Season 3 Episode 1: In the Red
After Death Expressions
Dr. Lightman comments that the facial expression of a dead woman shows fear. Checking with an undertaker and also looking at the relevant scientific literature suggests that facial expressions are not maintained after death. Perhaps there are circumstances in which that could happen, but it would be news.
What Expressions Don’t Tell
Torres spots the woman’s angry facial expression, and raises the question about who is the target of the anger – the bank or her ex. Loker chimes in that it could be both. In just a few seconds ‘Lie to Me’ illustrates a point I have repeatedly emphasized in my books: emotions don’t tell us what triggered them, and emotions don’t tell us who is the target of the emotion. To put it in other words, facial expressions tell us what the emotion is but not what triggered it and not who it is directed at. The power of this program is that it can teach that lesson in just a few seconds. You learn without knowing you are being taught!
A NOTE FROM DR. EKMAN
The beginning of the third season of ‘Lie to Me’ is an appropriate time to remind readers of my commentaries about the difference between science and entertainment, and the difference between a documentary and a dramatic series. While discovery and proof can be exciting for those who devote their life to science, it typically is a slow process, with a lot of drudgery. It would not be at all entertaining if a television audience were to watch even fifteen minutes of the activities of most scientific endeavors. In my own research projects I usually spent two to eight years to reach what I considered publishable conclusions.
The documentaries that have been made about my work illustrated the conclusions, with only momentary attention to the process that led to those conclusions. Documentaries have to be entertaining as well as informative; dramatic series certainly have to be entertaining but there is no requirement that that they have to be informative. The information conveyed by a documentary should be correct; a dramatic series has no such requirement.
Most of the dramatic series that dealt with lies in the last television season, and there were many of them, presented a lot of misinformation. But they didn’t claim to be based on science and ‘Lie to Me’ does. From the start it was conceived as an entertaining dramatic series based on science, much of it my own work and also the work of other scientists. That doesn’t mean ‘Lie to Me’ doesn’t sometimes inadvertently get it wrong; when it does I point that out in these commentaries. And sometimes it is not inadvertent; it is poetic license. I try to mention that also.
The last time I computed how much of the information in a ‘Lie To Me’ episode was accurate, it was about 85%. But remember Dr. Lightman solves problems more quickly than I ever have – he has only 45’. And he is more certain than I usually am about whether someone is lying or truthful. But it is entertaining and you will learn correct, scientifically based, information.