithm to motion-capture data. In experiment 2, interviewees also received instructions that influenced the attention they paid to either the nonverbal or verbal behaviour of the interviewer. Results from both experiments found that interviewer–interviewee nonverbal coordination increased with lie difficulty. This increase was not influenced by the degree to which interviewees paid attention to their nonverbal behaviour, nor by the degree of interviewer’s suspicion. Our findings are consistent with the broader proposition that people rely on automated processes such as mimicry when under cognitive load.

Link to the Open Access published paper: 

Links to the news articles discussing the paper:

New Scientist 

The Times: 

Read more about John Dixon’s work:

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