Imprisoned knowledge: Criminals' beliefs about deception


Department of Psychology, Göteborg University, P.O. Box 500, SE 405 30 Göteborg, Sweden (e-mail:


Purpose. This paper is a survey examining beliefs about cues to deception held by prison inmates, prison personnel and students. In line with the ideas about more beneficial learning structures in the environment of criminals and findings from previous studies, we predicted that the beliefs held by prison inmates would be most consistent with the general pattern found in studies examining objective cues to deception.

Method. A total of 326 participants filled out a questionnaire containing questions about cues to deception. The sample consisted of 107 prison inmates from high-security prisons, 103 prison personnel and 116 students. Both between-group and within-group analyses were conducted.

Results. In line with previous surveys, students and prison personnel held stereotypical and wrongful beliefs about cues to deception. Prison inmates' beliefs about deception were less stereotypical than the beliefs of prison personnel and students.

Conclusions. The results indicate that prison inmates have relatively more insight into the psychology of deception. A reasonable explanation for these findings is that the environment of criminals is beneficial in the sense that they receive more adequate outcome feedback than the other two groups. The results indicate that studying this group may generate useful knowledge about the dynamics of deception.