Global Deception conference, Oxford, 17–19th of July 2014
This deception conference, as part of Hostility and Violence, was organized by interdisciplinary net. Interdisciplinary net runs about 75 conferences a year and was set up by Rob Fisher in 1999 to facilitate international dialogue between disciplines. Conferences are organized on a range of topics, such as gaming, empathy, cyber cultures, violence and communication and conflict. Not just the topics of the different conferences are interdisciplinary, this is the case within each conference as well. During our deception conference we approached deception from very different angles; from optical illusions in art and architecture via literary hoaxes, fiction and spy novels to the role of the media in creating false beliefs amongst society and ending with a more experimental approach to detecting deception. Even a magic trick was part of the (informal) program, and somehow I ended up being the magician’s assistant. You can find my notes and abstracts below.
Finally, if you (also) have an interest in more experimental deception research with a high practical applicability, then we have good news. Aldert Vrij, Ross Anderson and I are hosting a deception conference to bring together deception researchers and law enforcement people from all over the world. This event will take place at Cambridge University on August 22-24, 2015.
Session 1 – Hoaxes
John Laurence Busch: Deceit without, deceit within: The British Government behavior in the secret race to claim steam-powered superiority at sea. Lord Liverpool became prime minister in 1812 and wanted to catch up with the Americans regarding steam-powered boats. The problem however was that the Royal Navy did not know how to build those vessels, so they joined the British Post in 1820 who wanted to build steam powered boats to deliver post to Ireland more quickly. The post was glad the navy wants to collaborate, although the navy was deceptive; they kept quiet, both to the post, the public and other countries, that they did not know how to build those vessels, and that were hoping to learn how to build a steam boat from them, which succeeded, importantly whilst successfully masking/hiding from the French and the Americans that the British Navy was working on steam vessels to catch up with the US. So the Navy was hiding something questionable (military activity) behind something innocent (post); deceptive public face.
Catelijne Coopmans & Brian Rappert: Revealing deception and its discontents: Scrutinizing belief and skepticism about the moon landing. The moon landing in the 60s is a possible deceptive situation in which the stakes are high and is of high symbolic value. A 2001 documentary by Fox “Conspiracy theory: Did we land on the moon or not?” The documentary bases their suspicions mainly on photographic and visual evidence, such as showing shadows where they shouldn’t be, a “c” shape on a stone, a flag moving in a breeze and pictures with exactly the same background but with different foregrounds. As a response, several people have explained these inconsistencies (e.g., the C was a hair). The current authors focus more on the paradoxes that surround and maybe even fuel these conspiracy theories, such as disclosure vs. non-disclosure, secrecy that fuels suspicion. Like the US governments secrecy around Area 51. Can you trust and at the same time not trust the visual proof of the moan landing presented by NASA? Although the quality of the pictures was really bad, the framing was really well done. Apollo 11 tried to debunk this conspiracy theory by showing a picture of the flag currently still standing on the moon. But then, that could be photoshopped…
Discussion: How can you trust a visual image, especially when used to proof something, when we live in a world where technology makes it possible to fake anything with a high standard?
Session 2 – The science of lying
Isabela Fairclough: Rationalizations and persuasive definitions. An argumentative perspective on deception and manipulation in discourse. Discourse analysis of political statements, based on Searle’s speech act (1969), including assertives, directives, commissives, expressives and declarations. Its starts with a proposition (Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction). The preparatory rule involves having evidence and reasons in favor of this proposition. Subsequently, the sincerity rule includes that as long as you believe your own statement at the time (even if it later turns out to be untrue) it is not deception (did Tony Blair actually believe that there were weapons of mass destruction? If so, that’s not really deception according to the definition by Vrij, 2008). Author highlighted the importance of rationalization and confirmation bias. The main question is if Blair was sincere, and thus deceptive, or not, was it just an honest mistake due to human fallibility. Blair claimed he believed beyond reasonable doubt that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and thus claimed to have been sincere. On the other hand, as a politician he should have taken into account other, counter-information as well (was there enough information available to prove the contrary?). Author touches on the large effect word use can have on forming people’s opinion about a topic.
Discussion: Is there a link between the sincerity rule and self-deception? à Self-deception could be used as the ultimate excuse; how do you proof you believed something to be true in the past? Especially when viewing self-deception through the eyes of Von Hippel & Trivers (2011), who claim that information processing biases are self-deception “tactics”.
Mircea Zloteanu: Emotion recognition ability and deception detection of low-stake lies. People are bad at detecting lies, partly because there is not one single cue to deceit, aka the lack of Pinocchio’s nose. Author relies on the leakage theory, which states that cues to especially found in facial expressions, consists of micro expressions and subtle expressions. He mentions the importance of stakes in experimental deception research. High stake lies (police interviews) vs. low stake lies (everyday lies). In low stake lies, less cues to deceit might be shown because low stake lies cause less emotional reactions. The author is interested in the question how is people’s lying behavior affected by situation? And how do lie catchers use this? Author did an experiment with 20 videos (10 truths and 10 lies) of low stake lies about a holiday. These videos were shown to a set of participants who had to judge deception. Results: No effect for facial expressions, but the author did find an effect of empathy: More empathic people are worse at detecting lies. He also found that stakes matter; emotional cues did not work in low-stake situations and empathy served as a moderator. Suggestion for future research: Is the empathy effect caused by people who lack in empathy being more analytical?
Notes: The empathy results fit in nicely with the paper by Stel et al (2009), in which she found that mimicking your interaction partner reduces the ability to detect deception. As people who are very empathic tend to naturally mimic more, this may explain why people who are empathic are worse at detecting deception (i.e., empathy might increase mimicry and subsequently decrease detection rates).
Emma Williams: Detecting deception across cultural bounds. A lot of deception research is focused on cues to deceit; can we tell if people lie based on their verbal and nonverbal behavior? Now more theoretical work is happening, why would we expect any differences? Zuckerman et al (1981) came up with 3 (note: originally 4) theoretical explanations: Cognitive load, emotional responses and attempted behavioral control approach, although the latter is mainly based on believed cues to deceit rather than actual cues to deceit. However, a lot of deception research has been done in Western countries, which makes it difficult to draw any cross-cultural conclusions. Important is that countries might differ in what they find acceptable: The acceptability of deception and how cultures differ in this respect. Main division that is often made is the one between collectivistic and individualistic cultures. Importantly, some behavior is evolutionary and similar across cultures, although others are culturally specific. For example, differences in the importance of impression management and masking emotions. Next step is to identify what drives people, the basic motivations of people. There might then be situations in which deception is more acceptable than in others. Does this acceptability effect people’s cues to deceit? And differs this between cultures?
Discussion: Although not much of the experimental deception research that has been done is culture-specific, some studies have looked at behavioral differences between cultures. Although there are differences in baseline behavior between different cultures and these differences do affect suspicions in the interviewer (Vrij & Winkel, 1991, 1994), so far, no culture-specific cues to deceit have been found. Similarly, Dan Ariely and his group have studied if people from different countries are more likely to cheat, and did not find any differences in cheating prevalence between cultures, including countries as US, Italy, Israel and China. So far culture seems to have little impact on deception specifically, including both prevalence and cues to deceit. Do keep in mind that interacting cross-culturally can negatively influence the interviewer’s suspicion levels and can create misunderstandings, so continuing to perform culture-specific deception research, and more widely communication research, is very important.
Session 3 – Literary Hoaxes
Clara Sitbon: The literary hoax: The art of authorial forgery. There are three types of literary hoaxes. The first is a hoax that imitates, to reveal flaws. The second is a pioneering hoax, and the third category is a hoax that steals, mostly different versions of plagiarism. This links in with pseudonyms (with or without fake biographies attached) and other literary forms of deception. Some hoaxes go as far as to create fake birth certificates. Sometimes the boundaries are less clear, for example Bob Dylan is a pseudonym for Robert Allen Zimmerman. But when you write something about Bob Dylan being from A and living in B, you’re actually creating a fake biography for the pseudonym, because even if this information is correct for Zimmerman, it’s not for “Bob Dylan”. Some literary hoaxes have been very successful and elaborate, of writers who hide behind fake names and sometimes even having other people standing in to become the “face of the pseudonym”. In French literary history this has put the writer Emile Ajar in a difficult position when he received a literary price for a book written under a pseudonym, while this price can only be awarded once in a lifetime. Unfortunately the writer already had received this price before under his actual name, making it impossible for him to come forward and explain that he was the person behind the pseudonym.
Stephen Lehane Smith: Telling the big lie: Obfuscation and untruth in Helen Demidenko/Darville’s “The hand that signed the paper”. Is it a problem that writers sometimes take on a pseudonym, and even sometimes create a fake biography for this pseudonym? Or is it harmless? But what if this pseudonym and biography pretend to have a specific cultural background and life experiences that give the story more credibility? The right fake biography can turn fiction into a biography. In the hand that signed the paper (1994), the writer (born out of British middle-class parents) pretended to be Ukrainian and faked a family history affected by the Holocaust. The book justifies the Ukrainian participation in World War 2 extermination camps. The (fake) biographical aspect helped the book gain credibility and escape allegations of anti-Semitism for a few years. However, when the hoax was revealed in 1995, the anti-Semitism allegations started again, together with a discussion on what level of deception is acceptable when writing. This case shows that it’s a thin line between literary freedom and literary deception with all its consequences.
James Bainbridge: “Blind in my mask and tripped by my disguises”: Deception and disguise in the writing of A.S.J. Tessimond. Tessimond was accused of plagiarism in 1985 for a poem in the book “Collected Poems”. The author discussed Tessimond’s life full of deceiving and being deceived in both personal life and his writing. For example, he asked a woman to move in with him, who then invited her “brother” who secretly may have been her partner to move in with them as well. Also, he used 21 pseudonyms in different aspects of life and his writing (e.g., John Tango, John Sucker, John Fool). This shows how integrated aspects of deception were in Tessimond’s slightly disturbed life.
Research idea: A meta cost-benefit analysis of literarily hoaxes: Is deception when publishing written work beneficial, or are the costs (including psychological, financial and reputation costs, taking into account the negative impact of being caught on image and reputation) too high?
Session 4 – Identity and Self
Georgina Turner and Simon Farid: Being Mark Stone. Or, can anybody use a fabricated identity. The authors presented a combined project of an academic and an artist about the squatting the fabricated identity of the (fake) environmental activist Mark Stone, who really was an undercover police officer. The authors soon realized that identity squatting works as a spiral; with having access to an email address you can find other addresses and personal information such as a passport number. The more you know about someone, the more you can find out. From there, the authors accessed other online accounts such as Twitter. With access to these accounts and personal information, the authors started to create information about Mark Stone as well, such as signing up for loyalty cards, creating new accounts and interacting with banks and national insurance. This art piece crosses the boundaries from investigating somebody else and becoming another identity. During this project the artist noted feelings a discomfort and anxiety about safety, especially when impersonating this person and when being actively engaged with lying. There were also ethical concerns with the project regarding the people Mark Stone had come across and hurt in his life, so the authors had to make sure those people were not confronted again with the revival of this persona Mark Stone. This art piece opens up the discussion about identity checks; especially online, how can we prove that we are who we are? And should we? And what is the role of a digital signature? The Squatting Mark Stone’s identity experience is turned into a photo story that will be accessible online.
Michal Kravel Tovi: Believable Personas: Suspicion, sincerity and the making of Jewish converts in Israel.
William Ransome: Self-deception and ethics: Integrity and virtue. The self-deception view taken by the author is that it occurs often. Self-deception is accompanied with the paradox of knowing that something is both true and not true at the same time. When attempting to believe something you know to be untrue, the mere action of trying to convince yourself that something that isn’t true, is actually true, will remind you that you actually believe the information not to be true. The author then continued on talking about the role of virtue in self-deception.
Session 5 – Visual Art and Illusion
Katie Graham: Trompe l’Oeils: Traditional and augmented. The author is an architect who encounters deception in her work through the use of illusions, and more recently augmented reality. By manipulating perspective, illusions can be created, such as creating depth on flat surfaces (i.e., from 2d to 3d). For example, artists used to paint domes on flat surfaces to create the illusion of space and depth. Augmented reality is now used to create dynamic illusions by projecting a virtual world on top of an existing world, as used at Disney’s Cinderella’s Castle. So what happens when the “truth is revealed”? There seems to be a discrepancy between traditional (more passive method; it will still be there if you’re not there) and augmented reality (more active method; it needs movement to be believed, and as soon as it fades, the illusion is gone) in how people respond upon the revelation that they were tricked. The more traditional optical illusions can create the feeling that although you know it’s an illusion, you still see and believe it when looking at. However, upon the revelation of the illusion of augmented reality, people stop “seeing the illusion” and immediately become more critical; the impressed “wow” moment seems to be missing due to the active aspects of augmented reality illusions.
Carolyn Lefley: Seeing is believing: The capacity of the manipulated photograph to represent scenes of mythology and the supernatural. The author is a photographer and is interested in how manipulations of photos can distort people’s view of reality. When photography started, it was seen as a pencil of nature, a stencil or footprint of the real. But it can be a blurry line between “real” reality and the picture’s reality. For example, thanks to Arthur Conan Doyle, the Cottingley fairies in 1917 were believed to be true for quite a while, although people were aware that fairies (probably) didn’t exist. Similarly, grainy photo material in 1934 of the Monster of Loch Ness led to years of speculation. Experts examined the negatives of both pictures and did not find any tempering with the negatives. However, in both cases, the hoaxes were revealed years later and it turned out that although the pictures hadn’t been tempered, it also didn’t depict reality, because the fairies turned out to be made of paper fairies and the monster turned out to be a toy. Are photos only deceptive if they are tampered with? Or also when the picture is “real”, but shows something different than the viewers think it does? The author was also wondering if (manipulated) pictures can create or stimulate beliefs of supernatural, myths and folklore. She took pictures at heritage locations/routes and known “mysterious places”. Through the use of double exposures she could create combined “outside inside” images, resulting in mysterious pictures, for example one that shows trees and plants inside an attic. By doing so, she tried to show the unseeable. The author ended her story with the possibilities of CGI software, and how this facilitates a new state of photography, somewhere between truth and deception.
Discussion: How does using motion capture to use actual/real movements and implement them in animated contexts fit into the discussion of real and fake/deception? Technology seems to play a role in reality becoming a blurry concept.
Rachel Nahshon-Dotan: Mi Zilem Oti: Who shot me. The author read out loud her paper on the experiences having her picture taken by different people who played an important role in her life. The pictures captured the way the photographers perceived her. She described how the different photographers and experiences came across and affected her and the pictures. An important role was given to objects, chosen by the photographers, and to role-playing. This project touched upon its consequences for the individual’s privacy and the role of false representations.
Session 6 – Forgery and Fabrication
Olga Knapek: Forgery: The body of journal. The author is an expert on Polish literature. Does the fictional aspect of writing prevent writers from having to take (judicial) responsibilities of what they write? Recently, an author revealed that her auto-biography was fake (i.e., she did not actually experience the things she had described), which led to a 20 million fine (the author was sued by her own publisher because her book turned out to be fiction rather than true). This means that now, more than ever, the author (and truthfulness) counts. By being able to drag an author to court, bad literature might be prevented in the future. It shows that literature is very alive.
Discussion: What is the difference between lies and fiction? Does fiction consist of lies? And is it not related to deception due to the role of “forewarning”, which is part of Vrij’s (2008) deception definition: “a successful or unsuccessful attempt, without forewarning, to create in another a belief, which the communicator considers to be untrue”? The forewarning element in the deception definition eliminates magic and other situations in which you know you’ll be deceived as deception. If something is called fiction, does that mean people are “warned up front” that a fictional book isn’t true?
Session 7 – Tales of Espionage
Sophia Kanaouti: Open deception in the media: The cynical exercise of passing the responsibility to the citizen
Open deception is a late truth, the late admittance/exposure of an ongoing lie, usually exposed through media. Open deception means a revelation of the deceit, with the effect of adapting one’s (fictional) worldview. There are 3 types of open deception. First, the “I can’t believe it’s not butter” effect, which is a single person’s opinion. Second, the “why didn’t you pay attention” scam, using cloud language to manipulate someone’s worldview. Thirdly, a late truth is a silent truth, usually late, that is exposed once the deception has served it’s function. For example, the media exposure around the weapons of mass destruction as a rectification for the war in Iraq. After the deception had served its purpose (i.e., the war had started), it was revealed that there were no weapons of mass destruction; open deception. Lying wasn’t necessary anymore.
Notes: This links in with the previous talk by Isabela Fairclough and the discussion of the role of self-deception. How can one ever proof what goes on in someone’s head? Or even worse, what went on in someone’s head several months or years ago? All sorts of information-processing and memory biases such as the hindsight bias play a role here.
Discussion: If open deception is a “late truth”, what is the role of revelation? If the deception is never uncovered, can it still be open deception/a late truth? If not, does it matter if the deception is revealed by the deceiver himself, or by a third party?
William Bostock: The motivation to spy: The portrayal of Elyesa Bazna (Cicero) in literature and film. Who was Cicero? He was one of the great spies of World War 2, who photographed important documents at the British embassy in neutral Turkey; documents that he subsequently sent to the German government. Although most high German officers read these documents and used this insider knowledge, Hitler did not believe that those documents were genuine. Nonetheless, the damage was done by the time the documents reached Hitler, making Cicero a highly effective and influential spy. Cicero was able to photograph these top-secret documents because of two reasons. First of all, the British ambassador kept these documents at home, and second, the ambassador lived quite a structured life: He had the habit of taking a long bath twice a day, and he slept using sleeping pills. Because of the before mentioned reasons, the top-secret documents were accessible at certain, predictable moments each day, allowing Cicero to access and forward important information during wartime. Cicero’s espionage was the inspiration for several books and movies, such as Operation Cicero and 5 Fingers, where he was described in very different ways, from a great spy to mentally unstable and non-influential.
Discussion: Is Snowden the new type of spy? Instead of (secretly) reporting the sensitive information to a government, he’s reporting sensitive information via the media to society.
Session 8: Realism
Davide Rapp: Green is the message: A comparative analysis of nature-inspired design objects. The author argues how concepts as “green” and “sustainability” can be used deceptively, and disguise what is actually going on and why. This statement was supported through the presentation of 6 real life examples. The author showed areal pictures from the 1970s, showing a green forest in Brazil and de white/grey desert around Las Vegas. However, in 2014, similar areal pictures reveal that the roles have switched. Where Vegas now looks very green from above because of artificial plants and trees, the forest in Brazil shows several white/grey gaps. In 40 years time, the picture completely changed, showing the power of artificial developments and the delicate state of the natural. So although Vegas now looks greener from above, it’s not necessarily more natural. A second example involved a visual presentation of how the Adidas logo changed between 1920 and 2009, whilst describing which factors played a role in the changes. The author highlighted the role of green, the logo going from stripes to a clover shape, and from black-and-white to green. Lastly, the author used the example of an in 1994 developed ergonomic office chair that highlights the importance of sustainability. The chair is 94% recyclable and is promoted with the quote: “even if it’s black, it’s green”. The author finished with doubting if the link between green and good is always correct, as the concept green can also be used as a camouflage.
Baris Mete: Realism as deception: The theory and practices of literary forgery.
Unscheduled talk by Jonathan Allen and Sophie Van Der Zee: Are illusions deceptive? The authors aimed to illustrate through both talking and visual demonstrations the difference between an illusion and a lie. During the first talk on the use of motion capture equipment to detect deception, factual incorrect incorrect information was told (i.e, a lie), whilst during the second talk on the Magic Circle, the audience unexpectedly witnessed a magic trick (i.e., an illusion). In both cases, the audience was not aware of the deception. During previous presentations the issue had been raised if illusions and fiction are deception or not, which is why the authors wanted to open up the discussion on socially acceptable versions of lying. By letting the audience experience how it feels to be lied to and to be tricked without forewarning, the authors wanted to spark this debate.
Session 9: Spy Fiction
Alan Burton: The man who never was: Impersonation, imposture and identity in British Spy Fiction. The author realized that most concepts discussed during this deception conference are somehow linked to the spy literature, and decided to talk the audience trough spy literature examples for all concepts. For example, topics as fiction, conspiracy narratives (MI5), lie detection apparatus (although in the spy literature usually an idealistic, well-performing version of true polygraph effectiveness), literary hoaxes (e.g., pretending to be someone you’re not), historical fiction (e.g., the early 20th century “Kim” by Rudyard Kipling and “Scarlet Pimpernel” by Emma Orczy and the newer “Cambridge spies” from 2003), fake identities (the anxiety aspect of impersonating someone else/going undercover and the juggling of identities is well described in books as Sweet tooth), self-deception (as encountered in for example the “perfect spy” from 1986, who was struggling with juggling multiple personalities), security (covering topics as surveillance and its friction with privacy), architecture and optical illusions, tales of espionage and realism. In conclusion, the wide variety of deception topics covered during this conference all link to spy fiction. Interestingly, the author highlighted that Mansfield College in Oxford is a very suitable location for discussing deception, seen as this place served as a Code and Cypher office during the Second World War.
Toby Manning: A wilderness of mirrors: Deception in John le Carre’s cold war novels. British and American intelligence agencies were very distrustful during the cold war, partly due to the Cambridge spies. The cold war didn’t invent deception, but deception thrived during it, more than during previous wars as Vietnam. Books and movies (such as Ian Fleming’s “James Bond” novels, John le Carre’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and Len Deighton’s “The IPCRESS File”) on intelligence agencies during the cold war were very popular, and created an image of the cold war for the general public. Spying in general, and MI5 and MI6 in specific (their existence was respectively not even admitted until 1989 and 1994), are surrounded by secrecy, and spies and deception go hand in hand. For example, spies don’t have to only lie during their work, but also in their private life to their own family and friends. However, there are a few issues with the way deception in portrayed in the spy literature, such as the emphasis on deception being the end, rather than the means. Similarly, in those novels, deceit is always revealed (and punished) at the end, while this is not the case in real (cold war) life. Because of this, there are two worlds: The world of real spying and the literary, wishful version of this world in which deception in always revealed.
Session 10: Tales of Deception
Joseph P. Lawrence: Dostoevsky on truth and deception. The author is challenging Plato’s assumption that poets lie (the poetic idea that poets tell the truth by telling lies). We are no longer using oracles to learn what will happen; we now turn to statistics and scientists. The author, a poet himself, argues that poets instead tell the truth. Dostoevsky was a positivist and argued that the life of a happy man if as different from the life of an unhappy man as heaven is from hell. While when those two people would discuss how the world, they will agree on the facts (e.g., yes, there is war, and yes, children get tortured, but that’s not all), the focus of the facts will be different, and interpretation (i.e., how things feel) will be different. Reality itself is constituted of ambiguity, as nothing cannot be.
General Conference Discussion
What deception aspects are missing for a true interdisciplinary approach to deception? Deception in religion, gender and deception (pretending to be a man/woman, which for example used to happen in the army and the magic circle), moral aspects of deception; deception in cinema; deception in nature; deceiving oneself as in disillusions and dreams (links to mental disorders); deceptive methods in advertising and lying in social relationships.