Niqabs make witnesses more truthful? Not so fast, says critique of landmark Canadian study 

Strikes me as a valid critique but look forward to debate and further research:

A team of researchers schooled in deception has cast doubt on a landmark Canadian study which found that the wearing of niqabs actually improves courtroom truth-telling.

A critique of the study published this week claimed there were so many “limitations” to the niqab study that any move by the Canadian justice system to adopt its findings would be “naıve and misinformed” and could cause “irremediable harm to the judicial system.”

“The benefits of paying less attention to witnesses’ and lawyers’ facial expressions are neither theoretical nor empirically grounded arguments,” read the critique, published in Psychiatry, Psychology and Law and written by Vincent Denault, a lawyer and co-director of the Montreal-based Center for Studies in Nonverbal Communication Sciences.

Last year, a study out of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology directly challenged Canada’s Supreme Court ban on witnesses testifying while wearing a niqab.

The study, published in the journal of the American Psychological Association, had women don niqabs and tell lies while being questioned on camera. Then, volunteers were asked to judge the women’s truthfulness as compared to liars who weren’t wearing veils.

The results were that the veiled women were less likely to get away with lying.

“People were focusing on what the women are saying, rather than what they look like,” lead researcher Amy-May Leach told the National Post in July.

Most notably, Leach added at the time that “the courts were incorrect.”

The critique by Denault, which was co-written with deception psychologists in France and the U.K., criticized Leach’s methodology, asserting that the degree of truth detection may not have been as dramatic as depicted.

“The experimental setting improved the lie detection ability of the participants above chance, but the improvement is very weak,” wrote Denault in an email to the National Post.

But the main thrust of the paper was how the Leach study did not accurately replicate courtroom conditions.

For one thing, liars in the study were given only two minutes to craft false testimony, while under Canadian law a witness can practise their testimony for months.

The liars were asked “open-ended questions” rather than having to cope with the leading questions that would have been posed in a real cross-examination.

The women in Leach’s study were cast as impartial witnesses to a crime, when in reality most courtroom lying comes from either plaintiffs or defendants.

And the study only tested how a visible face affected truth-telling. “The function of witnesses’ and lawyers’ facial expressions goes well beyond the issue of lie detection,” it read.

Source: Niqabs make witnesses more truthful? Not so fast, says critique of landmark Canadian study | National Post

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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