Post No.: 0294
We tend to overestimate our ability to accurately read other people’s emotions from their facial expressions. And because we don’t always receive feedback on whether we’re incorrect in our readings, we usually assume we’re correct then leave it there!
We evolved to read people’s faces, but because of the benefits of being able to hide our emotions from others at times too, we also evolved to hide our emotions well too (e.g. when we say we’re fine when we’re not, or when salespeople suppress their glee after closing a great deal for themselves). We think people’s internal states are more outwardly visible to others than they actually are. Well we’re not always that great at correctly identifying facial expressions even when another person isn’t trying to hide their emotions from us, usually because we’re not paying close enough attention (albeit it’d be considered rude to constantly stare at someone – in fact, staring at someone will likely cause a reaction from them itself! This raises a question though of why does staring, even by known friends and family (supposed non-threats), feel aversive? Is it because we don’t believe we’re wrong if we lie but it’s wrong if other people try their best to catch us doing so?!)
As stated in Post No.: 0183, deception is incredibly difficult to spot because it’s constant ‘warfare versus counter-warfare’ – common or believed signs of deception shift as people learn about them. Because of this constant ‘cat and mouse’ chase in the game of deception, liars can learn about what most people believe are cues related to truth-telling or deception behaviour and modify their own behaviour to fake such commonly-believed truth-telling cues or avoid such commonly-believed cues of deception (e.g. consciously controlling their level of eye contact or gaze aversion, which a lot of people know they must do now; or even controlling their heart rate with enough practice regarding telling a particular lie). People who are trying to detect lies can conversely sometimes be over-sceptical when trying to read the signs of deception. The overall result is that people are generally no better than chance when trying to detect lies – even those who have jobs that involve trying to detect lies (without the help of equipment). What professionals are good at understanding though, is expressing probabilities rather than black-or-white predictions.
People may also be confirmation-biased in looking for the supposed signs of deception i.e. starting with the conclusion of ‘they’re guilty’ and then trying to gather support for that conclusion. The proper ‘fair trial’ way is to have no preconceived opinion (if that’s humanly possible when one is not independent to the case at hand!) and to only coalesce towards a conclusion after all the information has been gathered and equally assessed. Woof!
Always consider any alternative explanations for what’s going on – read between the lines and behind the scenes for people’s true motivations. Yet be careful not to read too much into isolated things i.e. look for consistent clues or clusters of clues.
Beware of your preconceptions – do not prejudge based on the way people are born to look like or how they dress, etc. – lots of scams have been conducted by people ‘looking and sounding official’ (e.g. by wearing a high visibility jacket, hard hat and holding a clipboard in a car park or building site!) Beware of people who are charming or enchanting as they’re very good at lowering your guard. (Maybe pretend that you believe them to make them relax their guard and hopefully make a slip? Hide your suspicions whilst gathering more information. Throw in some unexpected questions – don’t just run off the usual expected questions because they’ve probably rehearsed those answers.)
Just because you may have uncovered someone’s fuzzy deception in the past, it doesn’t necessarily mean the same method or source of discovery will work in the future – once spotted, a person will switch strategies for deception. People can also lie in different ways and at different times because they may be experimenting with what works. Yet learn from any past mistakes – they may tell you about yourself and when you are most vulnerable to being deceived (e.g. when relaxed on holiday).
One (or the) overall strategy is to start by asking questions that you know the answers given will be true, then ask the question that you want to know if a truth/lie will be given. Alternatively, you could try occasionally switching from asking questions that you know when the answers given will be true with the question that you want to know if a truth/lie will be given. This is so that you’ll have something to compare the deviations or differences to. The way someone tells the truth and tells lies is very individual, but for that individual there tends to be a consistency between their truths and a consistency between their lies, in terms of vocal tone, body language, words used and/or general behaviour. It’s difficult or foolhardy to attempt to judge whether someone is lying or not when you don’t know them very well (e.g. one individual may become quite withdrawn when attempting to lie whilst another individual may become defensive (aggressive) when attempting to lie, hence trying to judge everybody by the same preconceived signals is fraught with potential error and injustice – but individuals do tend to be consistent with themselves within a given context).
So you are essentially looking for ‘notable deviations’ from their own ‘baseline truthful behaviour’, which can be different with different people, and at possibly different times and situations. A deviation may indicate that a lie is being told (e.g. they talk about their day at work and many other things that you can verify are true in a certain manner, but when queried about what they did just after work they reply in a markedly different manner, which may indicate that something is suspicious about that latter response).
It’s thus probably best not to first go fur-ociously storming in with the killer question when you suspect something, but to first ask a few questions where you know for sure the answers will be truthful before asking the killer question. Their guard will be down when answering the easy questions where deception is not required, but suddenly being asked an awkward question may reveal a sudden change in their behaviour if their mind is suddenly quickly trying to figure out a way to deceive you. If they’re great at lying (or you suspect they are), you could continue to interject ‘no need to lie and you know the truth’ questions with the killer question paraphrased – this’ll best highlight the contrasts between their truths and their lies (if any).
However, a question may be awkward for many reasons apart from potentially eliciting a dishonest answer (e.g. we can blush for many reasons apart from lying when broaching certain subjects), so be wary of the ambiguity of certain reactions.
When listening to just someone’s voice (e.g. via the telephone), we concentrate more on the tonal variances/changes and can potentially better detect emotions and lies – so if watching a video, try shutting your eyes and just listening (and maybe then try muting the sound and just watching) so that you can concentrate on just one sense at a time.
When you can see the other person, look for suppressed body language (e.g. they suddenly become rigid). They may hide their hands, blinking may mean increased thinking, and clamping their mouth shut momentarily or poking their tongue out could signal trying to keep a lie in or pushing the question away. Pupil dilation is proportional to the amount of effort their brain is using to think – it’ll involuntarily re-constrict once they (think they) have solved a problem (e.g. they’ve figured out a compelling lie that they could tell), although it’ll also do this if they simply give up trying! Look at their lower body, legs and feet because liars may not be as conscious in suppressing their body language here (they’ll likely be concentrating their conscious efforts on suppressing leaks from their upper body, face and eyes).
Watch out for micro-expressions of guilt, fear or duping delight. ‘Tells’ stem from ‘concealing behaviour’ – for literally a split-second, the true expression of one’s feelings will show as a micro-expression, but once the conscious mind realises this it tries to instantly mask it (e.g. trying to mask a spiteful expression with a nonchalant one). But this isn’t always easy to read in real time and doesn’t always happen; and liars may again attempt to restrain their body language. Liars need to monitor how others are receiving their stories so they may be observing your reactions more studiously too.
‘Duping delight’ is when a liar expresses joy, via a smile at an inappropriate moment, because they feel pleasure for being able to manipulate someone. This highlights how strongly deception behaviours have evolved – even the mere sense of getting away with something is inherently rewarding in itself and the joy can be hard to hide! Having the option to deceive is therefore a source of pleasure hence many of us hate the idea of a ‘Big Brother’ state even when we’ve got no current plans to behave deceptively (or maybe most people do have some, at least small, things they want to keep hidden – not just because it’s for their personal security or intimate privacy but because it’d harm their public reputation if it were explicitly revealed e.g. their nose-picking habit – stuff that people show a disapproving reaction towards when other people are caught doing it but they probably do it too but the only difference is that they haven’t been caught, yet!)
But again, the risk with assessing visual body language and physiological cues is that they can be ambiguous in the reasons behind them because it’s difficult to totally isolate the mind on thinking of only one thing – so watch out. We can read what people are ‘feeling’ but not what they’re ‘thinking’ exactly or so easily (and reading people’s true feelings is already tricky when they’re trying to hide them). So even when you sense a concealment of truth – you may not know what the lie is unless you phrase the question properly. The deviations in their body language may be because of lying or for being truthful about an embarrassing fact, for example, or for lying about another unpredicted lie. Therefore the words and choice of verbal language may be better to focus on rather than the body and tone. Great actors can also contrive their body language because they’re highly trained at doing so.
Put simply, trying to suss out lies via assessing body language cues and micro-expressions is fraught with danger! We should not judge people only by their appearances (e.g. the presumption of passive-aggressiveness or aloofness when a person is just shy or anxious).
There are indeed clues to a person’s internal state to be found via their body language, but some people take it way too far and think they can determine with a good degree of confidence a person’s internal state from incredibly ambiguous cues; including some professionals, who are often only most accurate when pointing out a person’s body language leaks after they’ve already been told how that person was feeling (e.g. because they’re reviewing videos in the aftermath of a case), which is a bit too late to be useful in real life! Nearly everything seems obvious once you know the answers (e.g. that a prominent celebrity was actually a paedophile) but note how many people didn’t concretely come to those answers at the time.
Ambiguity is the main source of uncertainty when trying to detect deception. So most of all – never forget about seeking and securing hard evidence before personally convicting someone! We should most of all look at the undeniable (or at least the less circumstantial the better) evidence more than how a person looks or sounds.