On 24

The Third Degree

By Christopher J. Patrick, Ph.D., Deborah L. Patrick

Why do individuals in society lie? What methods exist to get at the truth in cases where individuals are lying or withholding information? Is it possible to determine conclusively whether someone is being truthful or not in what they tell us? Are there limits on how far agents of the government should be allowed to go in extracting the truth from enemies such as terrorists?

The phenomenon of deception is a fascinating one, and central to the drama of 24. For the show’s protagonists, and its viewers as well, the truth seems like a moving target that is always just beyond range. In virtually every episode of every season, the truth is withheld or distorted in significant ways that threaten the safety of the public at large or specific individuals within it. Jack Bauer and his associates at CTU, in an ever-present race against time, must resort to any means necessary to uncover the truth from those bent on concealing it from them.

This essay considers, with reference to characters and dramatic scenes from 24, the motives that people have for lying in personal and public life, and the various methods that exist for extracting the truth, ranging from verbal and behavioral analysis to physical torture. Our aim is to provide the reader with some perspective on the challenges inherent in uncovering the truth, and the merits and limitations of various techniques that have been developed to detect lies.


People lie for all sorts of reasons, and  …

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