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The
British
Psychological
Society

Legal and Criminological Psychology (2012), 17, 322335



C 2011 The British Psychological Society

www.wileyonlinelibrary.com

Sidetracked by emotion: Observers ability to


discriminate genuine and fabricated sexual
assault allegations
Kristine A. Peace1 , Stephen Porter2 and Daniel F. Almon3
1

Grant MacEwan University, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada


University of British Columbia, Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada
3
Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
2

Purpose. Assessing the credibility of reports of sexual victimization often in the


absence of corroboration presents a significant challenge for legal decision makers.
This study examined the accuracy of observers in discriminating genuine and fabricated
sexual assault allegations. Further, we examined whether individual differences and cue
utilization strategies influenced deception detection accuracy.
Methods. Observers (N = 119) evaluated eight (four truthful and four deceptive)
written allegations of sexual assault (counterbalanced), and completed a Credibility
Assessment Questionnaire (CAQ) and individual differences measures.
Results. Results indicated that overall accuracy was below chance (M = 45.3%),
and a truth bias was evidenced. Examining the Big Five personality traits, we found
that openness to experience and neuroticism were positively associated with accuracy,
whereas extraversion was negatively related to accuracy. Further, judgement confidence
was negatively associated with accuracy.
Conclusions. The present study offers insights into observers perceptions of
credibility regarding real-life sexual assault allegations. Implications for legal decision
making are discussed.

During the past several decades, the detection of deception has come under increasing
empirical scrutiny (e.g., see Vrij, 2008). One reason for the enormous scientific interest
in deception is the increasingly recognized problems that have arisen in the legal system
as a result of failed credibility assessments, such as wrongful convictions (e.g., Porter
& ten Brinke, 2010; Vrij, Granhag, & Porter, 2010). In particular, many sexual assault
cases pose a major challenge for police and legal decision makers; the offence often is
not reported immediately and there is sometimes a complete absence of corroborating
evidence, especially when considering increasingly common historical sexual assault
allegations (e.g., Porter, Peace, Douglas, & Doucette, in press). As a result, legal decision
Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Kristine Peace, Department of Psychology, Grant MacEwan University, City
Centre Campus, Rm 6329H, 10700 104 Avenue, Edmonton, AB, Canada T5J 4S2 (e-mail: PeaceK@macewan.ca).
DOI:10.1111/j.2044-8333.2011.02013.x

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323

makers often must evaluate the veracity of a claim based on he said, she said evidence.
While the base rate of false allegations of sexual assault is difficult to establish, some
estimate that as many as 20% of them could be false (Greer, 2000; Trocme & Bala, 2005).
As such, research on factors associated with the features of true and false allegations of
sexual assault and the accuracy of observers in their discrimination is essential. While the
literature on deception detection is extensive (e.g., DePaulo et al., 2003; Vrij, 2008), few
studies have focused on emotional lies or claims of sexual trauma specifically (Porter &
ten Brinke, 2010; cf. Parker & Brown, 2000). The present study examined the ability of
lay observers (potential jurors) to discriminate true and false sexual assault reports, and
whether individual differences are related to the ability to determine the credibility of
such claims.

Credibility assessment and emotion


Studies in the area of deception detection typically indicate that the accuracy of both
laypersons and legal decision makers tends to fall around the level of or slightly above
chance (see Bond & DePaulo, 2008; Vrij, 2008). Further, a common pattern among
evaluators is one of mediocre performance combined with inflated confidence, a formula
for disaster in forensic settings. However, the great majority of deception detection
studies have examined lies about innocuous, non-emotional events (e.g., someone
erasing the blackboard, a film witnessed, mock crime) whereas few have examined lies
about powerful emotional events. Previous research has found that subjective ratings
of narrative characteristics (i.e., sensory and contextual details) are higher for negative
relative to positive events (Barnier, Sharman, McKay, & Sporer, 2005). When Peace
and Sinclair (in press) examined deception detection concerning honest or deceptive
autobiographical events, they found that the detection of false emotional reports was
impaired relative to the neutral reports. Their study showed preliminary evidence of an
emotive truth bias, such that emotional stories tend to be inherently believed furthering
impairing deception ability. In turn, it is possible that the emotional content/intensity of a
lie may influence the quality of deception detection judgements. Further, the emotional
content of statements (and the emotion aroused in the judge) often is used in judgements
of truthfulness (e.g., Semmler & Brewer, 2002). In fact, observers often assess credibility
based, in part, on the presence of emotional content (Vrij, 2008). However, Kaufmann,
Drevland, Wessel, Overskeid, and Magnussen (2003) reported the emotionality of rape
allegations as more predictive of credibility determinations than the actual content of
the reports. This reflects what Russian novelist Alexandr Solzhenitsyn argued: It is not
because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes . . . we make mistakes
because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it
accords with our emotions (cited from Ericson & Mahoney, 2006; also see Oja, 1988).
One purpose of the present study was to determine whether a truth bias is evidenced
when observers are confronted with truthful and fabricated claims of sexual assault. We
expected that in evaluating written narratives of powerful and disturbing descriptions
of sexual assault, observers would be more likely to believe than disbelieve the
accounts.

Individual deception detection ability


In addition to establishing observer accuracy in evaluating sexual assault allegations,
we sought to identify possible individual differences among lay observers that might

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contribute to differing levels of evaluation proficiency. An ongoing debate concerns


the question of whether certain individuals, or wizards (e.g., OSullivan & Ekman,
2004), are consistently better than the average person at detecting lies. Some researchers
have reached the conclusion that there are no individual differences whatsoever in
detecting deception (e.g., Aamodt & Custer, 2006). Bond and DePaulo (2008) found that
individual differences in deception detection were tiny; standard deviations in judgement
ability were less than 1%, ranging no more widely than would be expected by chance.
They argued that people only differ in their biases regarding the tendency to believe
statements, also known as truth or deception biases (see also Masip, Garrido, & Herrero,
2009). Further, deception detection performance is unreliable over testing sessions
(Leach et al., 2009), arguing against the role of stable individual differences. However,
in examining the studies included in Bond and DePaulos (2008) meta-analysis, the
vast majority of lies and truths concerned highly innocuous, non-emotional material.
It is possible that individual differences could facilitate or impair evaluators ability to
discriminate true and false emotional stories specifically.
The potency of the storys emotional content could interact with the emotional
functioning and personality of the judge to influence credibility judgements (Campbell
& Porter, 2002). Little research has addressed the Five Factor models core personality
traits (i.e., openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism;
Costa & McCrae, 1992; McCrae & John, 1992) in a deception detection context. In fact,
many studies present conflicting results (or limited associations) concerning personality
features and detection abilities (Bond & DePaulo, 2008; Porter, Campbell, Stapleton, &
Birt, 2002). Such inconsistent empirical findings may result from studies that examined
personality in relation to detecting mundane or non-emotional deceptive events (Vrij,
2008). For example, some studies have reported that individual lie detection wizards are
more introverted (e.g., Campbell & Porter, 2002; OSullivan, 2005), whereas others have
not confirmed this relationship (e.g., Vrij & Baxter, 1999; Vrij, Harden, Terry, Edward, &
Bull, 2001). Yet, it is possible that such personality features, which are associated with
particular ways of thinking, feeling, and viewing the world, could influence the manner
in which the credibility of others is evaluated. Individuals high in certain personality
features also may respond differently to emotionally provocative claims, adding another
level of complexity in decision making. For example, individuals high in openness to
experience might be more open to the possibility of a horrific sexual assault description
being false than someone who views the world in a more concrete black-and-white
fashion (and perhaps the latter would show a much higher truth bias in this context).
Individuals who are high in conscientiousness or introversion may scrutinize rape allegations more diligently, whereas those high in agreeableness may be more likely to judge
sexual assault claims as truthful. High neuroticism a tendency to persistently experience
negative emotional states could be associated with a superior knowledge concerning
the valid and perhaps subtle elements signifying genuine emotional distress. Further, high
levels of emotional empathy/contagion may be associated with a greater susceptibility
to misjudge emotional reports, especially when confronted with highly evocative claims
such as rape allegations. In fact, empathic individuals should demonstrate more of
an emotive truth bias as their judgement may be clouded by emotion. Each of these
personality features also may be related to differential use of cues in decision making.
Collectively, empirical evaluation of deception detection abilities and individual differences has yielded inconsistent results (Aamodt & Custer, 2006; Bond & DePaulo, 2008),
and research evaluating such factors in credibility assessments of emotional traumas is
warranted.

Credibility and sexual trauma

325

Cue usage
Research examining cue utilization, in general, has found that participants who rely
on a greater variety or number of cues (whether verbal and/or non-verbal) tend to
be more accurate at deception detection (e.g., Campbell & Porter, 2002; Porter & ten
Brinke, 2010). Further, Peace and Sinclair (in press) found that accuracy for judging
negative stimuli improved when participants relied on sensory and emotional cues,
reported stress levels, and used more cues overall relative to other emotional conditions.
Porter et al. (2002) reported that a greater reliance on content cues was associated with
enhanced detection accuracy. Given the emotional nature of sexually traumatic reports,
it is unclear how cues associated with truthfulness (i.e., amount of general and emotional
detail, admissions of forgetting) and deception (i.e., evidence of cognitive operations)
may be utilized.
The present study
The present study had three main objectives: (1) to evaluate the accuracy of credibility
judgements of true and false allegations of sexual assault; (2) to investigate the role
of personality/individual differences in detection accuracy; and (3) to examine cue
utilization strategies and their relation to accuracy in credibility decisions. We predicted
that (1) participants would perform at or slightly above the level of chance in
detecting deception; (2) participants would demonstrate a truth bias, and perform
better at detecting truths relative to lies; (3) individual difference factors may influence
perceptions of credibility concerning the sexual assault stories, and perhaps accuracy;
specifically, higher levels of openness to experience, neuroticism, conscientiousness
could enhance credibility assessment in this context, whereas agreeableness, extraversion, and emotional contagion could impair decision making; and (4) accurate judges
would utilize more cues relative to inaccurate judges.

Method
Participants
Undergraduate students (N = 119) participated in this study. In order to comply with
ethical standards, all potential participants were warned about the explicit and sexually
traumatic nature of stimuli to be evaluated. The sample was comprised of 90 (76%)
females and 29 (24%) males, with a mean age of 20.8 years (SD = 5.1). Participation was
voluntary, and all participants were provided course credit for their involvement in the
study.
Materials
Trauma narratives
Narratives describing incidents of sexual trauma in adulthood were collected as part
of two previous studies (see Peace & Porter, in press; Peace, Porter, & ten Brinke,
2008), and the original participants consented to use of their narratives in future
studies. Genuine sexual traumas were elicited from women who, via self-referral, sought
individual psychological services from a local sexual assault centre. An ad was placed in
the clinic seeking participants for a research study on memory for sexual assault, during
which victims would be asked to describe everything they could remember about their
sexual assault in as much detail as possible. Participants provided police incident reports

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of the event, which confirmed that events generally happened as described, and all
claims led to convictions. Only those claims with corroborating forensic documentation
confirming these events were considered for use in the present study. Further, chances
are exceedingly small that someone would fabricate a sexual assault and necessary
corroborating evidence to seek anonymous treatment for sexual assault victims.
Fabricated claims of sexual assault were elicited from a sample of participants who
indicated they had never been the victims of sexual assault, but freely admitted other
types of traumatic victimization (reducing the likelihood they were lying about these experiences). Participants in this study were asked to report on a fake trauma and describe
this event convincingly and in as much detail as possible as if it had happened to
them (Peace & Porter, in press). Selection criteria for the genuine and fabricated
narratives/allegations relating to sexual assault were: the sexual assault had occurred
as an adult, consent for use of data in further studies had been provided, and the
narratives were of comparable lengths (matched across veracity). Truthful accounts (M =
599.25 words) were not significantly different in number of words from fabricated
narratives (M = 567.25 words) of sexual trauma, t(3) = .31, p > .05. On the advice
of a journal reviewer, an independent sample of researchers in the area of emotion
and memory working in the authors labs, who were blind to veracity, and who had no
association with the present research (n = 20) provided their ratings of how emotionally
intense the reports were on a scale from 1 (low) to 7 (high), which were then used to
categorize narratives based on high (M = 6.38, SD = .07) versus lower (M = 4.01, SD =
.13) groupings. In total, eight reports of sexual trauma (four true, four fabricated) were
selected. These narratives were presented to the participants in the current study in
random order.
NEO-Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI)
The NEO-Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) (Costa & McCrae, 1992) is a 60-item selfreport measure of the Big Five personality traits. Each item (i.e., I really enjoy talking
to people) is rated on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), yielding
scores for each of the following five indices of personality: neuroticism, extraversion,
openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. This measure has
excellent psychometric properties (McCrae & Costa, 2004) and has demonstrated high
reliability and validity across situations (e.g., McCrae et al., 2002).
The Emotion Contagion Scale (ECS)
The Emotion Contagion Scale (ECS) (Doherty, 1997) is a 15-item self-report questionnaire
that measures the extent to which individuals can identify or empathize with the
emotions of others. Participants rated the items (i.e., it irritates me to be around angry
people) on a 5-point scale from 1 (never) to 5 (always). The concept of emotional
contagion has been applied in a variety of social and cognitive studies (e.g., Gump &
Kulik, 1997), can be used to evaluate empathic responses (e.g., Totterdell, 2000), and
has good psychometric properties (e.g., Doherty, Orimoto, Singelis, Hatfield, & Hebb,
1995).
Credibility Assessment Questionnaire (CAQ)
The Credibility Assessment Questionnaire (CAQ) (Campbell & Porter, 2002) is a brief 20item questionnaire used to record judgements and cue utilization with respect to each

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trauma narrative. Participants were asked whether the trauma narrative was truthful
or fabricated, and their judgement confidence (from 1 [not at all] to 7 [extremely]).
In addition, the CAQ asked what cues (e.g., hesitation in writing, uneven flow of
words/sentences, amount of details provided) were relied upon in the decision-making
process (see Campbell & Porter, 2002; Peace & Sinclair, in press). These cues were
drawn from the empirical literature on deception detection (see DePaulo et al., 2003;
Porter & ten Brinke, 2010), and participants were asked to indicate whether they used
the cue (yes/no) and its perceived usefulness rated on a scale from 1 (not at all helpful)
to 7 (extremely helpful). The presence (or absence) of these cues then was rated by 20
independent raters, blind to the veracity of the claims and the purpose of the study, on
a scale from 1 (not present) to 7 (highly present).

Procedure
Upon arrival at the experimental session, participants were asked to complete the NEOFFI and the ECS. Following the personality assessments, each participant was given
a booklet containing instructions regarding the decision-making task, and an additional
warning about the sensitive nature of the material. This booklet contained eight accounts
of sexual victimization, four truthful and four fabricated (counterbalanced). Participants
were instructed to read each of the narratives and answer the questions that followed
about their credibility judgement and what cues they used to make their decisions (i.e.,
complete the CAQ). Upon completion of the experiment, participants were debriefed
about the nature and hypotheses of the study, and awarded course credit for their
involvement.

Results
Credibility assessment and emotion
Overall, the mean level of accuracy at detecting deception for the sample was 45.3% (SD
= 16.7%); significantly below the level of chance (Z = 2.66, p < .001). In order to assess
differences between correct/accurate credibility judgements of truthful claims relative
to deceptive reports, a repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted
with truthful and fabricated accuracy rates as the within-subjects factors. The analysis
revealed a significant effect, F(1,115) = 8.08, p < .005, such that participants were
better at correctly judging truthful (M = 49.6%, SD = 25.3%) relative to deceptive (M =
41.0%, SD = 21.2%) accounts.1 In addition, we examined the relation between accuracy
and emotionality; there was a trend for accuracy to be higher for reports rated as lower
(M = 47%; SD = 25%) versus higher (M = 40.7%; SD = 25.2%) in emotional intensity,
t(116) = 1.88, p = .06. To determine whether participants displayed a truth bias, we
conducted a signal detection (SDT) analysis on the hit/false alarm rates,2 and calculated
estimates of discrimination accuracy (A ) and response bias (B ) (see Meissner & Kassin,

order of presentation of memory reports (counterbalancing) had no significant effect on total (F(7,115) = 1.11, p
.05), truthful (F(7,115) = .90, p .05), or fabricated (F(7,118) = 1.44, p .05) accuracy scores and were not considered
further in the analyses.
2 Hit rates are the proportion of truthful reports that were correctly identified as truthful, and false alarms the proportion of
deceptive reports that were incorrectly identified as truthful.
1 The

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Table 1. Means (and standard deviations) and correlation values for individual difference measures
with overall accuracy, as well as truthful and fabricated accuracy
Measure
NEO-FFI
Neuroticism
Openness
Extraversion
Agreeableness
Conscientiousness
ECS
Total score

Means (SD)

Overall accuracy

Truthful accuracy

Fabricated accuracy

21.30 (8.25)
29.72 (6.38)
30.75 (6.44)
32.34 (6.44)
32.24 (6.38)

.15
.18a
.21
.15
.04

.26
.20
.22
.16
.14

.07
.02
.08
.06
.10

3.38 (.53)

.01

.02

.03

Note. p .05; p .01. a Approached significance.

2002).3 The overall level of discrimination accuracy was A = .32, SD = .35 and response
bias was B = .17, SD = .57, indicating that participants performed poorly at correctly
discriminating truth from fiction, and utilized liberal judgement criteria (i.e., participants
engaged in the truth bias and were likely to err on the side of caution and label reports
as truthful more frequently). Bivariate correlations indicated that accuracy was unrelated
to perceived ability at deception detection, r(119) = .09, p > .05. However, confidence
was negatively related to truth detection accuracy, r(108) = .20, p < .05, and positively
related to participants self-rated success on the deception task (i.e., percentage of correct
judgements out of eight reports; r(110) = .28, p < .01). Confident participants believed
that they correctly identified a greater number of judgements, but this was not reflected
in their actual performance.

Individual deception detection ability


The relation between mean scores on scales of the NEO-FFI and emotional contagion
(ECS) and accuracy scores (total accuracy, accuracy in detecting truthful and deceptive
claims) were examined. Levels of conscientiousness and agreeableness were unrelated
to all measures of accuracy; however, several domains of personality were related
to accuracy (see Table 1 for means and correlations). Specifically, extraversion was
negatively correlated with both total accuracy, r(115) = .21, p < .05, and accuracy
at detecting truthful claims, r(115) = .21, p < .05, but unrelated to detecting false
claims, r(118) = .09, p > .05. Conversely, both neuroticism, r(115) = .26, p < .01, and
openness, r(115) = .18, p = .06 (trend) were positively related to total accuracy scores.
Further, higher levels of openness were associated with greater accuracy at correctly
identifying truthful claims, r(115) = .20, p < .05. A regression analysis was performed
in order to examine whether personality features predicted discrimination accuracy (A )
and response bias (B ). The regression model indicated that openness to experience was
the strongest predictor of discrimination accuracy, = .26, F(1,116) = 8.22, p < .01,
and that neuroticism approached significance for this variable, = .18, t(115) = 1.95,
3 A represents participants ability to correctly ascertain truth and correctly reject deception (range from 1.0 to + 1.0),
whereas B reflects the degree of information required for the participant to decide that a report is truthful (where 0.0 reflects
no bias, positive values reflect a conservative bias, and negative values reflect a liberal bias). A correction constant of 0.5
was added to all values to adjust for 0-values in accordance with the formulas used for A and B calculations (see Brown &
White, 2005).

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329

Table 2. Means (and standard deviations) for presence of cues (objective rating) and perceived
usefulness of cues (subjective rating) in determining veracity of the sexually traumatic reports
Cue presence
Cue
Amount of detail
Logical consistency
Sensory details
Emotional self-detail
Relevant details
Reported stress

Cue usefulness

Real

False

Real

False

t-Score

p-Value

6.12 (.95)
5.61 (1.01)
4.22 (.97)
5.29 (.83)
4.65 (.93)
6.17 (.70)

5.74 (1.02)
4.34 (.88)
4.48 (.99)
5.02 (.90)
5.31 (1.09)
5.56 (.86)

5.08 (.93)
5.04 (.88)
4.83 (1.03)
4.95 (.94)
4.64 (.94)
4.92 (.99)

5.16 (.71)
5.36 (.75)
4.84 (.99)
4.89 (.98)
4.78 (.94)
4.94 (1.03)

.93
3.73
.10
.62
1.77
.24

.354
.000
.920
.534
.081
.812

p = .05. Response bias was significantly predicted by levels of extraversion, = .22,


F(1,116) = 5.84, p < .05, where higher levels of extraversion were associated with less
stringent decision criteria (which negatively influenced accuracy; see above). Analyses
of scores on levels of emotional contagion, r(108) = .01, p > .05, and social desirability,
r(116) = .06, p > .05, did not yield any significant results.
Cue usage
Overall, participants used a mean total of 84.7 cues (SD = 21.1) across all memory
reports, and an average of 10.3 (SD = 2.4) cues per sexual assault evaluation. The mean
number of cues used did not differ across truthful (M = 10.29, SD = 2.58) or fabricated
(M = 10.31, SD = 2.47) sexual traumas, t(118) = 12, p > .05. Participants indicated
that they used the following cues most often in their decision making: amount of detail,
logical consistency, sensory details, self-related emotional details, relevant details, and
reported levels of stress (using an arbitrary cut off of 80% endorsement). Independent
ratings (n = 20) of cues in the sexual trauma narratives indicated that each of the
cues listed above were present in both types of narratives (see Table 2), and ratings
of usefulness were correlated with the presence of actual cues in the reports (rs =
.56.84; all ps < .01). From the perspective of the observers, the only apparent difference
between true and false reports was the presence of logical consistency, t(114) = 3.73,
p < .001, which was rated to be less present in fabricated claims (see Table 2). Further,
cue use did not vary across reports that were low (M = 10.5, SD = 2.7) and high
(M = 10.6, SD = 2.7) in emotional intensity, t(79) = .49, p > .05. A series of one-way
ANOVAs indicated no significant differences (ps > .05) in all cue use variables (i.e., total,
truthful, fabricated) for judges who were more accurate (n = 27 > 50%) versus less
accurate (n = 51 < 50%). Pearson correlations revealed no associations with personality
variables, and only one significant finding with respect to total cue use on each individual
cue: consideration of uneven flow of words and sentences was associated with better
accuracy when detecting honest accounts, r(114) = .22, p < .05 (see Table 2 for means
and standard deviations).

Discussion
Deception detection (e.g., Vrij, 2008; Vrij et al., 2010) and memories for sexual trauma
(e.g., Alexander et al., 2005; Koss, Figueredo, Bell, Tharan, & Tromp, 1999; Peace et al.,
2008) each have received much empirical attention. However, no studies have directly
assessed observers capacity to detect true and false allegations of sexual victimization.

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The present study was designed to examine detection accuracy, truth bias, individual
differences, and cues used in decision making in relation to a sample of sexual trauma
narratives.

Credibility assessment and emotion


Our results support previous research where detection accuracy is generally around
the level of chance, and confirmed our prediction regarding a truth bias when judging
claims of sexual victimization. In fact, observers performed worse (45.3%) than if they
had randomly guessed, showed poor discrimination accuracy and a liberal response bias.
That is, they were more likely to judge sexual assault narratives as truthful relative to
deceptive. Previous studies that have utilized emotional stimuli also have found detection
rates below chance levels (e.g., Campbell & Porter, 2002; Peace & Sinclair, in press).
Further, participants were less accurate when judging false allegations (41%) relative to
truthful accounts (49.6%). When confronted with claims of sexual assault (all of which
appeared plausible), it is reasonable to assume that observers may have felt hesitant to
label a report as fake when the subject matter is of such an emotional nature. This
was reflected in our finding that observers were less accurate when judging reports
considered higher (40.7%) versus lower (47%) in emotional intensity. Although this
finding approached significance, we think that judgements of emotional intensity may
have been constrained by the emotional nature of sexual assault claims overall (i.e.,
none were rated as truly low or a 1 or 2 on a 7-point Likert scale). It appears that
allegations concerning traumatic sexual assaults are associated with impaired decision
making, and result in a more pronounced truth bias than when non-emotional stimuli are
used. Further research comparing judgement accuracy of emotional and non-emotional
stimuli is necessary to elucidate the presence of an emotive truth bias.
Interestingly, the current study revealed a small negative correlation between
confidence and accuracy at detecting truthful claims of victimization. While previous
research has found confidence to be unrelated to accuracy in credibility assessment (e.g.,
DePaulo, Charlton, Cooper, Lindsay, & Muhlenbruck, 1997; K
ohnken, 1987; Porter et al.,
2002), Vrij (2008) reported that high confidence in detection abilities can be detrimental;
those with high confidence may make decisions without considering information in
detail, rely on heuristics and inaccurate cues (i.e., gut instinct, demeanor), and not be
motivated to detect deception. This is supported by our finding that participants who
felt more confident in their detection abilities (overall) also believed they would be more
successful in their veracity determinations across the eight narratives presented, whereas
their actual performance was negatively related to their confidence (see Sporer, Penrod,
Read, & Cutler, 1995, for similar conclusions in eyewitness studies). As such, confidence
in decision making is important to consider given that confidence is associated with
perceptions of truthfulness (e.g., Whitley & Greenberg, 1986), despite the lack of
relations found in previous studies deception detection studies.

Individual deception detection abilities


Individual difference factors such as personality and emotional contagion had not
been examined in relation to deception detection involving sexual assault narratives.
While previous research has not consistently demonstrated relationships between broad
personality dimensions and deception detection abilities (see Bond & DePaulo, 2008),
our results indicated several small but significant associations. There was a negative

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331

correlation between extraversion and overall (as well as truth) accuracy, indicating
that participants scoring low in extraversion (i.e., introverts) demonstrated enhanced
capabilities in the detection task. This outcome is in line with previous observations
that introversion is related to more detailed processing of stimuli, greater tolerance
of repetition, lower distractibility on cognitive tasks, better verbal and non-verbal
abilities, and use of more stringent decision-making criteria (e.g., Aron & Aron, 1997;
Koelega, 1992; McCrae, 1987). This advantage appears to be especially pronounced
in complex tasks (e.g., Brebner & Cooper, 1978), where introverted individuals may
possess more varied cognitive processing abilities that positively influence deception
detection accuracy (e.g., Campbell & Porter, 2002; OSullivan, 2005). Additional research
on introversion (and perhaps critical thinking skills) is necessary to further clarify these
associations. Another finding here was a positive association between accuracy and
both openness to new experiences and neuroticism. People high in openness to new
experience tend to enjoy effortful thinking, creating new solutions to complex problems,
adapting their skills to suit new situations/problems, and engaging in divergent thinking
(e.g., Colquitt, Hollenback, Ilgen, LePine, & Sheppard, 2002; Flynn, 2005; McCrae, 1996;
Sadowski & Cogburn, 1997). Collectively, it appears that individuals high in openness
have many important features necessary for veracity determinations and enhanced
levels of accuracy. Neuroticism, on the other hand, was only related to accuracy for
correctly identifying truthful claims, and unrelated to accuracy for detecting lies or
overall accuracy. This trait is strongly associated with negative emotionality (e.g., Izard,
Libero, Putnam, & Haynes, 1993), such that when individuals high in neuroticism are in a
negative mood, they are better at recognizing negative emotions and classifying affective
information (e.g., Carver, Sutton, & Scheier, 2000; Rusting, 1999; Tamir & Robinson,
2004). In our study, it is conceivable that reading reports of sexual victimization
induced a negative mood state, and that participants high in neuroticism were able to
more efficiently evaluate and recognize plausible negative emotions and content in the
narratives, thus improving their accuracy for truthful claims that contained such details.
In general, research has found that fabricated traumas are less emotionally detailed
relative to truthful traumas (e.g., Peace & Porter, in press; Porter, Peace, & Emmett,
2007), influencing the availability of this negative emotional content. As such, this helps
to explain why neuroticism only was positively associated with truth accuracy (and not
overall or lie accuracy).

Cue usage
Our analysis of overall cue utilization in the present study did not support our hypothesis;
overall accuracy was unrelated to the number or type of cues used. It appeared that
heavily utilized cues (e.g., amount of detail, logical consistency, relevant details) were
present to a relatively high degree in both truthful and fabricated claims, limiting any
associations between cue use and accuracy. Reliance on such cues may further explain
the relatively poor hit rates exhibited in our study; participants were relying on cues
that did not serve as good discriminators between truths and lies. That being said,
participants did indicate that they relied on logical consistency (i.e., does the story
make sense, do the details fit together) more in fabricated relative to truthful reports.
In fact, fabricated narratives were associated with lower levels of logical consistency,
making this a better cue to utilize by our sample. Related to this, reliance on the cue
of uneven flow of words/sentences was associated with better accuracy in correctly
discriminating truthful accounts. This finding fits with previous studies that have reported

332

Kristine A. Peace et al.

fabricated events contain a rote or story-like quality (e.g., Lees-Haley, 1984, Porter, Peace
et al., 2007), whereas truthful events are associated with greater unstructured production
(DePaulo et al., 2003; Vrij, 2008). As such, it is possible that participants were picking up
on these subtle differences between reports, and recognized that truthful accounts from
memory may be less structured in their presentation. That being said, the directionality
of the cues were not revealed to participants (i.e., whether it was associated with
truth or deception), and they may have interpreted the absence of this particular
cue as being indicative of truth (e.g., Campbell & Porter, 2002). We also examined
whether more accurate judges (overall rate over 50%) utilized different cues relative
to inaccurate judges (rates less than 50%). Contrary to our prediction, no difference in
cue utilization across judge accuracy was revealed. Previous research has found that
accurate judges may rely on a greater number of and more varied cues relative to
inaccurate judges (e.g., Campbell & Porter, 2002; Ekman & OSullivan, 1991), which
also may relate to the constructs of both introversion and openness to experience.
Although no personality-cue use associations were found in our study, future research
evaluating accuracy and cue use as a function of personality and novelty of the
deception detection stimuli may be useful in testing these relationships. Participants
may have had problems with interpretation of the cues, as evidenced by the most
commonly used cues being applied to both truthful and fabricated claims similarly.
In addition, participants may have had difficulties understanding completion of the
questionnaire (i.e., cues used/not used, how the cue was used, and the degree of
usefulness). In addition, self-reports about cues used may be constrained by our inability
to accurately determine what influences our judgements (see Wilson & Nisbett, 1978).
As such, our ability to detect true differences in overall cue utilization may have been
limited.

Conclusions
Some researchers (e.g., Bond & DePaulo, 2008) have concluded that differences in
detecting deception result more from the characteristics and behaviours of the deceiver
more than the observer. Some argue that individual differences are negligible (Aamodt &
Custer, 2006; Bond & DePaulo, 2008), except that people differ in their biases regarding
the veracity of statements, also known as a truth- or deception-biases (Masip et al.,
2009). Our findings suggest that personality factors have at least a modest influence on
deception detection ability and confirm that laypersons assume more often than not
that sexual assault allegations are truthful. While in actual cases, this may be indeed
be the case in terms of base rate, our results highlight that false allegations may be
mistakenly identified as truthful in he said/she said cases (Porter, Campbell, Birt, &
Woodworth, 2003). Our next step in this research is to examine the ability of police
investigators and judicial decision makers to discriminate true and false sexual assault
allegations, and to examine whether such professionals exhibit similar or different
biases for the credibility of such allegations. The present study offers insights into
deception detection abilities when using real life and emotionally provocative stimuli.
Participants performed worse than chance level overall, and demonstrated a truth bias
in their veracity determinations. These findings have implications in forensic settings
(e.g., consideration of emotional intensity of allegations and personality features of the
investigator that may enhance or impede accuracy) when investigators are confronted
with allegations of sexual assault, and are faced with the challenge of determining
veracity.

Credibility and sexual trauma

333

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