Detecting Deception

Deception – the art and science of directing attention, manipulating thinking, and surreptitiously implanting misleading beliefs

Understanding deception is critical in analysis

Australia’s adversaries, whether they are state or non-state actors, will often practice deception to obfuscate their activities and avoid detection. Understanding deception is critical for analysing strategic situations because it is frequently used to achieve strategic surprise. Accurately detecting deception helps you avoid two errors, 1) accepting disinformation & 2) rejecting valid information because you have incorrectly suspected deception or can’t rule it out.

This course covers both how to conduct and detect deception, because to detect deception, it helps to have a detailed understanding of how it works. You will be introduced to the cognitive issues that hamper our ability to perceive deception, learn the techniques of expert deceivers throughout history, and provided with practical tools for detecting the signs of deception or misdirection.

The course covers the following topics: :

1:The illusion of attention.
The course explains the wide range of psychological findings illustrating how we persistently and erroneously think that we notice more than we do. You will learn how the illusion of attention is exploited to deceive people and why it is a key element of most successful deception attempts.
2:Explanatory reasoning.
Deception manipulates the target’s abductive reasoning – how they reason about what is the most likely explanation for the available evidence. The course provides a detailed account of how abductive reasoning works and how to subtly guide it in others, so they infer the deceptive explanation. Participants will learn how to drop “breadcrumbs” of evidence that will lead the target’s reasoning down the garden path.
3: Misdirection’s many guises
Misdirection is how we control people’s attention, so they focus on the information we want and overlook the information we want them to ignore. Misdirection needs to be disguised or it will expose the ruse. Skill and care are required to control how the misdirection is interpreted and this part of the course covers the many techniques and tools for doing it well.
4:The history of deception.
Throughout the course we will cover the rich history of deception operations in war, intelligence, politics, and business. Each case illustrates how the psychological principles discussed have been applied for centuries to deceive an adversary or competitor and gain strategic surprise at pivotal moments.
5: Detecting deception.
A comprehensive understanding of how deception works makes it easier to detect. The course provides several techniques for checking for the signs of deception and misdirection, guarding against the manipulation of reasoning, and for keeping track of the situation to help “backtrack” along a chain of reasoning if deception is suspected.

The course covers the latest scientific and theoretical work on deception. It is largely taught through hands-on practice activities, with participants practicing methods of deceiving each other, conducting experiments, manipulating people’s attention and memory, learning magic tricks, and testing to see if they can detect deception in cases that have fooled strategists and analysts throughout history.


Ashley Barnett
Research Associate, Hunt Lab
Ashley Barnett is a philosopher at the Hunt Laboratory for Intelligence Research. He has over 10 years’ experience developing and delivering critical thinking training for intelligence agencies around the world. As part of a research project for the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), he formulated a method of reasoning evaluation called the Reasoning Stress Test. In collaboration with the Australian Intelligence Community, the Reasoning Stress Test has been developed into a training program for intelligence managers that is run multiple times a year. His current research focuses on deception and the nature of reasoning in intelligence analysis, especially how analysts compare alternative explanations.


Contact us to learn more or to book Hunt Lab experts to run this course at your organisation. We are also open to discussing collaborating on developing a tailored course to suit your organisation’s needs.