Friday, January 14, 2011

"We" In Statement Analysis

by Peter Hyatt

“We” is a pronoun that has specific meaning.

We have previously seen that each individual has a personal, subjective, internal dictionary. This means that in an interview, we must seek to enter into the subject’s personal dictionary in order to understand their reality.

So that if someone says “the boy was…” we need to learn what a “boy” is to the subject.

Is the boy a young child in school?
Is the boy an older child, with developed intelligence such as a 12 year old?
“Support our fighting boys in the war!” would indicate a male over the age of 18.

To each subject, the word “boy” may indicate a slightly different reality and it is only by context and our questions that we can enter into the subject’s personal internal dictionary and understand what is meant.

There are, however, two exceptions to the personal, internal, subjective dictionary that each of us has: articles and pronouns.

Articles and Pronouns are not part of our internal dictionary. The word “a” is used when a topic or item is first introduced, for example, but thereafter is referred to with the article, “the”. This is universal to all of us.

Pronouns are also universal, as they are something we learn very early in life; for some, predating speech. (the child who reaches with his hands to indicate “my” or “mine” will show understanding of the pronoun even before being able to properly enunciate the words.

The pronoun, “we” is important in investigations. 

1. It indicates cooperation.

In the example of the young women who, disheveled and crying, reported that she had been sexually assaulted.

"He threw me in his car, drove to the woods, he assaulted me and we drove home..." was recognized as a deceptive statement.

There is no "we" between assailant and victim (note that the "we" was used after the alleged assault) which when confronted, the young woman admitted breaking curphew with a young man whom her father had disliked.

2. It indicates plurality.

If the subject is said to have supposed to have been alone, but says “we ate dinner”, the pronoun, “we” is not open to interpretation: it means more than one, and it is not something a subject can later claim it wasn’t what was meant. As simple as this sounds, when caught, subjects who have claimed to have been alone attempt to rely on "I meant to say "I"" as an excuse.

3. It is also an indication of weakness when it appears in a statement.

“We were thinking how strange this seemed…” is not a strong statement but may even be deceptive.

“I thought it was strange” is a strong statement; first person singular, past tense.

Why do some use the word “we”?

Christopher Dillingham wrote in “Dissecting Pinocchio”

“by saying “we” rather than “I”, many liars feel that less attention will be paid to their role in an event. It also adds some perceivedcredibility, because Pinocchio is implying that he has witnesses to his “good behavior.” He also gets to dissociate himself from the others’ bad behaviors."
The use of the term “we” also implies a cooperative effort. If “we” did something together, than “I” don’t share all the blame because I didn’t do it alone.”

False Witnesses and "we"
The use of "we" is often a good give away when a false witnesses comes forward; especially in a case that has the public's attention. The "witness" is nervous. She is reporting things that she did not personally see, so she slips into the "we" to speak for herself and others, perhaps a husband or friend. The "give away" is when she tells us what another thought or felt. The exception to this is a standard principle: When husband and wife are in the room together, and one is speaking for both.

Sometimes a false witness will use the "we" to describe himself and the crowd that was present. When this arises, it should be flagged for possible deception. Once flagged, if deception is present, we are likely to find an increase in qualifiers and sensitivity along with the "we" that is present.

Change in Pronoun
We need to pay close attention to the subject’s change from “I” to “we” in an open statement because it may be an attempt to divert attention away, or it may be a means to attempt to persuade that something is true.

Any change in pronoun is to be noted as important, possibly sensitive.

We always note when someone purports to speak for another, including what others thought. This is sensitive. Unless the subject can say that she knows what another thought because the other told her so, we should flag the sensitivity for review or follow up questions.

First person singular, past tense, establishes commitment. The employment of the first person plural weakens the commitment. Note this, in particular, in any eye witness statements.

It is also a signal of a bad relationship if it comes before the introduction . This is sometimes a clue to motive in disappearances.

In an open statement (one of which the subject is editing freely), when a person is introduced, we expect to have a proper social introduction.

“Kathy, my wife, said that we should…” would be considered a proper social introduction.

An improper social introduction should be flagged as a possibly bad relationship.

“And so I told the wife that we should…” would indicate that this is a bad relationship with no social introduction and the use of the article, “the” rather than “my” in the first statement.

Consider that this is a situation where the subject is talking to law enforcement. (If his wife is known by police it is not necessary for him to introduce her; similar rules apply when speaking to a journalist, or at an Emergency Room; that is, any professional setting where name and address is needed).

If we find that the word “we” enters a statement prior to the social introduction, it is likely a very bad relationship and should take careful note of this as possible motive if it is a missing person’s report, homicide or injury.

When is "we" appropriate? 

If the subject is speaking for another, for instance, a parent, if the parent is in the room, it should be considered appropriate.

However, if one spouse speaks for the other and the other is not present, it should be noted. A spouse may say "my husband said" but when the statement is such that one spouse tells us what another spouse saw, felt, thought, etc, it is a strong indication of deception and it would likely be confirmed in the langage itself (increase in sensitiviy indicators/qualifiers)

If a spouse tells us what another spouse said, felt, saw, etc, where the other spouse is deceased, it should be considered unreliable information and the investigator needs to continue digging. This is the "weakness" where the spouse seeks to sound credible by adding in the spouse. In fact, in a deceptive account, the more sensitive the information the more likely we are to have the subject use "we" repetitively in a statement, giving the appearnace of being "afraid" to speak for oneself. This absence of "I" is an indicator that the account is not reliable and the analysis should proceed on alert for deception.

Lying Is Stressful

Lying causes internal stress and people will say almost anything to avoid it. Among its stress is the issue of remembering all the lies told previously.

Sometimes deceptive people will go back and forth from the "I" to "we" without 'keeping track' of their words and get caught.

When the subject should be speaking for herself, the "we" is less reliable and should be noted.

Review some of the analysis for the pronoun "we" in statements. Note in particular, the statemnts of Tiffany Hartley, who, even when alone and not speaking for another, slipped into the "we" often.
Sometimes a witness wants to become part of a famous case and will read what the subject claimed to have happened, and attempt to duplicate it as a "witness" and will, by necessity, need the perception of strength by using the "we" and speak for another; sometimes a spouse. Did a witness attempt to buttress credibility by its employ? Did a subject speak for a spouse who was not present (even deceased) and unable to speak for himself? Did the subject rely heavily upon the "we" rather than the "I"?

Separating spouses often gives very different accounts.

Every statement begins with circling the pronouns.

"We" is one which should always catch our attention.

It may show cooperation, plurality, and often times, weakness.

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