“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32.
Since the day a little known teacher of humble beginnings uttered these words, personal perceptions regarding “the truth” of the above statements have caused oceans of blood to flow and global wars for centuries that brought pain, agony, and misery otherwise unknown to both man and beast.
The question is: Despite societal and culturally-driven perceptions of the validity of certain truths, how do we know that something we saw or heard or read is true?
The Art of Lying
Instead of wading into the very personal and subjective abyss of quantifying “truth claims”, I turned instead to how can you tell you are seeing, hearing, or reading lies.
In his book, Deception in Selection: Interviewees and the Psychology of Deceit, Eggert (2012) admits his book was targeted toward his “fellow Human Resource professionals particularly for those involved in the pragmatics of selection which does not need all the supporting theory or research.” However, the truths Eggert wrote in his book about the art of lying appear universal.
For instance, while interviewing job applicants, Eggert (2012) advises it is highly likely the applicant will tell their versions of the truth whether their version is really “the truth” as perceived by their former employers (p. 21-22).
After explaining that “fabrication” is a global phenomenon that abounds internationally, Eggert noted the “language of lying is complex.” The problem is, as Eggert points out, good liars can hide lies within truthful statements or lie by leaving aversions to the truth out by intentional omission (p. 33). The result is one is lead to believe a statement is true, when in fact, the statement is full of deception – or – lies. Now wonder Eggert was able to compile a full page that lists commonly used “euphemisms” that connote deceit, or, simply lies (p. 33 35).
St. Augustine, Factual Falsity, and Allegories
Eggert traced the framework of “falsehood” back to Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, commonly known as St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) This “saint” semiotically opined that, for a statement to be perceived as a “lie,” the statement must meet the mark of ‘intentionality.” In other words, St. Augustine attempted to separate liars from those that fall prey to “factual falsity.”
“Good” St. Augustine devised a “test” that could be applied to separate lies from a mistaken perceptions. Specifically, St. Augustine proposed three main questions one should ask before determining whether something is truth or lie:
- What is a lie?
- What does the wrongfulness of a lie consist of?
- What are the circumstances in which lies are forbidden, permitted, or enjoined?
In fact, “wise” St. Augustine was so convinced he could rightfully divide the truth while walking the fine line between lying and misrepresentation, he later applied his “test” to justify the revisions he made to the Bible by concluding any resultant misconceptions are more related to “metaphorical meanings and are therefore rather considered as allegories” – not lies (p. 446-450). (Humph.)
“Allegories” aside, Eggert cautions interviewers against falling prey to the common “culturally embedded” misconceptions about the “sure signs” someone is lying (hand-to-mouth, eyes and lies, overt body motion, folder arms, and sweaty palms) (p. 59-62). Instead, the author included the “60 signs” that indicate someone is anxious enough to lie in his book as
as Appendix 3 (p. 140-141).
Despite Eggert’s confession his book is targeted toward Human Resource professionals (p. xv), there are truths within most of his recommendations that appear universal. For instance, Eggert recommends that interviewers ask interviewees to sign a consent form before the interview begins that promotes the telling of the truth during the interview (p. 127).
On Type I and Type II Research Error Avoidance Strategies
Like Eggert, Ravitch and Carl (2015) recognizes the propensity for people to be untruthful during stressful interviews. The researchers defined “reactivity” as the acceptance that participants often change behaviors during interviews (p. 162), the authors stressed the need for qualitative interviewers to build the interview skills necessary to unlock the doors to more in-depth, more fruitful, individualized and contextualized, meaning, and truthfulness during both group and participants interviews. To help build such skills, Ravitch & Carl armed qualitative research interviewers with a plethora of interview types (relational, contextual/contextualized, nonevaluative, person-centered, temporal, partial, subjective, and nonneutral) and identified the circumstances and conditions for each. They also identified the six foundational qualitative interview question protocols (experience and behavior, opinion and values, feeling, knowledge, sensory, and background/demographic) and provided tips for when each protocol was appropriate. Finally, Ravitch & Carl described common qualitative interview approaches (structured, semi-structured, and unstructured) before warning researchers again that it takes time, experience, and practice to develop quality qualitative interviewer skills (Ravitch & Carol, 2015, p. 146-154).
Doody and Noonan (2013) also advise researchers to monitor their interview techniques before and during participant interviews. Like Eggert, these authors recommend interviewers ask participants to sign written agreements, in the case of qualitative research, participant interview consent forms, before the interview. Such forms should advise participants why the information is necessary and being gathered, identify any risks to the participant or others during the interview process, and explain how the information will be used and for how long (Doody & Noonan, 2013).
As an aspiring qualitative interviewer, I plan to play it safe. My plan to request participants sign an interview consent form before each interview that explicitly states that the participant:
- Voluntarily agrees to be interviewed;
- May withdraw their permission for up to two weeks after the interview;
- Was provided with information concerning the purpose and nature of the research;
- Received simple terms regarding what participation in the interview would involve;
- Accepted that there would be direct benefit from participating in the interview;
- Understands that the interview may be audio- or visually-recorded;
- Understands that the information shared during the interview would be treated confidentially;
- Any reports or transcripts of the interview would ensure the participant remains anonymous;
- Understands that the results of the participant’s interview may be extracted in whole or in part;
- Acknowledges that the interviewer may have to report information to relevant authorities if there is a risk of harm to the participants or someone else;
- Understand that the information about when, where, and how the audio or video recordings will be retained and that the transcript will be blinded of identifying information before retention;
- Understands that the participant can gain access to the information under the freedom of information act; and
- Understands that the interviewee is free to contact any person involved with the research for further clarifications and information (Pereira, Robinson, & McGuire, 2016).
Now, if a participant agrees to sign a consent form with these provisions and during the interview still decides to be untruthful, … well. Then I will know to shift to the advice Eggert gives in Chapter 9 for interviewing psychopaths (97-98).
I’m just sayin’, …
Eggert, M. (2012). Deception in Selection : Interviewees and the Psychology of Deceit. Surrey, UK: Routledge.
Doody, O., & Noonan, M. (2013). Preparing and conducting interviews to collect data. Nurse researcher, 20(5).
Ravitch, S. M., & Carl, N. M. (2015). Qualitative research: Bridging the conceptual, theoretical, and methodological. Sage Publications.