Three Ways to Catch a Liar
Paul Ekman is the Manager of the Paul Ekman Group, LLC (PEG), a small company that produces training devices relevant to emotional skills, and is initiating new research relevant to national security and law enforcement.
His research on facial expression and body movement began in 1954, as the subject of his Master’s thesis in 1955 and his first publication in 1957. In his early work, his approach to nonverbal behavior showed his training in personality. Over the next decade, a social psychological and cross-cultural emphasis characterized his work, with a growing interest in an evolutionary and semiotic frame of reference. In addition to his basic research on emotion and its expression, he has, for the last thirty years, also been studying deceit.
In 1971, he received a Research Scientist Award from the National Institute of Mental Health; that Award has been renewed in 1976, 1981, 1987, 1991, and 1997. His research was supported by fellowships, grants and awards from the National Institute of Mental Health for over forty years.
Articles reporting on Dr. Ekman’s work have appeared in Time Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, Psychology Today, The New Yorker and others, both American and foreign. Numerous articles about his work have also appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post and other national newspapers.
He has appeared on 48 Hours, Dateline, Good Morning America, 20/20, Larry King, Oprah, Johnny Carson and many other TV programs. He has also been featured on various public television programs such as News Hour with Jim Lehrer, and Bill Moyers’ The Truth About Lying.
Ekman is co-author of Emotion in the Human Face (1971), Unmasking the Face (1975), Facial Action Coding System (1978), editor of Darwin and Facial Expression (1973), co-editor of Handbook of Methods in Nonverbal Behavior Research (1982), Approaches to Emotion (1984), The Nature of Emotion (1994), What the Face Reveals (1997), and author of Face of Man (1980), Telling Lies (1985, paperback, 1986, second edition, 1992, third edition, 2001, 4th edition 2008), Why Kids Lie (1989, paperback 1991), Emotions Revealed, (2003), New Edition (2009) Telling Lies, Dalai Lama-Emotional Awareness (2008) and New Edition Emotions Revealed (2007) . He is the editor of the third edition (1998) and the fourth edition (2009) of Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1998). He has published more than 100 articles.
When we teach people how to catch liars, it takes us 32 hours. And there are over 30 different things you look for. I’ll tell you a couple of them in a minute, but if you’re going to remember them and use them and spot them you need a lot of practice.
I could tell you exactly how to play tennis and win the Olympics, and I could tell you that in ten minutes. But without a coach and a lot of practice it’s not going to be of any use to you. So I’ll tell you a couple of things that, unless you get a lot of practice, they’re not going to be a lot of help.
Spotting a micro expression is the single most useful thing. This is an expression that lasts about a 25th of a second. We’ve tested over 15,000 people in all walks of life and over 99 percent of them don’t see them and yet with an hour's training on the Internet they can learn to see them. So if you want to catch liars, learn how to see micro expressions, use the micro expression training tool on my website.
However, that may only tell you that the person’s concealing an emotion. That’s a lie. It’s not going to tell you how they really feel. It may not tell you that they’re the perpetrator of a crime. Take this example – it’s a terrible example, but I have to use it: my wife is found dead. I will be the first suspect because, regrettably, the person most likely to kill their wife is the husband.
So I’m the first suspect but I love my wife. I didn’t kill her. The police are wasting their time and they’re insulting me. Time is going by and they’re not looking for the right person. I could be furious at them and concealing my anger. And so if you spot my concealed anger, it doesn’t mean I killed my wife. It only means that I’m concealing my anger.
If I asked you how many gestures are used in America today, you’d give me about 12, but there are actually 80. And if I showed you every one of those 80, you’d know what they mean.
Now the one that amazingly enough has had an enormous payoff is one of the most common ones we use, which is the headshake: yes, and no. So I worked on the case of an embezzler who had embezzled over $100 million. He was really big time until Bernie Madoff came along. This embezzler had accused people in a number of banks of being in on the deal, which meant those banks would be vulnerable to having to pay for the embezzlement. And when one of the people who he falsely accused was asked, “Did she help you steal the money?” He said, “Yes. Absolutely, she did," doing a slight headshake, indicating no.
The best example I have of distancing language was from a fellow in Australia who was making a public appearance on television to ask the public for help to find his missing wife. He said: "I really hope you will help me with this matter." This matter? Your wife is missing and she might be dead. It turned out, of course, that he had killed her.
A much less severe offense - and some people don’t think there was any offense - was Bill Clinton saying, "I didn’t have sex with that woman." And then gave her name. "That woman" is putting her at a distance from himself. Now I never will identify someone as a liar on the basis of one clue. I like to have three or four clues and I like to have them, if possible, repeated if it’s an important situation, like giving the police advice about whether this is the suspect who probably committed a murder and whether they should spend more money and time investigating this person.
In my book, Telling Lies, there’s a list of 32 things that you should look for. The book will tell you more about why lies fail and why lies succeed, and why people lie. But as I mentioned earlier, just knowing it isn’t any more than knowing how to play tennis. You need a coach and you need practice. So if you really want to get better then you have to take a course and it takes about four days.
If you’re a parent, don’t be a policeman. Don’t try and catch your kid in a lie. Try and teach them about why they shouldn’t lie and try to help them find a way to achieve what they want without needing to lie; that’s your job as a parent, not to become a good lie-catcher.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
Image courtesy of Paul Ekman.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.