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Interpersonal Deception Theory: Example Case

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2769 words Published: 16th Aug 2018

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In the daily life, we are always having social interactions and communicate with people. Therefore, we will be faced through a variety of conditions or circumstances faced by either consciously or unconsciously which has involved ourselves into what is called “Interception Deception Theory” which has been stated by David Buller and Judee Burgoon.

Interpersonal Deception Theory means is trying to explain how is the individual make the interactions with the real lie or perceived in the conscious or unconscious while they are involving in the face to face communication. Communication would not be static because it has been influenced by not only one’s goals itself, but it is also by how the interaction context. By sending the message and it was affected by the conduct and the message of receiver and vice versa. Furthermore, deception is different from the truth communication which means that intentional fraud requires more significant cognitive resources than the truthful communication, does the sender involved in the falsification creates a fiction, concealment hides a secret or equivocation dodges the issues. Buller and Burgoon define as “a message knowingly transmitted by a sender to foster a false belief or conclusion by the receiver.” (Buller and Burgoon, 1996: 203-242)

The processes to establish a good relationship with the boyfriend, friends, family, leaders or lecturers are not always smooth as envisaged. Therefore, we must be smart to choose the way for good relation which has been existed previously.

Every person in this world will have a lied to a particular purpose, which namely was the target, maintaining their goals or saving their face themselves. Deception needs an effort and hard work. The liar has to be continued to deal with its task which was very complex in managing their lie strategy. If the lie have been too much, so there will be a leaking and this leak will affected to the non-verbal behavior.

Lie will also create feelings of guilt and doubt which will be seen from the actions or behavior. The succession of the lie is also depends on the suspicion of the respondent. The respondent usually has the feelings that can be easily detected by the liar. The suspicion will be in the fact and fiction.

According to Buller and Burgoon (1996:203-242), “Communication senders attempt to manipulate messages so as to be untruthful, which may cause them apprehension concerning their false communication being detected. Simultaneously, communication receivers try to unveil or detect the validity of that information, causing suspicion about whether or not the sender is being deceitful.” (Buller, D.B., and Burgoon, J.K. (1996), “Interpersonal deception theory” Communication Theory, 19966:203-242)

Interpersonal Deception Theory means that there are times when someone must lie. Lying is a manipulation of information, but someone who wants to lie should have a strategy which could be falsification, concealment and equivocation.

According to Buller and Burgoon (1996:203-242), there are three aspects of deceptive messages which are:

The central deceptive message, which is usually verbal.

Ancillary message, which includes both verbal and nonverbal aspects of communication that often reveals the truthfulness of a particular message. 

Inadvertent behaviors which are mostly nonverbal and help to point out the deceit of the sender through a term called leakage.

(Buller, D.B., and Burgoon, J.K. (1996), Interpersonal deception theory. Communication Theory, 6, 203-242)

Example case:

There is a university student who has been in a relationship with her boyfriend since 5 years ago, and there is unexpected thing happens. The mother of her boyfriend had been in the verdict of a breast cancer by doctor when she had her healthy check up. Since the girl has been in a relationship for five years, she is so closed with her boyfriend’s family. She has been treating by her boyfriend’s parents like their own daughter, because they have their closed relationship so she is calling his boyfriend’s parents as Mom and Dad. The girl is taking care of her boyfriend’s mother because of their relationship and also because her boyfriend is the only child in the family so there was not any person who can take care of her mother except the girl. They went to Singapore continually to do the surgery and chemotherapy treatment and radiotherapy treatment. The girl always accompanies them to do all the things and helping them to go through the healing process.

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And since the girl is also a student in a university and she still having the class at that time, so sometimes she have to skipped the class in order to accompany her boyfriend’s mother and she told to her lecturers that her mother is having a breast cancer and she have to go to Singapore quite often to accompany her and the lecturers give their permission to her. And later on, the lecturers found out from the girl classmates or gossip that the girl is not telling the truth about the mother who was the girl says as her mom, it is not her biologic mother but her boyfriend’s mother. The girl says that is because she is calling her boy friend’s mother as “my mom”.

In this case, it can be considered as interpersonal deception based on the three aspects of deceptive messages from Buller and Burgoon. There are two aspects that related with the case above which are: The central deceptive message, which is usually verbal means that there are miss communication between the girl and the lecturer. It has been misunderstood verbal communication in which she said “her mom” who according to her is the mother of the boyfriend who was she considered as her own mother that maybe it could be misunderstood by the lecturer who thinks that “her mom” was to show the biological mother of this girl. So, there is a miscommunication and misunderstanding via verbal communication way between the girl and the lecturer which can be considered as interpersonal deception by the lecturer. And the other aspects is Ancillary message, which includes both verbal and nonverbal aspects of communication that often reveals the truthfulness of a particular message which means that verbally, the girl said she is going to accompany “her mom” to have her medical treatment and care. This girl is no intention to defraud or lie to the teacher by saying “her mom” who is the mother of her boyfriend’s mother as her own mother due to their close relationship between the girl and her boyfriend’s mother is already very close which causing the girl has been considered as child of their own. Furthermore, by the non verbal, the girl also gave evidence in the form of letters from the doctors who assume to write which it was true that the girl is coming to accompany her mother to having the medical treatment and medical care.

Theoretical Perspective

Interpersonal deception theory is a fraud which based on theoretical views of interpersonal communication.  Therefore, Buller and Burgoon assume that fraud is as an interactive process between sender and receiver. In contrast with previous studies of deception that focused on the sender and receiver individually, Interpersonal deception theory focuses on the dyadic, relational and dialogic nature of deceptive communication. The behaviors between the sender and receiver are dynamic, multifunctional, multidimensional and multimodal. (Buller and Burgoon, 1998)

Dyadic communication refers to communication between two people. A dyad is a group of two people between whom messages are sent and received.

Relational communication refers to communication in which meaning is created by two people simultaneously filling the roles of both sender and receiver.

Dialogic activity refers to the active communicative language of the sender and receiver, each relying upon the other within the exchange.


Basically deception is hoax fraud information. Liars always use the falsification, concealment or equivocation to complete their lie. Fraud is usually done on the basis of motive to deceive. Usually a person who will commit a fraud has at least three goals which is to complete a certain task, to establish or maintain the relationships with the respondents, and to save their face or maintain the image of one or both parties.

In our daily life, we always communicate to each other. The way that every individual communicate is different. The language that used was also different in accordance with the objectives to be achieved, so that sometimes some people think that the need to commit fraud. Based on Buller and Burgoon, they assume that the motivation and interpersonal identity fraud inherent in stimulating the “text” over the mark as a less honest communication. Although sometimes the respondents did not know or see any signs of deception, in theory there are four characteristics that reflect the strategic objectives, which are:

Uncertainty and vagueness

If the girl does not want the lecturer know about the truth that “her mom” who is not the girl biological mother, the girl will probably to keep the answer secretly and shortly.

No immediacy, reticence and withdrawal

If the lecturer suddenly say that the mother who the girl was accompany and taking care for the medical treatment and medical care is not her biological mother, the girl will probably wish that it is better that she do not tell anything to her friends. The girl might silent to hear the lecturer opinion about her statement.


The girl will give the explanation to the lecturer about the miscommunication and misunderstanding from the word “her mom” that the girl stated. The girl has been treating by her boyfriend’s parents like their own daughter, because they have their closed relationship so she is calling his boyfriend’s parents as Mom and Dad.

Image-and relationship-protecting behaviour

When the people want to do a fraud, they usually will acknowledge the existence of non-verbal leakage which will provide the signs that the words they communicate are lie. Based on Buller and Burgoon, “It seems that smile might be a simple all-purpose strategy applies to cover lies. 

(Buller and Burgoon, “Interpersonal Deception Theory, 1996)

People who want to know a clear way to separate the truth from the fraud can be through the four strategic signs that will give the right way to get honesty. In the world of communication, it is not easy because almost all communication is intentional, goal directed, and conscious.

Buller and Burgoon adopt the term leakage to refer to unconscious nonverbal cues that signal an internal state. IDT’s explanations of interpersonal deception depend on the situation in which interaction occurs and the relationship between the sender and receiver. Over half of their 18 propositions involve the important distinction between strategic and nonstrategic activity. (Buller and Burgoon, 1996)

Sender and receiver cognitions and behaviours vary systematically as deceptive communication contexts vary in (a) access to social cues, (b) immediacy, (c) relational engagement, (d) conversational demands, and (e) spontaneity.

During deceptive interchanges, sender and receiver cognitions and behaviours vary systematically as relationships vary in (a) relational familiarity (including informational and behavioural familiarity) and (b) relational valence.

Individual communicators also approach deceptive exchanges with their own set of pre-interaction factors, such as expectancies, knowledge, goals or intentions, and behavioural repertoires that reflect their communication competence. IDT posits that such factors influence the deceptive exchange.

Compared with truth tellers, deceivers (a) engage in greater strategic activity designed to manage information, behaviour, and image and (b) display more nonstrategic arousal cues, negative and dampened affect, non-involvement and performance decrements.

Context interactivity moderates initial deception displays such that deception in increasingly interactive contexts results in (a) greater strategic activity (information, behaviour, and image management) and (b) reduced nonstrategic activity (arousal, negative or dampened affect, and performance decrements) over time relative to non-interactive contexts.

Sender and receiver initial expectations for honesty are positively related to degree of context interactivity and positivity of relationship between sender and receiver.

Deceivers’ initial detection apprehension and associated strategic activity are inversely related to expectations for honesty (which are themselves a function of context interactivity and relationship positivity).

Goals and motivations moderate strategic and nonstrategic behaviour displays.

As receivers’ informational, behavioural, and relational familiarity increase, deceivers not only (a) experience more detection apprehension and (b) exhibit more strategic information, behaviour, and image management but also (c) more nonstrategic leakage behaviour.

Skilled deceivers appear more believable because they make more strategic moves and display less leakage than unskilled deceivers.

Initial and ongoing receiver judgments of sender credibility are positively related to (a) receiver truth biases, (b) context interactivity, (c) and sender encoding skills; they are inversely related to (d) deviations of sender communication from expected patterns.

Initial and ongoing detection accuracy are inversely related to (a) receiver truth biases, (b) context interactivity, (c) and sender encoding skills; they are positively related to (d) informational and behavioural familiarity, (e) receiver decoding skills, and (f) deviations of sender communication from expected patterns.

Receiver suspicion is manifested through a combination of strategic and nonstrategic behaviour.

Senders perceive suspicion when it is present.

Suspicion (perceived or actual) increases senders’ (a) strategic and (b) nonstrategic behaviour

Deception and suspicion displays change over time.

Reciprocity is the predominant interaction adaptation pattern between senders and receivers during interpersonal deception.

Receiver detection accuracy, bias, and judgments of sender credibility following an interaction are a function of (a) terminal receiver cognitions (suspicion, truth biases), (b) receiver decoding skill, and (c) terminal sender behavioural displays.

Sender perceived deception success is a function of (a) terminal sender cognitions (perceived suspicion) and (b) terminal receiver behavioural displays.

(Buller and Burgoon, “Interpersonal Deception Theory, 1996)


According to Burgoon and Buller (1996: 203-242) that respondents tend to think of interpersonal messages truthful, complete, direct, relevant, and clear-even when the speaker is lying. So no matter what you might say about the girl is accompanying her mother for the medical treatment and medical care, the lecturer probably will believe the girl. Whatever the reason for the assumption of veracity, Buller and Burgoon are convinced that whatever is said by people close to you, then the respondent would still believe the words despite occasional doubts. The experts of the theory found that whatever is said by people who close to us and that we love, friends and family will be hoping to get the honesty and truth of the spoken words.

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Although sometimes a strong truth and valid bias between each other face to face interaction, people also can doubt our word. The lecturer may also suspicious of the doubt that the girl say after listening to gossip or news about the reality that the word “her mom” was not according to the girl biological mother. Buller and Burgoon define a suspicion as “state of doubt or distrust that is held without sufficient evidence or proof.” (Buller and Burgoon, “Interpersonal Deception Theory, 1996)


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