Liespotting Challenge

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Liespotting Lance Armstrong Part 2: Expert Analysis

CIA Veteran Regretfully Suggests Lance Armstrong is Lying: We asked Liespotters worldwide to comment on this video clip of Lance denying use of unauthorized substances. The team at was very impressed with the response from readers. But Phil Houston, expert deception detector takes it much further. He says Lance displays over 25 deceptive indicators in just a few minutes. Take another look at the video, then read Phil’s fascinating analysis.

Before I talk about my analysis of Lance Armstrong’s behavior in this interview, let me first say that I have always been a huge fan of Armstrong and have marveled at his accomplishments – both his cycling accomplishments and his even more remarkable triumph over cancer. Like so many others, over the years I have been deeply inspired by Armstrong’s determination and spirit. Perhaps one of the most difficult things for humans to do when assessing other human behavior is to set aside their bias, which is difficult for many to do unless they are using an objective and systematic behavior assessment methodology.

Unfortunately, setting aside my above mentioned bias, I have become extremely saddened as I have analyzed Armstrong’s responses and commentary regarding the doping allegations that have plagued him for many years now. In this short Larry King interview clip, Armstrong exhibited a high volume of behaviors that we refer to in our analysis as “deceptive indicators.” These indicators take both verbal and non-verbal forms. While many tend to focus on the non-verbal indicators, or body language, it is important to understand that there is also a very rich volume of deceptive “tells” that can be found in the verbal behavior as well.

If we combine the verbal and non-verbal indicators in this interview, which is just over two minutes long, we find there are at least 25 deceptive indicators exhibited by Armstrong. There actually may be even more non-verbals that the camera angle precludes us from observing. This is obviously a very high volume, and strongly suggests that Armstrong was not being candid with respect to his use of performance-enhancing substances.

One of the most significant behaviors observed is the fact that during the entire clip (2 minutes, 7 seconds), Armstrong only definitively denied taking performance-enhancing drugs one time. Why is this significant? When a truthful person is accused of wrongdoing, his tendency is to dwell on the facts of the situation, which are his most important ally. In addition, there is usually some form of direct denial, such as “I didn’t do it.” In those cases where the allegations are true, and “I didn’t do it” is not a reality that the untruthful individual can psychologically rely upon, he must focus his comments elsewhere. That focus is quite often on what we call “convincing behavior,” or “convincing statements.” In the deception detection field we refer to the phenomenon as “convince vs. convey” – the aim of the deceptive person is to convince us of something rather than to convey factual information.

Several examples of this can be seen at a number of points in this clip. When Armstrong was asked if he “can unequivocally say” that he has never used an illegal substance, he responded with a number of convincing statements. Although he made his one denial in his response to this question, he spent much more time trying to convince us of his innocence by saying such things as, “Why would I then enter into a sport and dope myself up and risk my life again?” and “I would never do something like that.” To the untrained ear, such statements often sound logical and compelling, which is how the untruthful person hopes they’ll be heard. But in actuality, those statements don’t really answer the question. In this case, the truthful answer would have simply been, “Yes, I can unequivocally say I haven’t used an illegal substance.”

It also important to take note of the aggression found in some of Armstrong’s responses. When the facts are not one’s ally, and he feels painted into a corner by the questions, it is not unusual for the person go on the attack, as was the case when Bob Costas pointed out that Armstrong’s 1999 “B” samples tested positive. Armstrong went to great lengths to attack the testing process by saying such things as, “It doesn’t make sense,” and “Why do you think they are still working on it? Because it doesn’t work.”

The attacks are not only significant indicators of deception, they might also reflect how cornered Armstrong feels. Lacking sufficient facts that are his ally, he reacted instinctively by going on the offensive in the hope of getting his detractors to back off.

Despite our limited view of Armstrong during the interview, there were several observable non-verbal deceptive indicators. There were two instances of what some term “duping delight,” or inappropriate smiling during the interview. These occurred in his responses to the questions about lawsuits and the subsequent question regarding the positive results from the testing of his 1999 “B” samples. During the question on “B” samples posed to him by Costas, you can also briefly see some significant handwringing by Armstrong, which likely reflects the high level of anxiety and inner tension caused by the tough questions being posed to him. Finally, along with the duping delight Armstrong also exhibited a sigh of apparent frustration in response to the lawsuit question.

In addition to looking for specific deceptive indicators, it is also important to be on the lookout for unintended messages. These are messages, or clues, that are often conveyed by an untruthful person without realizing he is sending them. For example, in responding to the lawsuit questions, Armstrong said the lawsuits enabled people “to keep a bad story alive forever,” and that “it gives them the opportunity to say, ‘Oh, we found this; oh, we did that.’” In this response Armstrong indicated he had a concern that, given time, someone might be able to say he “found” something. If Armstrong was concealing past use of performance-enhancing substances, was he communicating an unintended message that he was worried that evidence of such use would be uncovered?

Congratulations to Pam Meyer on her terrific book, Liespotting, and many thanks to Pam for the opportunity to appear as a guest analyst on her site.

Phil Houston is a nationally recognized authority on deception detection, critical interviewing, and elicitation. His 25-year career with the Central Intelligence Agency was highlighted by his service as a senior member of the Office of Security. In that capacity he conducted thousands of interviews and interrogations for the CIA and other federal agencies, both as an investigator and as a polygraph examiner. He is credited with developing a detection of deception methodology currently employed throughout the U.S. intelligence and federal law enforcement communities. The scope of Phil’s work has covered criminal activity, personnel security, and key national security matters, including counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism.

10 responses to this challenge

  1. Lukas says:

    When the newscaster was talking about the A and B samples, you could see fear in Armstrongs eyes, quite a brief expression with sadness brows. I think that indicates he’s being deceptive. Ofcourse thats the only thing I spotted after reading the full review. Still finishing the book. But this is awesome!

  2. Jamie says:

    Lance’s manipulation skills far exceed that of his doped up cycling career.

  3. Andrew says:

    Very informative about noting his give-away lack of comfort through speech patterns and body language to the stressful questions.

    Although not included in the clip he duped the audience and interviewers in other answers to questions that were scientifically known to be false.

    He claimed altitude training can improve the hematocrit level from 42% to 50%.

    He alluded to a conspiracy in that all his samples tested should have been positive if he was doping. (The French urine test used on the samples only found EPO use within 24-36 hours after use)

  4. dcrunner says:

    Let me begin by saying I think he’s pretty awesome, regardless of anything he might have done BUT I’ve two things to say: 1) I definitely think he’s lying. The biggest part for me is how he tries to walk us through his “logic” saying things like “why would I do that?” “why do you think this is so?”, for me that’s a red flag (it’s something teenage boys tend to do a lot, I hear it all the time “mom, why would I take money from your purse when I can just ask for it?” “mom why would I sneak out when I can just ask you?”)
    and 2) regardless of the doping, he must follow a grueling regime, and he must have incredible discipline and stamina. After everything he’s been through, from standing on the brink of death, if you look at it from HIS perspective, and put yourself in his shoes, he probably thinks he deserves a little extra something, after all, the others haven’t put their bodies through the strain of cancer, so why shouldn’t he be able to use performance enhancers?

  5. Yinka says:

    He deflects several times in the interview. Most notably when he says forget about me and the possiblity that he used drugs and let’s focus on the test itself. That along with him saying that lawsuits give people the opportunity to go back and find things in the past indicates to me that he has something to hide.

  6. CheapTrick says:

    Dr. Phil you forgot that Lance did take EPO as a cancer patient…so maybe that’s why he seems deceptive to you…

  7. Marjorie says:

    He has damaged the sport and led others to abuse as well. We need better leaders-this is sad.

  8. Yashema says:

    Despite having an “untrained ear” and wanting to believing Armstrong perhaps due to my own biases, I couldn’t help but to discredit his argument even before reading the professional analysis by Houston. After Armstrong said “it gives them the opportunity to say, ‘Oh, we found this’ ” this statement served as the one indicator I strongly recognized to prove that he was not telling the truth about the whole matter. If Armstrong were being honest, he would have in fact taken legal action to clear up the allegations without fear that any evidence would be found to be used against him. Realistically, what person in his position with the means would not want to do all he could to prove his innonence? The analysis done by Houston helped me to recognize all the other verbal and non-verbal indicators Armstrong unknowingly gave throughout this short clip.

  9. Joseph says:

    Fascinating analysis. Great job Phil. Remember when the Duke Lacrosse rape allegations came out and the Lacrosse team’s stance was something like “the truth will exonerate us”? — Armstrong doesn’t have that same tone in his defense. He spends a lot of time trying to discredit the test, almost preempting the attack. I wonder though, are there any cases where someone looks guilty just by behaving so defensively?

  10. Martha says:

    This is fascinating. I especially agree with the “keep a bad story alive” portion of the analysis..he is telling us all what is really on his mind if we just listened as carefully as this pro does.