One of the most important abilities for solving crimes is the ability to detect lies. But despite the methods that have been developed for this purpose, they can still be sidestepped by the most seasoned criminals.
The autobiographical Implicit Association Test, or aIAT, can be used to identify events that a person has directly experienced in the past. While classifying a series of statements as true, false, innocent, or guilty, the person shows what he or she has lived through by how quickly the statements are identified.
In a series of experiments, Giuseppe Sartori, Sara Agosta, Christina Zogmaister, Santo Davide Ferrara at the University of Padua, and Umberto Castiello of both the University of Padua and the Royal Holloway-University of London demonstrated how the aIAT could be used for autobiographical memory and for a forensic setting.
In the first experiment, participants picked a 4 of diamonds or a 7 of clubs and had to respond to statements about the card they picked. In another, participants had to either simulate a crime or read a report about the event before looking at a series of statements about the activity. Other experiments had former heroin and cocaine users, drivers applying to get their licenses reinstated after being suspended for drunk driving, and criminals who had confessed to murder or attempted murder take aIATs. In all of these experiments, participants had to identify simple true or false statements, such as “I am in front of a computer” or “I am at the beach”, as well as innocent or guilty statements, which were specific to each experiment. These would be about events that had happened in the participant’s life, such as “I have recently used cocaine” or “I did not attempt to murder my children”.
The results, which appear in the August issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, provided strong support for the validity of aIAT tests.
“The accuracy of the aIAT is evident not only at the group level, but also at the individual level,” the authors wrote.
In each of the experiments the researchers were able to classify a large majority of the subjects, demonstrating its use for identifying autobiographical memories and lie detection. Because the aIAT can be altered for different situations, it also has potential to identify psychiatric and neurological disorders. However, there are still concerns as to whether or not responses to an aIAT can be faked, especially in the case of a criminal investigation.
“This method has the potential to provide novel insights in detecting lies and malingering in forensic settings, although (like other techniques) it leaves important neuroethical issues unresolved,” the authors concluded.