Does it drive you nuts when someone keeps repeating questions asked of them?

I was inspired to write this article after proofreading a deposition transcript in which the plaintiff kept repeating—with upward inflection—the simple questions asked of her by the defense attorney. This happens a lot.

• Some people repeat the question to make sure it’s what they heard; they’re hearing impaired or perhaps the room was noisy.

• A person will repeat the question as a way to stall while they try to come up with a lie.

• A question will be repeated because the individual wants to feel in control of the verbal transaction.

• Some people need time to think of the answer, and repeating the question—with that upward inflection—helps them along.

• The individual simply does not comprehend the simple question and needs to hear it twice in order to understand it—so they repeat it.

Let’s assume the following:

  • The listener heard the question perfectly.
  • The listener is not autistic.
  • The listener is not trying to stall to figure out a lie. In depositions, the answer that typically follows the echo is obviously the truth, and often, the nature of the question doesn’t lend itself to a lie.
  • The listener is not trying to feel in control.

This leaves two explanations:

First, the listener doesn’t understand the question and needs to hear it again in order for their brain to process it, and rather than ask, “Can you repeat that?” they simply echo the question with an upward inflection.

Second, deposition witness deliberately does this to trip up the examination. This theory was offered to me by my brother, a chemist.

I don’t buy into it because 1) Repeating the question prolongs the deposition, and the witness would rather be anywhere but in the examination room.

And 2, it seems that someone who’d be conniving like this would have a high education, yet in almost every case, the individual has no more than a high school diploma (often in GED form) or is a dropout—though very occasionally, such a person has college education.

Besides, this theory bombs when the repeating is done in a social situation.

Usually, the question that’s repeated is simple, rather than a complex, long question with several sub-questions built into it.

For instance, the question might be, “Where were you headed at the time of the car accident?” or, “What parts of your body were injured?” or, “Why did you decide to move?”

Sometimes the question is simpler yet:

“What did you tell him?”

“Where were you that night?”

“When were you born?”

When echoing, the listener will of course replace “you” with “I,” as in:

“Why did I decide to move?”

“What did I tell him?”

“When was I born?”

Sometimes the echo will be one word, such as “How many?” for “How many grandkids do you have?” or “Why?” for “Why did you move?” Why not just flat-out give the answer?

Sometimes these individuals will hear the question twice from the examiner, yet still repeat it!

“As a psychiatric expert witness, I read a lot of depositions,” says Carole Lieberman, MD, a forensic psychiatrist and author of Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My! How to Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror.

“Many times the person being deposed repeats the question, as do people giving interviews on TV.

“In stressful situations, especially where a person is afraid of giving the ‘wrong’ answer, they – consciously or unconsciously – buy time to mull it over by repeating the question.

“They are having an inner dialogue, in which they are asking themselves whether they should tell the truth or whether this could hurt them in some way.”

With simple questions, there’d be no benefit to lying. There’s a difference between being asked, “Why did you leave your last job?” (not wanting to admit being fired) and, “How many children do you have?”

Dr. Lieberman says, “Sometimes, people have trouble understanding the question and are trying to process it, but most of the time they’re trying to decide whether to make up an answer or tell the truth.”

What about a social setting? Why are people, who hear just fine, repeating easy questions to which lying would be of no benefit?

Dr. Lieberman analyzes the psychological impact of world events, as a guest and/or host on all major media outlets. Her appearances include “Larry King Live,” “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” “Entertainment Tonight,” CNN and Fox News.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.