Home > Bulletin > A Simple Question to Get Closer to the Truth

A Simple Question to Get Closer to the Truth

I think I read this in either Janine Driver’s book You Can’t Lie to Me or somewhere online a while ago, but I didn’t think about applying the concept until recently. We’ve all been in situations similar to where we want to know who ate the last cookie or who broke the vase on display. There is a group of suspects, but no one will admit to it. One question to ask that can give you plenty of information is who do you think is innocent?

When you find yourself among a group of people suspected of something, you expect to be asked questions such as who do you think is guilty or where were you two days ago? Of course the culprits will have some response planned out (ie a lie) if they have no intention of admitting to any wrongdoing. When you ask an unexpected question, people (innocent and guilty) will be caught off guard and tend to respond in a more natural way. Thus it is less likely the culprit can deceive you.

A guilty person will want to establish innocence and/or make someone else look guilty. However when you ask who do you think is innocent, you remove both that person’s ability to establish his or her innocence and to make someone else look guilty. An innocent person will have no problem establishing someone else’s innocence, whereas a guilty person will be uncomfortable with it knowing it increases the chances of the guilty person being found out when he or she helps establish someone else as innocent.

In my (limited) experiences, I found guilty people have a hard time naming one person who they thought was innocent. It’s important to establish a baseline to see how far a person tries to establish innocence though. Furthermore if you ask the same question to everyone in the group there may be patterns in the responses you can pick up. Let’s say Ann, Brad, Claire, Derek and Eva are among a group of suspects. If everyone thought Claire is innocent, chances are she is actually innocent. However if everyone’s name except for Brad’s was mentioned when you asked the question, that could very well mean Brad is guilty.

I like this question because it’s non-threatening. You aren’t making any accusations or implying anything when you ask that question so if you notice unusual patterns in the responses or someone uncomfortably answering that question, it should trigger a red flag. It doesn’t always mean that person is guilty, it means you should investigate that person further.

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Categories: Bulletin
  1. July 8, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    Very tactful. Focusing on who is not guilty helps you eliminate suspects. Just like how in science it is often easier to conduct an experiment to find out what does not contribute to a phenomenon, rather than what does.

    • July 14, 2013 at 10:37 pm

      I agree! Generally, people are more likely to be innocent than guilty so it’s easier and more important to recognize cues that indicate innocence.

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