Tag Archive for Eye Contact

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.

Eye Patterns In Lying

Eyes that wont make contact or seem to dart around as if they are fabricating stories can give liars away.

Eyes that wont make contact or seem to dart around as if they are fabricating stories can give liars away.

Shifty eyes, where the eyes dart all over the room to focus on anything but someone else’s eyes, is habitually associated with lying. However, as we learned previously, most practiced liars hold gaze even more strongly than in normal situations. In a study that looked at seventy-five countries, it was found that avoidance of eye contact was named as a lying trait in every single one of them. It is also frequently named first as a tell, and was named by old and young people alike. This trend exists cross culturally, despite any supportive scientific findings. People will stereotype liars as having shifty posture, self touching, appear nervous, have broken speech and so forth, but it is the belief that “they can’t look you in the eye” that is first and foremost on the tongue of all human lie detectors throughout the world! I suppose it would be less fascinating if that trait actually did predict lying, but it doesn’t. It’s simply a widespread belief that is passed down from generation to generation.

With regards to the general public who hold strong ideas about what a liar looks like, be sure to avoid gaze avoidance! Looking away for long periods of time, especially while talking, shifty eyes as mentioned, or using “stammering eyes”, which is the action of keeping the eyes closed for prolonged periods of time have all been noted as giving liars away. Despite widespread beliefs about how liars refuse to look other people in the eye, there is little empirical evidence to suggest its truth. Gaze avoidance might be more closely associated with the intent of appearing more subordinate, or to reduce anxiety and intensity so as to diffuse the situation.

Shutting out the outside world with stammering eyes can be a strong turn-off to other people, as can eye gaze avoidance which is probably why people universally attribute bad eye language to dishonesty. Negative impressions can stem from poor eye contact, even coming from the most honest and trustworthy people especially when it is the desire of others to label someone a liar for their own interest or purpose. It is a well known fact that when people hold specific beliefs they discount information that disproves their ideas, and actively seek out information that support it, some of which doesn’t exist in ready made form. To the more astute, it will come as obvious that reading bad eye language can help us reduce the creation of false impressions about others. Just because someone has unusual eye patterns does not mean that a person is lying, but chances are good that if you use bad eye language, or see someone else use bad eye language, you and they will be classified as untrustworthy.

The final aspect related to eye language worth mentioning is pupil dilation. Under stress or arousal of any kind, the pupils expand so as to allow more light in. This can include stress and fear due to lying, or any other fearful situations for that matter, but does not discount the stimulus of seeing something particularly attractive, as this too causes pupil dilation. By placing a suspect in the hot seat it is possible to gauge what level of fear he has with regards to accusations because it eliminates the confusion that outside stimulus creates larger pupils. However, like all lying language, pupil dilation is due to stress, which can result from being put in the hot seat! It is the gauging of pupil size from baseline that tells us something useful. Talking about something neutral like what they did last week on a random day, then switching to something more questionable like whether or not the stole office supplies is a great way to measure pupil differences as well as other lying language.

While we expect a liar to be more stressful overall, this isn’t always the case as has been one of the reoccurring themes in this chapter. However, if we wish to fool others, or maintain our innocence in their eyes, we should try to remain relaxed thereby giving off few or no negative cues.

Lying Is Hard Work?

Is she constructing a lie or trying to recall the facts?

Is she constructing a lie or trying to recall the facts?

Some researchers argue that deceptive messages requires more mental processing because one needs to create facts instead of simply recalling and describing them. In truth tellers emotion flows effortlessly, but those who are faking it, have to foster theirs and while liars are playing a role, truth tellers are just living. With an increase in pressure, such as one might experience during cross-examination in law proceedings, liars might be faced with an unexpected question catching them off guard. Pathological liars are constantly having to mentally catalog their lies and then entwine them with lies told previously which is confusing. This makes liars who are caught off guard more likely to delay responding and increase pauses as they attempt to create information while simultaneously comparing it to information otherwise presented. They must also compare information to possible information already known to the listener. It has been said that for every one lie originated, two to three other lies must be created to back it up. This can become mentally taxing and is a process not required of truth tellers. While pauses in speech are not definitive cues to deception by itself, since remembering the truth is sometimes difficult as well, pausing, when it is obvious that the answer should be known, can serve to betray a liar.

Thus, we can expect that when someone is caught with difficult questions that they should exhibit more nonverbal leakage and might even ‘appear’ to be thinking harder. Some researchers therefore have linked avoiding eye contact, or looking away to think as a signal of mental processing and lying. However, as we have seen, looking away sometimes helps us recall real to life events so this, in and of itself, is not an indication of lying. Using eye direction was outlined in an earlier section, but it’s important to note that baselining must first be accomplished for this to be anywhere near accurate. Right and left handed persons will look in different direction depending on whether they are creating information or recalling it.

A way liars use to reduce the work to carry out lies is to prepare the details in advance. In this condition we should expect more eye contact, gestures and overall movement because less stress is put on the mind, and so the body should appear more relaxed. When a liar is not afforded the time to prepare to tell a lie their movement should be less fluid and their behaviour should exhibit changes in frequencies especially nervousness. Liars that prepare their lies in advance will have fewer inconsistencies in their stories, but might appear overly rehearsed whereas liars that can’t prepare will seem to be over thinking. Thus when truth telling, there should be an inherent fluidity about the conversation. Other research tells us that liars are less forthcoming than truth tellers and tell less compelling tales. The stories they tell also have fewer ordinary imperfections and unusual contents.

Duping Delight, Eye Contact And Smiling

Unlike this fella, good liars often appear very charismatic and this trait helps carry them through their lies.

Unlike this fella, good liars often appear very charismatic and this trait helps carry them through their lies.

Paul Ekman coined the term “duping delight” to explain possible reasons for an increase in certain cues while lying was taking place. For example, fear and guilt associated with lying should decrease nonverbal cues such as eye contact and smiles, but the research shows us that eye contact usually increases during lying. Ironically, it is the reverse that is commonly thought of by the general public to be true. That is, most people think that eye contact decreases during lying. Two possible explanations exist for an increase in eye contact and smiling. One is that smiling happens more often because the liar is experiencing pleasure with the act of lying which has been extensively proven through research on psychopaths, con-men and pathological liars, the second says that a smile is in fact due to stress and embarrassment which causes a stress smile. An increase in eye contact is also explained in terms of a desire to measure the efficacy of the lie. The liar holds eye contact to watch for signals of disbelief in his counterpart to allow him to calibrate his tactics accordingly. So by this reason, the liar holds eye contact more than truth tellers in order to gauge how well his lie is being pulled over on his victim and to revel in joy as his ploy washes over his victim.

Duping delight means that nearly any signal can be used during a lie to convey honesty, and the greater the pleasure felt by the liar, the more relaxed and honest they will appear. The converse can happen too, the duper can appear more excited and happy throwing a wrench in this signal as universal amongst liars. Signals of duping delight can include higher voice pitch, faster and louder speech, increases in nodding and smiles, and use of more illustrators. Also, the more a lie is being perceived as true, the stronger these signals will be since the excitement of the liar increases in tow. Thus, just because some signals are present, does not necessarily mean that at lie is either present or absent. Although the willful modification of our natural traits often make us appear more or less sincere. For example, a perpetual feigning of friendliness comes across as phony. Incidentally, things like voice pitch, which can be difficult to control amongst all other factors when lying, might go unusually high through anxiousness when the true intent was to appear enthusiastic. It is the difference between a normal interaction and one that is unusually energetic that gives the dupers away.

Deception Causes Arousal, Generally

While he COULD be lying, it's much more likely that he's actually anxious.  We instinctively (and wrongfully) link anxiety with lying, when in fact good liars often feel no anxiety whatsoever when they lie, and honest people feel anxiety when they think they will be disbelieved.

While he COULD be lying, it’s much more likely that he’s actually anxious. We instinctively (and wrongfully) link anxiety with lying, when in fact good liars often feel no anxiety whatsoever when they lie, and honest people feel anxiety when they think they will be disbelieved.

It is a widely held belief that emotional arousal and stress, is strongly tied with lying. It is also at the heart of the polygraph or lie detector. Here, autonomic responses which happen in our bodies without our conscious control such as sweating or ‘skin conductivity’ is measured as well as increases in heart rate and breathing. It is assumed that when lies occur, stress related behaviours increase. Lie detector machines measure a baseline, that is, they take readings when lying is known to occur and compare it to readings when lying is thought to occur. By reading the differences, lying should become obvious.

We can use similar methods to read arousal without the help of the polygraph. Watching for an increase in adaptors, shifting, subtle movements, touching or scratching the face, neck or nose can show us that someone is uncomfortable. What it won’t show us is the reason for the discomfort. By grilling someone for the truth, this is often enough to cause someone to feel stress thereby creating the behaviour instead of uncovering it. Other clues to an increase in stress includes an increase in eye blinking, changes in posture, avoiding eye contact and foot and leg movement. It is important to always put fear of lying and arousal into context. Someone with little fear, little to gain or loose, or in other words, ‘when the stakes are low’ wont show any of these signals. Aside from this lack of tell, it is important to realize that body language cues, especially lying language is not a result directly of lying, but rather an indication of the stress, fear and anxiety that may or may not be present when lying.

Introduction – Chapter 16

He does not answer questions, or gives evasive answers; he speaks nonsense, rubs the
great toe along the ground; and shivers; his face is discolored; he rubs the roots of his
hair with his fingers.
—Description of a liar, 900 B.C.

Touching the nose has long been use as a 'tell' when detecting lies.  However, is lying just that easy to spot?

Touching the nose has long been use as a ‘tell’ when detecting lies. However, is lying just that easy to spot?

I’ve been putting off writing this chapter for some time and not for reasons of laziness. In fact, I have research the topic to death. The problem with lying related body language is that it’s not where it needs to be in order to be useful to the vast majority of people. What research on lie detection, and there is plenty, tells us, is that there is no definitive traits that give up all liars. Most of the cues are either anecdotal or happen some of the time, but not all of the time. Other studies tell us that so called experts, that is, police officers, interrogators, customs inspectors, federal law enforcement, federal polygraphers, robbery investigators, judges, parole officers and psychiatrists fair only at slightly above the fifty percent success rate. In fact, the average is somewhere around thirty-seven to seventy percent. It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that someone flipping a coin is just as skilled at coming up with the correct answers as any one of the ‘experts’. Other research tells us that higher order interrogators aren’t able to pass on their intuitive abilities to others, telling us that they can’t quantify their observations. If they can’t pass it on to laypersons, than it’s of no practical purpose for me to pass it on either. Other times programs specifically designed and sold to improve detection of deception have failed miserably and have even lead to the detriment, rather than improvement of performance.

Several cues have been attributed to detecting lies. They generally fit into two broad classes. The first is nonverbal visual cues such as facial expressions, eye blinking, eye contact or gaze aversion, head movements, pupil dilation, nodding, smiling, hand movements or gestures, foot and leg movements and postural shifts. The second includes paraverbal cues including pitch, pauses, or speech errors. We will get into these cues in the following pages.

There are other ways that scientists use to detect lies and these involve machines. The most common is the polygraph or lie detector machine. The polygraph relies on changes in heart rate, blood pressure and increases in perspiration or respiration. However, these cues are of practically no use to us because they are difficult, although not impossible to see. For example, an increase in heart rate can be seen if one looks closely at the carotid artery that runs along the neck, and an increase in sweating does become apparent with an increase in scratching of the palms. Further to this, the polygraph has a poor track record and most experts agree that they have severe limitations and their accuracy is known to be inconsistent. As well will see, one facet of lie detection involves the reading of nervousness, but practiced pathological liars are skilled at eliminating nervousness, some even thrive on it thereby reducing the propensity of visible and invisible cues.

Notwithstanding the myriad of hard fast research on lie detection, it is still a widespread belief in the population that nonverbal behaviours betray a liar. Worldwide, cross-cultural comparison has shown a universally held belief that liars are spotted through their bodies. Police training packages will often include nonverbal and paraverbal behaviours as part of the ways in which deception can be detected. A study by Lucy Akehurst of the University of Portsmouth found that when asked which behaviours they thought would be consistent with lying, both police officers and regular lay people agreed. There was no difference between what the experts thought betrayed a liar and what regular people thought. They also agreed that these behavioural changes would occur more frequently in others as they lied, than in themselves. This finding is replicated in other studies as well. For example, police officers and students agreed on which behaviours were consistent with lying and they also thought that they themselves would display these cues less during lying. The research therefore is inconsistent with the nature of lying. It can not happen both ways, and it seems that our attitudes about lying and lie detection are skewed.

Judgments of deception are heavily correlated with long held stereotypes. Person’s that display behaviours associated with lying are often judged as deceptive even though they may be telling the truth. Study after study shows that roughly only fifty percent of the time liars give themselves away, the remaining time, liars are passed off as truth tellers and truth tellers as liars. Pegging liars based on body language alone or some other mystical cue is a dangerous assumption. It can lead to marital break-ups such as if a spouse falsely labels her husband as a cheater, can put innocent people in jail, can lead to the firing of employees on suspicion of theft and so forth. Yet with this huge propensity for error and consequence, we still, by in large, believe that we can read people on this trait. What shouldn’t surprise us are the rewards achievable through lying and cheating. Lying can avoid punishment, save us from hardships, but perhaps more importantly can help protect those around us and their feelings. The question “Does this dress make me look fat?” does not necessitate an honest answer, and in so doing, everyone is much happier!

Teachers, principles, lay persons and even intellectuals have been shown to all think similarly in terms of lie detection, and the body language associated (even if incorrect). Thus to avoid being detected, or mislabeled a liar (which is worse), we should still avoid displaying stereotypical lying body language that will serve to give us away. At this point, you should understand my reasoning for presenting this chapter even if only to slightly help us catch liars. While lying body language may be of some help in catching a liar, it will help avoid making us appear as though we are lying in the eyes of those around us. As the studies on beliefs about deception have indicated, there seems to be worldwide agreement on what constitute cues to deception in others. Therefore, it is these behaviours one should avoid so as not to appear dishonest. I will add too, that lie detection is not impossible, certain individuals do fair better than chance alone when detecting lies. However it is with caution that I present this chapter because as of yet, it is difficult to pin down exactly which cues are used and which cues happen across all people. Some cues mean deception some of the time, while other times they are simply related to emotional arousal and stress which can be due to being portrayed inaccurately as a liar, or in response to the punishment that might be forthcoming. Sometimes it is the worry about being “under the gun” that causes the stress and therefore the behaviour, and not because of any concern about the telling of a lie. While this chapter provides cues to emotionality related to lying, it will be up to the reader of the language to determine the source, be it actual lying or emotions related to being caught.

Positions In Circular Tables

At a circular table each person shares power making collaboration easier.

At a circular table each person shares power making collaboration easier.

The same types of relationships arise with round tables as they did with rectangular tables. When people wish to cooperate, they sit side-by-side, when they wish to be independent they keep one space open between each party, and when they wish to compete, they site at opposite sides. When it is desirable to maintain flow between three people equally, it is best to use a triangular sitting position at a round table which encourages discussion amongst all members equally. This allows eye contact between all members and discourages creation of rank and power.

Leadership Positions And The Head Of The Table

When no leader is present, the group will attribute leadership to whomever is sitting at the head of the table.

When no leader is present, the group will attribute leadership to whomever is sitting at the head of the table.  Power trickles down from the head of the table toward the opposite end.  Thus #1 has the most power, #2 the next most and so forth.

Not surprisingly, in studies looking at leadership, it was found that the most dominant person chooses the head of rectangular tables. Interestingly though, when no leader was present, leadership was attributed to the person who sat at the head of the table. Researchers Fred Strodtbeck and Harmon Hook in the early 1960’s found that during jury deliberations people at head positions tended to participate more often and had a greater influence on the decision making process, than people at the sides. This study overlooked whether or not leaders took up the positions though, but this is a likely assumption. However, in other studies it was found that a person’s status played a part in who chooses the head of the table. Those considered high class were much more likely than lower classes to sit at the heads of tables. Who knew money had anything to do with where we sit at a table!

Researchers attribute visibility and the ability to make eye contact with everyone as key features turning heads of tables into leadership positions. For example, one person sitting opposite three others would be seen as the leader, since they would be able to make eye contact with him, but not to each other. He would also be able to indicate his intentions better and therefore control the floor much easier. It should however be noted, that central positions at tables are also important in discussions since it permits ease of conversation amongst all participants through proximity. In other words, it’s hard to talk with someone from across the table, just imagine a “cartoonishly large” corporate sized boardroom! The exception to the head position as leader is when it exposes the back to the doorway. When this happens the head seat is a disadvantage since it leaves whomever open to surprise and attack.

When one person faces three, the person sitting by themselves are seen as the leader.  His gaze is focused forward while his companions must head-turn to see and speak with everyone.

When one person faces three, the person sitting by themselves are seen as the leader. His gaze is focused forward while his companions must head-turn to see and speak with everyone.  In this case, #1 has the most power while each of the #2s share power.

Leadership shows a trickle down affect too. If the head of table is deemed the leader, than the person to their immediate side holds the next most powerful position, and so forth. In ancient times, the leader held the head of the table, with his lieutenants at his sides. The person who sits opposite the head, even today, is usually the most task oriented, whereas those sitting in the middle are usually affiliators, normally woman, who wish to interact with the greatest number of people and create active participation with everyone. Another feature of the Steinzor effect states that when a strong leader is present, people will direct comments to the person adjacent the leader more often because it avoids direct eye contact and confrontation with them, which is especially intimidating due to close quarters. When leadership was shared amongst all members, no strong patterns emerge and conversation basically happens freely.

Competitive Head-To-Head Position

When people face-off against one another, they tend to sit head-on across the table.

When people face-off against one another, they tend to sit head-on across the table.

Legal television dramas popularize this head-to-head seating position. Here each party faces directly across from the other person usually with their allies to their left and right solidifying their flanks. Another words for this position is the “closed” seating arrangement because it isolates people with the use of the desk. In the “open” arrangement a desk is pushed up against a wall and presents no barrier to visitors since they can access every part of a person when meeting with them. Closed positions convey formality, distance and authority, defensiveness and even divisiveness whereas open orientations convey interest and comfort.

Even when competition isn’t directly encouraged, research finds that the closed position still becomes an issue because the table provides a clear boundary between each party. Despite this, studies show that it is a very common way to sit in for casual conversations and at restaurants. The reason expressed is because it easily permits the exchange of information, affords good eye contact by filling the other persons view, and turns each person into the centre of attention. Thus, while it can be a constructive casual position amongst friends and family, it doesn’t serve well with new associates or where there is a desire to break down existing boundaries.

Interestingly when larger groups meet in the competitive arrangement with many people facing one another across a rectangular table, it is most often the person to the front of the speaker directly across the table that talks next, and rarely the person to their side. This has been termed the “Steinzor effect” and was named after the researcher Dr. Bernard Steinzor in 1950 who first discovered the occurrence. The head-to-head position creates discourse and necessitates the person at their face to respond, moreso than any other at the table. This only adds to the negative data that stem from head-to-head orientations and why we should avoid it when we wish to accomplish something other than fight.

Research conducted in the mid 1970’s by psychologist Richard Zweigenhaft of Guildord College in North Carolina found that faculty that used their office desks as a barrier by placing it in between them and their students were rated less positively in general and where rated especially poorly as it related to student interaction. The study found that faculty that did this were also older and had a greater academic rank. Thus, it was likely their subconscious tendency was to protect and maintain their rank between themselves and their students. Therefore, when meeting with new clients or where competition is likely but undesirable, avoid sitting in the head-to-head position if possible and remove whatever barriers separate you and whomever it is you wish to build a relationship with. However, if the desire is to reprimand an employee or anyone else and the goal to set clear boundaries, the table-in-between-position can emphasis division, thereby enhancing the message further. It will be up to you to decide exactly what orientation will suite you best and this will be wholly dependant on the goal you wish to attain while meeting.

Independent And Opposite Position

When people sit to do work but do not want to talk to each other, they will sit in the "independent and opposite" seating arrangement.  We see this with strangers in a limited seating cafeteria or in a library when strangers share tables.

When people sit to do work but do not want to talk to each other, they will sit in the “independent and opposite” seating arrangement. We see this with strangers in a limited seating cafeteria or in a library when strangers share tables.

When the object is to show independence, than an opposite, yet diagonal seating position is recommended. We see this most often in cafeteria style arrangements when sitting by oneself isn’t possible and tables are filled with strangers but we still want the most amount of privacy possible. Students will choose this arrangement when studying separately in a library as it permits independent thought and separation avoids any direct eye contact should either party need a break from their work. When subjects were asked to sit and do work quietly in one study this was the most common seating arrangement. Usually the space between the parties will be evenly split and be occupied by handbags, books, papers and other belongings to reserve them from being taken up. Obviously this position should be avoided when cooperation and affiliation formation is has the reverse effect. The independent and opposite position when it is not expected creates hostility and shows indifference.