Scientific Evidence and Cue Theories in Deception Research: Reconciling Findings From Meta-Analyses and Primary Experiments

Timothy R. Levine


A widely held belief about human communication is that specific verbal and nonverbal behaviors signal deception. This belief is held as folk wisdom across many cultures. It is also often portrayed as accepted social scientific knowledge in academic works. Explanations for why specific behaviors signal deception fall under the umbrella label of “cue theories.” This commentary essay reviews the extensive social scientific theory and research on the utility of deception cues for detecting deception. Oddly, conclusions from meta-analyses do not align with the findings of the primary studies that comprise the meta-analyses. The divergent conclusions from meta-analyses and primary studies challenge both the validity of cue-based lie detection and what counts as the critical unit of scientific evidence in research. The implications for social science theory and research are discussed. Suggestions for improved applied lie detection are also provided.


lying, nonverbal communication, meta-analysis, significance testing

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