February 28, 2018
Excerpts taken from Dr. Paul Ekman’s scientific autobiography, “Nonverbal Messages: Cracking the Code” (p. 237-239)
When is it a lie?
Many observable signs of lying have been identified, but they are not always shown by everyone. Their absence does not mean a person is truthful, but their presence, especially when there are multiple different types of signs (e.g., a fragment of a shrug and micro expressions), is very suggestive.
Proceed with caution
In situations in which distinguishing signs of lying from actually truthful statements is the focus — great care must be taken not to make either of two common mistakes:
- First, the absence of micro expressions, like the absence of gestural slips, does not prove a person is truthful; not all liars show such signs.
- The second mistake is to presume that concealed emotion is evidence that a person is lying about the topic of interest to the interviewer.
Cause versus correlation
When it comes to signs of lying, we need to be careful to avoid what I have called Othello’s error. He mistakenly assumed that Desdemona’s expression of fear was the reaction of a woman caught in betrayal. He failed to understand that emotions do not tell you their cause. The fear of being disbelieved looks the same as the fear of being caught. In real-life lies that I have studied, people suspected of crimes sometimes show micro expressions of anger. Only through further questioning is it possible to determine whether the concealed anger is the result of being wrongfully under suspicion or whether it is anger toward the interviewer for trying to catch the suspect in a misdeed.
Although it appears most people are not attuned to the recognition of micro expressions, most can at least learn to become sensitive to them with proper training.