Does Body Language Make a Difference in Court Proceedings?

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In assessing credibility, lawyers and judges often comment about the demeanor of a client, which includes a client’s body language. If Client A remains calm, maintains eye contact, and listens attentively before a judge or a lawyer, Client A is obviously telling the truth. In contrast, if Client B appears nervous, avoids eye contact, and fidgets in his chair, Client B is obviously a liar. But research seems to suggest that body language does not enable a lawyer or a judge to determine whether a litigant is telling the truth or is lying.

In a New York Times article, John Tierney reports that the notion of using a person’s body language to determine whether he or she is telling the truth or lying is a societal myth. There have been various experiments and studies which conclude that body language is not an accurate predictor of truth-telling. In over 200 studies in which subjects received no special aids or training, conducted by social psychologists, Charles F. Bond and Bella M. DePaulo, people were able to correctly classify only about 47% of liars. Overall, many social scientists seem to agree that there is no telltale sign to be inferred from body language that a person is lying.

Given the research, should judges and lawyers continue to assess credibility based on a person’s body language? Many social scientists may argue that they should not; however, it seems likely that lawyers and judges will continue to consider body language in court proceedings.

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