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Liar Liar--How to Tell When Someone Is
Lying










March 18, 2008, last updated June 23, 2012

By Sara Ott, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist



Researcher Paul Ekman is a psychologist at the University of
California and his studies propose that around 90% of liars
give themselves away by making 35 different errors such as
involuntary facial movements, voice tics and nervous
gestures.

Some of us are better lie detectors than others.  While
ordinary people only spot liars about 50% of the time,
Ekman's team found that professionals such as lawyers, and
law enforcement officers (principally CIA agents) can spot
the liars 73% of the time. A group of clinical psychologists
scored 68% while officers from the LA sheriffs department
scored 67%.  

Professor Bella DePaula of the University of Virginia
disagrees. DePaula's research found that the old cops didn't
score any higher than the rookies, "They just thought they
did," she said.

Ekman concedes that most police believe between 70-80%
of people are lying and rely to a great extent on their street
education, which could mean they over-estimate their
abilities. But he believes that all of us can be taught lie
detection.  

Clues include a 'lack of coherence' in answers, 'words that
don't fit the facial expression' and 'gestures that don't fit the
voice'. Another researcher on the team says you have to
watch and listen carefully to a subject "There are a cluster of
things that a person does before and when he lies. There is
no Pinocchio response."  As a result, it is not easy to devise a
failsafe, foolproof tests.

DePaula  doubts that lie detection can be taught as a skill.
But she believes women have an uncanny edge.  Women
improve their abilities to detect lies as we become familiar
with the liar.  

DePaula stresses the importance of the 'context'. If police
officers are "good at detecting the lies they're supposed to
detect, what does it matter if they go home and believe their
teenage son when he says he's going to the library on Friday
night?"


Mark Frank, who is a professor of communication  at the
University at Buffalo and a former student of Paul Ekman,
has developed a system for reading micro-expressions that
indicate deceit.

Law enforcement and security teams have started using
Frank's work to detect possible terrorists.  "It can be applied
to the training of security checkpoint personnel to help them
identify and decode 'hot spots,' the subtle conversational
cues and fleeting flashes of expression that betray buried
emotions or suggest lines of additional inquiry", Frank says

Frank's work stands on the shoulders of the work of a true
genius in the field of micro-expressions, Paul Ekman of the
University of California, San Francisco. Ekman's extensive
cross-cultural research discovered that, when it comes to
expressing emotion, we use identical facial muscles to
express identical emotions in every culture on the globe.  We
cry the same, we laugh the same, we express contempt the
same, we lie the same.



























"Fleeting facial expressions are expressed by minute and
unconscious movements of facial muscles like the frontalis,
corregator and risorius," Frank says, "and these micro-
movements, when provoked by underlying emotions, are
almost impossible for us to control."

Ekman and his colleague Wallace Friesen came up with a
numbering system for all of these movements: for example,
left and right eyebrows up is 1; down, 2; eyebrows pulled
together, 4; upper eyelid raised, 5, and so on and related
them to expressions of various emotions all humans use in
every culture.

So far,  Frank has catalogued voluntary and sometimes
involuntary movements of the 44 human facial muscles
linked to fear, distrust, distress and other emotions related
to deception.

Other important  work on micro-expressions as a way of
detecting lies is being conducted by cognitive scientist Marian
Stewart Bartlett.


Dr. Bartlet would disagree with the characterization of her
research as strictly lie detection: " The system we are
developing does not directly detect lies. Rather, it detects
which facial muscles have moved. The primary purpose of
this system is to provide a tool for basic scientific research
into facial behavior. This research addresses questions such
as: Do people in different cultures move the same muscles
during sadness? (The answer is yes.) There is more than 20
years of research establishing relationships between facial
muscle movement and emotional state, emotional intensity,
and other factors such as motivation and truthfulness. The
interpretation of the facial movement data provided by our
system rests on this body of research.

Detection of deceit is a possible application of this system.
Facial muscle measurement can provide information about
whether an expression of emotion is posed or genuine, as
well as information about emotion that the individual may be
attempting to hide. Facial measurement does not directly
indicate whether a person's words are truthful. Deciding
whether or not a posed expression or a leaked emotion is
consistent with truth is a judgment that must be made very
carefully. Our system does not make this judgment.

This brings us to another important issue: equating human
emotional response with truthfulness. Many people are
surprised to learn that "lie detectors" such as the polygraph
test are based on that same premise. The polygraph test
does not directly measure lying, but instead measures
nonspecific emotional arousal. It is important to obtain as
much information as possible before making a polygraph-
based judgment as to whether someone is lying. "


So, which micro-expressions tell us when someone is lying?


Watch the Eyebrows

According to Frank, eyebrow movement can be a dead
giveaway. Frank says his research has shown that when
eyebrows are pulled up and together, they express fear. A
muscle in the lower part of the face — something you feel
when you stretch your mouth back — is also a tell-tale spot.

"You see that in photos, like when a pickup truck is starting
to overturn," Frank said. "You see fear expression in the
driver's face."


"The actual mechanics of the emotion, the wiring in the
body, the signal in the face, is the same for every culture,"
Frank says. "What that means is that it doesn't matter what
culture you are from — anger, contempt, disgust, fear,
happy, sad and surprise are shown by all people in every
culture on the planet, and they show them the same way."

All researchers in the area of micro-expression caution that
the only way to use micro-expressions accurately is within
the proper context.  Not all knotted eyebrows suggest lying.
But they do suggest that the person you are watching in
under high stress. Put that together with the fact that you
have just asked them "are you married?" or "were you ever
married before?" and then you've got something suspicious.

The Voice--If Mine Eyes Deceive Me

Since most of us do not have Dr. Frank's micro-expression
computer program handy when we need it, the next best lie
detector may not be your eyes but your ears.   Audial clues
are some of the most reliable tell-tale signs of deception.

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