Tag Archive for Suspicion

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.

Nose Language


When people are stressed, blood flushes into the skin.  Our hands are then drawn to the areas most affected due to increased sensitivity and heat so we tend to point out our stress.  Enlarged capillaries in the nose can induce our hands in it’s direction to sooth it.  As blood flows to the nose, it enlarges, giving credence to the ‘Pinocchio effect.’

Nose touching might also stem from lying. It can happen as a quick but purposeful touch, the finger might graze the side of the nose, or it can be a persistent rubbing. Sometimes the touch is quick and dirty in an up and down motion, other times it is a brief almost unnoticeable touch to the base of the nose or its side. Face touching can come in two forms, one that serves a real function to alleviate an itch, and one that is the result of negative feelings such as being uncomfortable and stressed. Face touching that is due to an emotion is meant as a fix behind the sensation, the emotion, and not due to any physical need.

In order to appear more honest in front of others, either reduce or eliminate all face touching, make them appear more natural, or make them consistent in affect across all situations. Itching is usually a repetitive isolated gesture, which happens regardless of what is said, and happens at times when it would be impossible to assume a connection to what is being said. For example, saying something of questionable truthfulness, then brushing the side of the nose with an index finger is likely to raise suspicion, whereas bumping the nose when not speaking or when describing insignificant details would go unnoticed. Always try to make gestures appear natural and functional instead and also be particularly conscious of nose and face touching when you think someone is trying to peg you a liar. Over time it is your baseline that will give you away, so if you remain consistent across all situations, you’re less likely to give up tells. Most will find that their minds are more active and busy during lying, so it’s easier to avoid gestures altogether instead of adding honest gestures. This makes eliminating face touching one of the easiest ways to appear honest with minimal effort.

The Truth Bias

A review of the literature on lying and truth telling shows us that an average sixty-seven percent accuracy is found when detecting the truth, whereas forty-four percent is found while detecting deception. In other words, people’s accuracy at detecting truths is usually higher than their accuracy at detecting lies! This is what is called the truth bias. Some possible explanations for the truth bias stem from the fact that in everyday encounters we usually deal with honest people. While lying is pervasive, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as does lying. Thus, we expect people to be telling the truth and are therefore better at detecting it.

Another possible reason for our inherent truth bias is because it would be detrimental to act suspiciously while speaking with others just in case they were telling the truth. If our default was to label other people as deceptive, we’d be constantly interrupting others to clarify statements, or our suspicion would have our minds busy fact checking at a later time. Our conversations would be littered with statements such as ‘That can’t be true’ or ‘Really, I can’t see that’ or ‘I’ll believe that when I see it’ which sometimes it is, but usually not. This would be time consuming and counterproductive given the nature of real to life situations, that is that people normally tell the truth. Our social rules also do not permit us to act suspiciously and if we did so would alienate others and prevent us from formulating alliances or friendships. In fact, ignoring the faults of others is the primary reason we allow ourselves to associate with anyone at all. Those with a memory for detail find it hard to ‘let things go’ or ‘ignore subtle unimportant flaws’ which can be detrimental for relationships. The truth bias tells us that letting little ‘white lies’ go, is an integral part of human nature, perhaps even necessary.

The Eyebrows In Communication

The eyebrow cock - something you said was interesting.

The eyebrow cock – something you said was interesting.

The eyebrows are very active in conversation. They can furrow to show anger or be turned inward and down to show disgust or a crucial view. Even still, the eyebrows can be raised fully to express surprise or be singly raised and lower to indicate suspicion. One eyebrow raised and the other level or neutral is a widespread sign of skepticism or displeasure and is called the eyebrow cock but if done subtly with a slightly cocked head and a cheeky smile means “interesting”.

Disappointingly, very few actors have control over their eyebrows, and if you don’t believe me just watch for yourself. I’m not sure they could use their faces very efficiently even if they tried, as the use of eyebrows is not something that is easily consciously controlled. I have noticed that female television news anchors will flash away during most of their reports but men won’t. This is also the case with male actors who favour control, presumably to appear more dominant especially in lead roles.

Placement, size, and shape of the eyebrows also portray different meaning. Lower eyebrows appear more dominant whereas high eyebrows make for a more subordinate yet perpetually surprised look. Eyebrows that are turned in near the outside of the face also called “medially downturned” make the face appear more concerned or empathetic. Bushy eyebrows signal dominance, and thin brows remind us of children so appear more neotenous whereas the uni-brow where the eyebrow forms one single brow across both eyes appears archaic, unsophisticated and un-groomed.

The eyebrows also have a language all to themselves. The eyebrow raise, where the eyebrows come straight up and then back down in one motion, happens in speech to emphasis certain words, to punctuate a point or in accompaniment with questions. The eyebrows raise can also appear as a request for approval when unsure how our thoughts stand with others, or can even be meant as a measure to verify if what we have said is being understood. In this case, the eyebrows will come up and pause for a second and seek some sort of gesture of approval such as a head nod or vocal agreement before being lowered. If there is no approval, then we might see the “eyebrow hold” which is akin to the shrugging of the shoulders, indicating a lack of knowledge or even helplessness. Politicians and children do this often when they seek approval, it says “So, what do you think, have I don’t a good job?”

Other times the eyebrows will move almost continuously throughout a conversation when we really want to impress someone, flirt with them, or act particularly animated. If eyebrows are raised with a slight tilt of the head at the end of the sentence it is to check to see if the message was understood but if it is done with a slow raise of the head, it means disapproval saying “What you have just said, surprises me”. Disapproval is even stronger if the head is lowered with the lips pursed tightly accompanied by raised eyebrows. This signals a desire to end communication altogether.

Looking Askance And Eye Rolling

When the eyes roll they say - I can't be expected to focus on such a ridiculous statement.

When the eyes roll they say – I can’t be expected to focus on such a ridiculous statement.

Looking askance is a nonverbal cue that is done with the eyes and head in combination. It is done by tilting the head slightly to the side but stopping short of facing head on where the eyes roll the rest of the way forming a scowl. This face shows disapproval, distrust and suspicion. This cue is commonly associated with a disapproving mother type although this is usually in its exaggerated form. Other times the gesture happens quickly as if to say “You didn’t just say that, you better start backpedaling” or “I’ve heard what you said loud and clear, but I’m not buying what you’re selling.” Eye rolling, on the other hand spells disbelief as in “I can’t believe you just said this, you are a fool.”

Personal Space And Country Folk

As mentioned, city people require less space than those living in more rural settings. It’s easy to tell if someone is from the city or country by how they choose to greet each other. Waving is commonplace in the country because it can be done at great distance. Neighbours, or passers-by separated by several hundred yards, or more, cannot afford to extend hands for a handshake, nor do they require it. A simple wave of the hand in the country is sufficient and even welcomed. Unbeknownst to the city slicker, a handshake may even raise suspicion or contempt in a rural setting creating all sorts of bad feelings.

Outsiders can often be seen as intruders, as seeming to be selling something or wanting something or up to no good. Those living in the country infrequently come in contact with people they don’t know forcing their personal space zones even larger, by as much as three or more feet.

When approaching someone who resides in rural settings, and where a handshake is welcomed, it is customary to extend your hand forward by bending at the waste and keeping your feet planted. Extending your hand, but keeping your body as far away as possible shows that you respect their need for space. How far forward someone prefers to extend their hand is an indicator of their space requirements. People from the city will often walk forward in attempt to shrink the distance between their acquaintances and in turn end up bending their elbows as they shake. The opposite is found in country folk who will keep their arms straight out to maintain distance. Those that shake hands by thrusting forward are also indicating their need to maintain a larger space buffer. This preference for space provides a useful bit of information which should be noted.