Chapter 16 – Deception and Lie Detection

Summary – Chapter 16

We began this chapter knowing full well that lie detection through nonverbal means was difficult at best. However, we did cover a huge amount of clues that can help us by raising suspicion and provide us with leads to delve further. We began the chapter by looking at the reasons for lying which includes hiding feelings, preferences and attitudes. We found that lying is used to reduce disagreements and hurt feelings and is a useful skill in impression management. We listed the nine reasons people lie which are to avoid punishment, to gain access to a reward, to protect another person or one’s self from being punished, to win admiration of others, to avoid awkward social situations, to avoid embarrassment, to maintain privacy and to gain at the expense of others.

We found that by grilling someone for the truth it is often enough to cause someone to feel stress thereby creating the behaviour instead of uncovering it. Contrary to popular belief we discussed that eye contact can often increase during lying rather than decrease due to “duping delight” where a person receives a charge from pulling one over on someone else. We learned that lying is hard work so should expect that when someone is caught with difficult questions that they should exhibit more nonverbal leakage and might even ‘appear’ to be thinking harder. Nervousness and guilt was touched on which showed that at times liars can give themselves up through a higher pitch, faster and louder speech, speech errors or stuttering, blushing, an increase in blink rate, fidgeting, dilation of the pupils or sweating, but that these cues only reveal liars that actually feel guilt, and not all do. Liars can also tend to “freeze up” and reduce movement and we related it back to professional poker players. Next we looked at how liars remain uncommitted to their lies, and thereby use less exuberant gesturing, and can stop or reduce touching when they lie.

Next we looked at the “truth bias” which shows that an average of sixty-seven percent accuracy is found when detecting the truth, whereas forty-four percent is found while detecting deception because people expect to be told the truth so have adapted to detect it. We found in this chapter that truth tellers (and liars) are sometimes less cooperative, but not always, and looked at the FACT or the facial action coding system as another way to detect lies. “Microexpressions” were defined as facial expressions that flash across the face in 1/25 to 1/5 of a second and can betray liars because they are difficult to consciously control and appear more honest. We discussed that while lying requires fabrication, telling the truth can be just as difficult since details must be recalled from memory. Police officers, we found, are fairly good at detecting lies, but this is in spite of what they are taught rather than because of it. Lying language in children was discussed and then we classified the major gestures that are usually associated with lying, but that aren’t always actually indicative of it. Our aim in doing so was to avoid doing them so we can avoid being mislabeled as untruthful by others. These commonly associated gestures include touching the face and ears, scratching the neck, pulling at the collar, touching the eyes, mouth, or nose and closed body language. We also examined eye patterns in lying, verbal and paraverbal cues and nervous body language as they relate to lying. We discovered that machines such as the fMRI, thermal scanners, eye trackers, pupillometers and stress sniffers had a much greater success rate when compared to people, but were also expensive and impractical.

We finished up the chapter by examining true success which is achieved by the experts; the CIA who scores seventy-three percent, sheriffs sixty-seven percent, psychologist sixty-eight percent and the secret service who scored sixty-four percent as well as techniques for actually detecting lies by comparing the baseline of a person as they shift from comfort to discomfort based on questioning or other stimulus.

Setting Someone Up To Be Read

The following is a sequence by which lying can be more effectively read as outlined by Joe Navarro in his book What everybody is saying. Navarro follows a more interrogative style which will work in some circumstances, but it limited in others.

When trying to read someone for truth-telling, have an open view of their body to be able to see any signs of comfort and discomfort as they may arise.

When trying to read someone for truth-telling, have an open view of their body to be able to see any signs of comfort and discomfort as they may arise.

1. Get a clear unobstructed view of the person you wish to read so you don’t miss any pacifying behaviours. If possible put people in an open space.
2. Expect some nervous and stressful body language especially pacifying behaviours. People are expected to calm themselves at all times even when no lying is being done.
3. Expect initial nervousness. When someone is questioned they will feel tension regardless of their level of guilt.
4. If possible have the person you wish to read to first relax. With time everyone relaxes, even guilty people so if you can put off asking important questions or build rapport, do so.
5. Look to establish a baseline. This is especially important if you don’t know the person you are questioning all that well. Look for cues they use normally especially mannerisms and pacifiers.
6. As you begin questioning, watch for an increased use of pacifiers. This will be especially telling when they seem to increase dramatically during specific questions or when certain topics arise. When they arise, it will provide clues as to which information requires further investigation.
7. Pause frequently after asking questions. It is important to avoid putting out too many questions all at once because it will only serve to create stress. Give the person you are trying to read enough time to think and answer questions so as to avoid false positives.
8. Stay on task and maintain focus. When people feel stress they often want to change the subject matter or avoid questions. If a person gets the opportunity to change the subject their will emit fewer nonverbal tells of deception because when people speak they get to choose and control the topic.
9. Chatter is not truth. Listening to one side of the story often produces a bias and on the surface, the more we listen to people, the more we tend to trust and believe what they tell us. Advertising campaigns work through a similar mechanism as the more we hear the message, the more we think it to be true. Eventually, if we hear messages enough time, they work into our subconsciousness to become “ours”, they re-write our reality. When people present a huge amount of information about a topic, they appear to be telling the truth, however this is not always the case as even creative liars can go at lengths to produce elaborate and believable lies. It is not the amount of information provided that matters, but rather the accuracy of the information which can only come through verification of the facts.
10. Stress in and stress out. There are two times when stressful nonverbals are emitted, once when the question is asked which can appear like distancing behaviours such as arms and foot withdrawl and then again when pacifying is needed to calm. These come out as neck touching, stroking the hair and so forth.
11. Isolate the cause of stress. Is stress due to being asked stressful questions, or because someone is being interrogated. Not all stressful nonverbal language is due to lying and often people that are honest, show nervous language.
12. Pacifiers tell us a lot. Pacifying body language tells us when someone is stressed which tells us which scenarios, questions or information has created it. It therefore follows that pacifying cues tell us which areas require more thorough investigation.

Comfort and Discomfort Body Language

Comfort on the left side of the image, discomfort on the right.

Comfort on the left side of the image, discomfort on the right.

We have covered many signals of comfort and discomfort throughout the book and have even eluded to their use in lie detection. To simplify things, I wanted to take the time to cover the cues we can use to detect lying as it relates to comfort and discomfort. We have seen how open and closed language can signal a desire to allow access to the body. Ventral displays shows that a person is open and trusting of someone and this sort of response is difficult when we feel we are hiding emotions. Comfort is displayed through proximity and people do this by moving their torsos closer or leaning inward rather than away and will remove objects that impede their view so as to establish more intimacy.

Comfortable bodies open up and spread out.

Comfortable bodies open up and spread out.

Comfortable people will hold their bodies loose rather than rigid, and their body will move with fluidity. They will gesture with their speech instead of freezing instantly or awkwardly, called “flash frozen.” Sometimes people will slow to catch their thoughts, but this will be obvious to the body language reader and will come at appropriate times and in context when thought is actually required to produce accurate answers. Comfortable people mirror others around them instead of avoiding synchrony. Their breath rate will be similar and they will adopt like postures instead of showing differences.

Bodies show discomfort by increased heart rate, breath rate, sweating, a change in normal colour in the face or neck, trembling or shaking in the hands lips, or elsewhere, compressing the lips, fidgeting, drumming the fingers and other repetitive behaviours. Voices often crack when under stress, mouths might dry up producing noticeable swallowing, “hard swallows”, or frequent throat clearing. Liars might use objects as barriers. They might hold drinking glasses to hide parts of their face or use walls and chairs while standing to lean against to gain support. Liars might engage in eye blocking behaviours by covering their eyes with their hands or seem to talk through them or even squint so as to impede what is being said from entering their minds. The eyes might also begin to flutter or increase in overall blink rate showing an internal struggle.

Drumming fingers, fidgeting, kicking feet and so forth are burning off nervous energy - discomfort.

Drumming fingers, fidgeting, kicking feet and so forth are burning off nervous energy – discomfort.

We’ve hit on the fact that stress creates nonverbal language such as preening to show detachment from a conversation (picking lint), energy displacement gestures such as scratching the body or rubbing the neck or wiping the side of the nose. Palm up displays show that a person has some doubt, and indicates a desire for other to believe them while palm down displays show confidence and authority. Microexpressions can also be particularly revealing since they happen instantaneously and subconsciously. Watch for movements that happen first especially if they are negative in nature as these are more honest than positive body language. Positive language is used by people to appear more in control and polite instead of appearing vulnerable. Fake smiles are an excellent example of an expression that can sometimes be put on to appear to disguise stress. We know smiles are faked when they seem to last for much longer than what would be considered natural.

Lack of touching, or touch reduction also signals discomfort and a divergence of ideas. When people’s ideas differ they find it hard to come close to others as part of the natural fear response. Head movements that are inconsistent with speech such as slightly nodding affirmatively though making a denial or vice versa, or delaying head nodding until after speech is made such that speech and gestures lack synchrony can give liars away. When gestures are done out of sync they tell us that a person is adding the gesture on as support for their statement. The entire affair appears to be out of the normal order of flow in communication which liars can often do. When affirmative nodding happens during denial statements such as nodding “yes” while saying “I did not do it” usually happens very subtly, but is obvious to the conscious observer. Keep in mind while reading these cues that they do not indicate lying per se, but rather indicate discomfort and stress. The job of the body language reader is to decide why a person is stressed. Are they stressed because they are being put on the spot, because they fear being mislabeled, or because they are actually telling lies?

Comfort and Discomfort In Detecting Deception

By keeping a "subject" relaxed, we can measure lying more accurately.  Instead of creating lying-language through suspicion, we can uncover lying.

By keeping a “subject” relaxed, we can measure lying more accurately. Instead of creating lying-language through suspicion, we can find out which facts create discomfort – it is discomfort body language that helps uncover the truth.

Ex-FBI agent Joe Navarro explain in his book What everybody is saying that nonverbal cues put out by the limbic mind are paramount to detecting deception. He says that it is the displays of comfort versus discomfort that tells body language readers when someone is telling the truth or lying. When people lie they experience discomfort and “guilt knowledge” which leaks through the body through a person’s fear response, but when they tell the truth they “have no worries.” This approach says that a person uses more emphatic gestures with their hands and arms when they tell the truth, but when they lie they tend to freeze up and lock themselves down. If you see half-hazard attempts to describe events using lack of emphasis and gesturing, or in other words, remain uncommitted, than you can be pretty sure their story is fabricated. Truth tellers try their best to set facts straight and will go on at lengths to accomplish this.

The theory says that someone that is guilty carries negative thoughts with them because by nature, people are honest and think that they are good people. When they harbour bad thoughts though, they find it difficult to achieve comfort. The technique to reading lying as outlined states that a person must be read in low stress environments so that it is possible to measure changes from their baseline to catch stress related discomfort. Grilling someone for the truth has been show to produce “false positives”, meaning people who are actually innocent will actually plead guilty. Innocent suspects have been shown to confess to very serious crimes such as murder simply because they were put under very intense pressure. This is why it is important to establish comfort during all interactions, yet use appropriate questions to uncover the truth.

Overlooking someone suspiciously or presenting leading or accusatory questions will create discomfort, however it won’t show you which information presented leads to changes in nonverbal body language. It is by using relaxed and rapport building body language that allows someone to relax leaving only the information or question to be the variable by which all body language is measured. When scientists conduct research they do their best to keep all factors the same except for one. They call this the dependent variable, and it is by definition what is measured, or in other words what is affected during the experiment. The independent variable is what is manipulated in an experiment. When conducting a “lying experiment”, like all experiments, you want to keep all other variables constant so you can measure one variable against another variable.

Therefore, when we want to uncover lies, we should keep our body language neutral and remain calm while working to present information, details, asking for clarification, and so forth to uncover discomfort. This is why torture techniques don’t work to uncover the truth, they just pull information that the suspect believes the interviewer desires so they will stop badgering them. Just by using suspicious body language or leading questions can put someone on edge and influence their nonverbal communication. Saying things like “I don’t believe you” or “I think you are lying” will create anxious body language which can be misconstrued to be the result of actually being dishonest, when in actual fact is likely due to stress from being mislabeled. To body language reader will gain no useful information from creating anxiety. The rule of thumb therefore is to create and maintain comfort at all times, remain neutral in expression and measure signals of discomfort to uncover information that creates stress.

How To Accurately Read Lies

By now we know that liars are practiced, we all do it, and we do it regularly. Sometimes we don’t even realize we do it and other times those around us don’t care to know. What we do know is that most liars feel only mild feelings of guilt and fear. Thus, we should only expect very subtle clues to deception and nothing more. It has been shown through the research that looking for full blown signals of lying is both misleading and even unhelpful. Liars as it were, are only slightly more apprehensive than truth tellers with both feeling nervous and anxious when faced with scrutiny.

My advice to read people is to watch for the little stuff, the microexpressions, the small gestures and the ones that happen instantly, and then hone in on it. Keep in mind too, that you won’t be able to detect lies much better than about seventy-five percent of the time anyway, which is on par with the CIA minus of course various lie detection machines which we discussed as being impractical and requiring cooperation that you are very unlikely to garner, even if provided with access.

The top lie detectors all seem to have one trait in common, and that is skepticism. They know or assume that someone is lying so they view them through that window being careful to watch and recall any cues that tip the scales toward deception. Looking at the world through rose-coloured glasses will lead to rose-coloured predictions about people and this is all just dandy, if you aren’t interesting in uncovering bad things around you. You also must be aware of a person, from their face to their toes and be willing to look them over and actively observe them. If you’re goal is to make friends, then by all means avoid filtering and analyzing the body language around you. In fact, I would advise body language readers to relax their skills when around family and friends, or at least keep it secret!

It is not safe to immediately peg someone a liar based on one or even a handful of cues just by the nature of the trade. Reading lying correctly is a long term comparison of the facts seeded with emotional, fearful and stressed body language from one moment to the next that can only happen over time. Success will come by looking at the full picture and comparing the parts to the whole and digging deeper when discrepancies happen between expressive behaviours and the words said. No doubt, lie detection is difficult, but the body language in this chapter coupled with how it is framed, that is the lie detection theory and it’s limitations, will help increase your odds significantly.

How We Really Detect Lies

It is traditionally assumed that deception detection occurs simultaneously to the telling of a lie. Meaning, as people speak, lie detectors were able to pick up on nonverbal and verbal cues to ‘read’ people. Most of the research to date suggests that we can’t use any body language cue, or collection of cues in a comprehensive manner to read liars, but this might just be a limitation or flaw in the design of the studies. In 2002 research by Hee Sun Park working out of the University of California in Santa Barbara it was found that success in real-world lie detection happens gradually, over time and not on one chance encounter. Her research found that the most often reported method of disseminating lies included third party information, confessions and physical evidence, none of which the studies thus far have provided. Therefore, with respect to how people really read lies, the scientific investigations to date, haven’t provided people with information necessary to accurately detect lies.

Reading lies in real life is an active comparison from information we know for certain, and information told to us. No doubt, nonverbal language can provide clues to us as a full package, but it doesn’t permit us to ascertain conclusive evidence. We should therefore use untrustworthy or nervous body language as motivation to spark further investigation.

So Which People Are Good At Detecting Lies?

At this point in the chapter it might seem out of place to admit that some individuals can actually detect lies better than chance, but this is true, and has been backed up empirically through research. Studies have shown that while the rest of the world is limited to fifty percent, or the same accuracy as that which would occur by chance, the CIA (central intelligence agency) scores seventy-three percent, sheriffs sixty-seven percent, psychologist sixty-eight percent whereas the secret service scores sixty-four percent.

So why do the experts have an advantage over the layman? Well, part of the explanation lies in experience. The group of psychologist was chosen due to their special interest in lying and lie detection, not to mention their willingness to participate in a two day seminar covering various topics related to lying and lie detection. Each group including the psychologists, the CIA, and the secret service all have an interest in lie detection coupled with the training to back it up. Experts are drawing on information from many facets about a person, including their paraverbal and nonverbal language as well as other cues as we have covered which is unlike regular lay-people who have little if any experience in analyzing people, let alone the ability to repeatedly test their skills. Because lie detection and reading people is a huge part of their occupations, they get a lot of practice and feedback.

Personality characteristics might also play into the ability to detect lies. For example, empathy, sensitivity to social cues, and conscientiousness can all help in reading people more accurate because it allows a person to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Experts are also more aware of the truth bias, which we covered earlier, and so can properly adjust for this phenomenon. It is important to conclude on these matters that the accuracy, while impressive in relation to ordinary people, is still far from perfect. While the experts are far from perfect, they do give us some hope that lie detection is more than a chance operation. No doubt, by reading this chapter alone, you will be able to make huge strides in reading others, perhaps not pegging every liar dead on the spot, but the cues in this chapter will help you at least identified those who are worthy of a second look.

Above: Paul Ekman talks about microexpressions.

Some Other Lie Machines – Thermal Scanners, Eye Trackers, Pupillometers And Stress Sniffers

Other machines that could potentially find their way into law enforcement and homeland security include thermal scanners, eye trackers and pupillometers. Scientists at Dodpi or the Department of defense polygraph institute have created a machine that measures the body’s emissions of heat, light, vibration and other minute changes that happen during lying. One of the tools measures the amount of heat that is released just inside each eye. The theory is that heat increase with lying and stress and this should increase during lying. From this chapter, we know that this machine has severe limitations since not all liars experience stress and fear, and not all honest people lack it. Another machine tracks people’s gaze patterns to determine if they’re looking at something they recognize or something novel. This would be useful in criminal investigations where the murder weapon was kept hidden from the public. If a suspect was read to recognize the item, he could be linked to the crime. Other machines measure pupils sizes to determine arousal which as we have been discussing can signal stress, fear, but also interest. A sniffer machine is also being tested which looks for an increase in stress hormones on the breath.

Such devices are new and their effectiveness unmeasured so are not in widespread use. Thankfully the time we hear “Your plane is boarding, please walk through the mental detector” isn’t yet upon us, and predictions of the popular book 1984 can sit idle, for the time being at least.

fMRI In Lie Detection

Machines That Detect Lies – When All Else Fails Bring In The Machines

fMRI is the abbreviation for functional magnetic resonance imaging which enables researchers to create maps of the brain’s networks as it processes thoughts, sensations, memories, and motor commands. As our brains work, it requires blood to operate and the greater the work done, the more blood is required. What gives lies away is that certain areas of the brain “light” up through increased blood flow when lying take place. The job of the fMRI machine is to read this flow and decipher patterns. Regions of the brain that are used in lying include the anterior (front) cingulated which functions in process goals and intensions, the right orbital interior frontal which processes reward, and the right middle frontal that helps govern tasks that require more than just ordinary thought. It is these three brain centers working in concert that produce and also mask lies.

The fMRI measures blood flow and hence measures which areas of the brain are using up oxygen faster and are working harder. Proponents of fMRI machines in lie detection claim that if you can get hits in all three zones of the brain at the same time you can catch liars. In some studies lying has been detected in upwards of ninety-three percent success rate with the help of fMRI machines. However, the current methodologies of the study present some very big hurdlers before the machines can use the technology in lie detection. For example, small movements in the head or speaking aloud can disrupt the scan and produce unreadable information. The test also requires baseline procedures that compare deceptive thought patterns and honest thought patterns, both of which can be made troublesome by an uncooperative participant. The units are also expensive, bulky and require immersion into the unit which proves to be impractical under most circumstances.

A second more portable device is in creation that uses processes similar to fMRI except that it uses near-infrared light that pass through the forehead and skull but penetrates only the first few centimeters of cortical tissue. This also uses blood flow similar to the fMRI. Once it passes through it is captured by optical sensors and filtered. The unit is formed with a headband studded with LEDs and silicon diode sensors. Researchers were able to detect lying in a card game ninety-five percent of the time using these machines.

While blood flow to certain parts of the brain can be excellent predictors of lying, it does no help for us as human lie detectors since there are no direct body language cues as yet discovered that are tied directly to brain activity.

Nervous Body Language – The ‘Other’ Cues

As we know nervousness plays a big part in lie detection so we habitually connect the two sentiments. Therefore, by this nature, we assume that any of the following could be associated with dishonesty. Here is a nearly comprehensive list of all cues that could be tied to lying or else associated with lying from the general public. While they don’t necessarily uncover a liar they will be tied to dishonesty and persons that perform these cues will be mistrusted. They include increased eye blink rate, stuttering, dilated pupils, fidgeting, appearing unfriendly or tense, facial fidgeting, shaking, postural shifts or unrelaxed/reserved postures, twitches, shrugs, head movements, playing with objects, sneering, scowling, frowning, smiling, biting the lower lip, pressing the lips together, wrinkling of the nose, increase in perspiration, blushing or turning pale and increased swallowing.