Vrij, Aldert


Start date:


I was born in Rijswijk (the Netherlands) in 1960 and am a Professor of Applied Social Psychology at the University of Portsmouth (United Kingdom). My move to England in 1994 was motivated by better opportunities to conduct research.
After finishing an MSc in Social Psychology (1986, Free University, Amsterdam), I was a research assistant for two years. My PhD thesis (1988 1991, Free University, Amsterdam) was entitled 'Misunderstandings Between the Police and Ethnic Minorities: Social Psychological Aspects of being a Suspect'. This experimental research project revealed that Caucasian (Dutch) and non Caucasian people (Indonesians from Surinam) exhibit different behaviours in (simulated) police interviews. For example, compared to Caucasian participants, non Caucasian participants showed more gaze aversion, made more stutters and fidgeted more. Follow up experiments revealed that the behavioural patterns characteristic for Surinamese people made a suspicious impression on Caucasian police officers. This faulty interpretation of their behaviour (seen as suspicious instead of natural) might be a contributory factor to the increased likelihood for non Caucasian people to be arrested.
Having investigated which behaviours make a suspicious impression on Caucasian observers, the next question to address was how liars really behave. We conducted experimental laboratory studies in which (mostly Caucasian) participants were requested to lie or tell the truth. We then analysed their behaviour and speech content. These studies convincingly demonstrated that liars do not typically behave the way Caucasian observers expect them to behave. That is, gaze aversion, stuttering and fidgeting are not reliable indicators of deception. Instead, liars tend to decrease their movements. One explanation for this is a desire to avoid showing 'stereotypical deceptive behaviours', or 'impression management'.
On the basis of laboratory studies it is difficult to predict how liars behave in real life situations. The consequences are often greater in real life situations than in laboratory studies, particularly in situations such as police interviews (where the positive and negative consequences of the lie are typically more severe). We therefore started to examine how liars behave in police interviews. This work is still in progress.
If adults show signs of impression management when they lie (and we believe they do), how do young children behave? At what age do these signs start to occur? Our current work addresses this issue.
Professional lie catchers look for certain behavioural cues and speech content characteristics when they try to detect deceit. The other side of the coin might be that liars, when aware of the cues that lie detectors may be looking for, try to adjust their behaviour and speech content in such a way that they avoid showing these cues. At present, we are investigating this aspect.
Sponsors of my research include the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), the Economic and Social Research Council, the Leverhulme Trust and the Dutch Ministry of Justice. I have published 200 articles and book chapters and five books. I give seminars about deception to police officers in several countries, and have been recognised by criminal courts as an Expert Witness. I am an associate editor of Legal and Criminological Psychology.
Written by: Aldert Vrij