Season 3 Episode 11: Saved
Many times in the first twenty minutes Torres says she spotted guilt or shame in the facial expressions of various people. I have explained more than once in earlier commentaries that there is not a unique expression for either of those emotions, so I won’t repeat myself here.
The program did get it right about the meaning of shoulder shrugs. About half way through Lightman says that the shoulder shrugs shown by Kent, Eileen’s brother, reveal he doesn’t really think Eileen is a hero. Lightman does some big shrugs at that point, but our research has found it is only a fragment of the shrug – the slight lifting of one shoulder, or the slight rotation of one hand – which betrays a lie. When it occurs as just a fragment of the full gesture we call it an emblematic slip. Emblem is a term we use to refer to symbolic gestures such as the shrug, or A-OK movement where there is a precise meaning known by all members of the culture. It is a slip when the person doesn’t realize the emblem fragment is revealing the truth.
When the emblematic slip directly contradicts what the person is saying, for example a slight head shake ‘no’ when verbally saying ‘yes’ it is most clear cut, and so far we have never been wrong in saying the person is lying when that happens. Even when it does not directly contradict what is being said, shrug emblematic slips that are shown only when a person is talking about a particular topic and not at other times, have been a reliable sign of lying.
One caveat about emblems: they are a culture-specific body language. You won’t recognize emblems from another culture. Even worse, sometimes the same movement has a radically different meaning in two cultures. The finger to thumb emblem which Americans know to be ‘A-OK’ in Sicily is an insulting reference to another person’s sexual practices.
There are a couple of instances in the first half of the program where one or another of the actors refers to a fear expression, and indeed fear does have a unique facial expression, but it is not what is displayed in the show.