Body language is universal through our evolution. There are three brains: the reptilian, the neo-cortex and the limbic. The limbic brain is the honest brain; it is what causes your body language and it is what reveals the lies. Have… Continue Reading →
Before reading this post, we highly suggest that you read Deceptive Dimensions: Intro to Deception and The Ekman Nursing Student Study.
Lying, in essence, is just a game: the deceiver faces off against a detector, each using offensive and defensive strategies, both trying to succeed at singular opposing goals. It’s zero-sum, one-on-one competition with an equal, the third type of social situation “where unpredictability can be applied in Robert Greene’s strategic sense.”
So far, we’ve learned that the odds of success for high-stakes lying are random at best. We think you’ll agree that when your job, your marriage, or your criminal record is on the line, you need more control. To fix this, we need to know what your opponent, the detector, is looking for and what he’s basing his decisions on.
To form an effective unpredictable strategy in this game, you must first know what’s expected of you; only then can you avoid being thwarted by a counter-strategy. And to know what’s expected, you must steal the detector’s playbook.
The playbook we’re imagining is nothing more than a list of common behavioral cues used by average men and women when they’re forced into the detector role of a deceptive scenario. Some behavior-based detection strategies are probably air-tight, and aren’t likely to be circumvented without special training. Some will be specific to the type of social backdrop against which the deception is taking place. Some fluctuate in frequency of use depending on what’s at stake. And some are so universal, so predictable, that we can’t, in good conscience, let you be taken down by them. These are what we’re looking for. Once we know what behaviors detector’s use to make their judgments, we can identify which you should try to control. Not all of them can be controlled, of course, but those that can should definitely not be ignored.
Polygraphs (lie-detector machines) do not detect lies effectively, contrary to popular belief. This scene from Lie to Me demonstrates why. Take a second to watch it. You’ll see that when the polygraph demonstrator answers control questions (questions the answers to which are obviously and undeniably true), the polygraph only interprets them as true when the demonstrator is calm. When he’s sexually aroused, the device malfunctions. Polygraph machines only register arousal, not actual lies. Introducing any stressor stimulus into the environment – for instance, a sexy latina chick in a skin-tight, v-neck dress – will cause the machine to interpret true statements as lies.
Popular methods for “catching” liars are just as rudimentary as those used by polygraphs. Surveys show that the average untrained detector looks exclusively for obvious signs of nervousness. That’s all. Now, liars in general could very well be more nervous than truth-tellers, but nervousness about lying is indistinguishable from nervousness about being disbelieved, nervousness about whatever consequences may result from failure, and nervousness related to the imposing presence of the detector. When persistent anxiety extends over the entire duration of a deceptive interaction, it garbles the signals. This helps explains why successful deception rates are random; not only are detectors looking for deception leakage in all the wrong places, but they’re looking for the wrong things to start with.
Nonetheless, in symmetrical/high-salience situations where the stakes are high, the detector makes the rules, and you, the deceiver, are playing his game. All the more reason to steal that playbook.
The Hocking Study
In 1980, John Hocking and Dale Leathers, speech communication professors from the University of Georgia replicated the Ekman nursing student study we examined last time, but using a different theoretical perspective.
Prior to his experiment, Hocking analyzed survey data to outline the popular cultural stereotype of a liar. In the survey, respondents overwhelmingly described liars as nervous, defensive, and fidgety. Liars, they said, will display a wide range of anxious behaviors, such as facial manipulators (i.e., touching the face), restless lower body movements, and lipwetting. About 65 percent of them also expected liars to avoid eye-contact. (That last belief will come up repeatedly after this study; research suggests that eye-contact avoidance is a myth; liars actually make more eye-contact.)
Since the stereotype of a liar is so pervasive, Hocking hypothesizes that avoiding stereotypical typecasting is paramount for successful deception; a liar, he says, must monitor and control the behaviors that are under scrutiny, suppressing stereotypical (read, “nervous”) lying behaviors and maximizing stereotypical (“calm”) honest behaviors.
As a final pre-experiment preparatory step, Hocking categorizes all the behaviors from the survey into three classes: 1. gestures (Class I); 2. facial expressions (Class II); and, 3. vocal changes (Class III). Class I behaviors are the easiest for a liar to monitor and control. Class II behaviors are easy to control, but hard to monitor; after all, a liar can only guess what his face looks like. Class III behaviors are easy to monitor, but practically impossible to control.
So, according to Hocking’s hypothesis, liars, by default, will exercise more control over their bodily and ocular gestures than anything else. This contradicts Ekman, who argues that liars control Class II behaviors over and above all others.
Deceivers: Criminal justice students. First, they view a neutral video clip. Then, they view a positive video of a landscape scene, followed by the negative medical training videos used previously by Ekman, with scenes of limbs being cut off and burnt flesh being peeled away and debrided. In the interviews that follow, the students will selectively lie about facts pertaining to the first video and will lie completely when they see the medical videos.
Detector: An interviewer. Hocking recruits a local detective to interview the students. Hocking provides no details about what the detector says or does; all we know is that he asks questions and gets lied to.
Stakes: Job success. The students are recruited with a letter bearing the signature and seal of the Director of the School of Criminal Justice. Hocking not only tells the students that their job success is directly related to their performance, but also convinces them that their results will be reported to the faculty.
Salience: High, symmetrical. As expected, the detective is fully aware that lies are coming. The students understand, too, that he’s trying to catch them. The belief that their careers depend on success means they are also closely watching all sources of feedback, external and internal.
Leakage: Class II and Class III behaviors. After training observers to identify the survey behaviors, Hocking showed them three edited versions of the students’ interviews. The first version was a silent, face-only recording, which the observers used to identify facial expressions; the second was a silent, full-body recording, used to identify eye and body gestures; and the third was an audio-only recording, used for vocal changes. The observers counted as many behaviors as they could, and the results were compared against which interviews were truthful and which were deceptive. No judgments were rendered by the observers.
The results only partially support Hocking’s hypothesis. In Class I, several nervous behaviors decreased in frequency during deception (foot movements, head movements, and facial manipulators), but the decreases were not dramatic. Overall, nervous gestures decreased by about 10 percent during deception. Class II behaviors neither increased nor decreased, disproving part of Hocking’s hypothesis and again raising the question: Are liars exceptionally good at controlling their facial expressions, or are detectors just really bad at reading them? Class III’s results do suggest Hocking was right about one thing: the liars couldn’t control their vocal changes. They spoke faster, paused more, and interrupted themselves much more often. Finally, Hocking’s eye-contact hypothesis was wrong, too: the liars looked away more often and held eye-contact less. This is the last study where you’ll see that result; in all subsequent studies we’ve seen, eye-contact frequency and duration both increase during deception.
Later on, we’ll see that Hocking’s experimental design was significantly improved upon by subsequent researchers to fix issues like sample size, subjects’ anxiety fluctuations, deceiver motivation levels, and individual subject’s baselines. But Hocking’s theory makes a major contribution: the accuracy (or lack thereof) of the average detector is stereotype accuracy. Once you know how detectors (in general) expect you to act, acting in the opposite way will increase your odds of successful deception considerably.
For now, our advice is, Don’t appear nervous. Impractical, yes. Vague, of course. But as of right now, we can’t say more. We’re not done, though. As we progress, we will identify which behaviors receive the most attention and, of those, which are the most easily controlled. Once we’ve isolated these, we believe a little easy practice will make you appear much more honest when the appearance of honesty counts the most.
Hocking, John E. & Leathers, Dale G., (1980). Nonverbal Indicators of Deception: A New Theoretical Perspective. Communication Monographs, 29, 119-131.
A successful persuasive campaign usually ends with another person acting against his or her own interests in favor of yours. Since most people are naturally selfish, getting them to act against their interests requires deception. Rare are the times when all the facts will be on your side, rarer still will be the times when you need to persuade someone to act selfishly, and rarest of all are the people who won’t use deception when trying to persuade you. Basically, if you’re not deceiving, you’re probably not persuading; attempting to influence someone without deception is like trying to win a war without bullets.
So far, our Dark Triad project has kept us busy with one kind of deception: creating false impressions. But the project we’re opening up with this post will, hopefully, make another form of deception safer and more efficient for you. It’s something you do hundreds of times each day, with little or no thought: lying.
You’re probably very good at lying already. In fact, you’re probably such a good liar that you don’t notice yourself doing it until you get caught. Also, you’ve lied so much for so long to so many people, that by now, you’re just going through the motions. If you had a shitty weekend, you lie to your coworkers on Monday and say, “It was fine.” If you’re running late, you say, “I’ll be there in five minutes,” even if you have no idea how the long the traffic jam you’re stuck in will last. If you have an engagement ring in your pocket and your girlfriend asks why you look so nervous, you say, “I’m not nervous, why would I be nervous, why, do I look nervous to you, I swear, everything’s fine, I’m not nervous, I swear!”
Ever wonder if anyone actually believes you?
We do. We want to help you to become a better liar. That’s why we’re here.
The first step in putting a beneficial habit (in this case, your lying habit) under conscious control is to breakdown the behavior into parts. Once you can control each individual aspect, you can control the whole behavior much more easily. Thankfully, lying has already been broken down for us by none other than Paul Ekman, the world’s leading expert on emotions, body language, facial expressions, and, of course, deception.
In 1969, Ekman and co-author Wallace Friesen published, “Nonverbal Leakage and Clues to Deception.” This article initiated decades of research on deception and non-verbal behavior, changed the way law enforcement and security specialists handle interrogations and screenings, pioneered the discovery of micro expressions (involuntary facial expressions that occur without conscious awareness), and inspired a short-lived TV crime drama on FOX.
For us? Well, for now, we just want it to change the way you think about lying. The article is mostly theory, designed to provide definitions and concepts to assist in the research that came after it. In that spirit, we will keep the analysis to a minimum. Think of this post as a glossary you can refer back to as our project progresses.
Usually, we lie on the fly, and then forget about it. We want you to look at each lie more carefully. Every one has characteristics common to all lies that affect how easy the lie will be and the odds that you will get away with it. Ekman calls these characteristics deceptive dimensions.
Deceptive Dimensions – Characteristics of specific social situations where lying is involved.
Deceiver – The liar or the person thought to be lying.
Detector – The person being lied to or who thinks he is being lied to.
Stakes – For the deceiver, the stakes are the incentives to lie and to avoid being caught. For the detector, the stakes are the incentives to catch the deceiver in a lie.
Salience – The degree to which deception is an explicit focus of conscious concern.
Salience is determined by how much lying is expected in a situation. High saliency occurs in situations where everyone involved is acutely aware that deception is happening; the deceiver knows he is lying, and the detector knows she is probably being lied to. Car sales, contract negotiations, and pick-ups are all situations of high saliency. Low saliency usually occurs when lie detection is not a priority; job interviews (where the interviewer is primarily focused on qualifications) and low-stakes game-play are examples of low saliency. Saliency is also affected by personal history, stereotyping, or personality. For example, a repeat philanderer explaining why he’s coming home late is in a situation of high saliency when lying to his wife. A straight-laced high school student is in a situation of low saliency when lying about cheating on a test.
Symmetry – The relative degrees of saliency between liar and detector.
Every lie has either asymmetrical or symmetrical saliency. Asymmetrical saliency occurs when one person, either the deceiver or the detector, is less aware than the other that a lie is occurring. Usually, the detector has lower saliency than the deceiver, but sometimes the deceiver has lower saliency. Examples of this latter situation are when a person is delusional (he is lying to himself), and when the detector is paranoid or is making false accusations (the “deceiver,” in this case, is actually being truthful.) Symmetrical saliency almost always occurs in situations where the stakes are extremely high for both deceiver and detector. Car sales, contract negotiations, and pick-ups fit this description. Symmetry also describes situations where one or both persons are occupying the role of deceiver and detector. In labor/management disputes, for instance, the role-play is symmetrical: both parties are deceivers and detectors simultaneously.
Leakage – Involuntary behaviors (usually non-verbal) that indicate information is being concealed.
Sending Capacity – The relative ability of different regions of the body to convey messages.
Sending capacity is measured in speed, variety, and visibility. In the 1969 article, Ekman considers three general regions of the body: the face, the hands, and the legs. The face has the highest sending capacity in all three categories; the hands rank second and the legs rank third. (Later on, Ekman’s work will help us look at these regions in greater detail; for now, these three general categories are sufficient.) Each region’s sending capacity is affected by anatomy and culture. The face’s sending capacity, for example, is high because it’s highly innervated and has an intricate musculoskeletal structure, enabling it to form many expressions very quickly. It’s also highly visible because most people are trained to look at the face during conversation. The legs, on the other hand, are not highly innervated, contain just a few very large muscles compared to the face, and are usually hidden from view under a table or desk. Furthermore, it isn’t culturally permissible to look at a person’s legs (especially a woman’s) during conversation, so even if the legs are visible, you couldn’t watch them for leakage without getting slapped.
Feedback – The information a deceiver uses to determine if his or her lie is being believed or if he or she is lying well.
Feedback and leakage originate in the same degree from the same regions of the body; the face provides the most, the hands the second-most, and the legs the least. Feedback is mostly external; it comes back to the deceiver from the detector. Internal feedback is rarer; it is only received by the deceiver if he is aware of his or her own facial expressions and body language during deception.
Understanding saliency and symmetry is crucial for effective lying and lie detection. Lying is hardest under symmetrical, high-salience conditions where the liar is both deceiver and detector. Lying is easiest under asymmetrical, low-salience conditions where the deceiver is not expected to be a detector. If you have time to plan before telling a lie, try to figure out the salience, the symmetry, and your expected role. If you’re heading into a symmetrical, high-salience situation where you’ll be expected to lie and be lied to, you might want to stall for time, find an alibi, and collect evidence undermining the other person’s lies. If you’re heading into the opposite situation, don’t sweat it; save yourself the time and energy. Most likely, though, you’ll be dealing with something in between these two extremes.
Leakage, feedback, and sending capacity (according to Ekman’s hypothesis) are interrelated. The greater the sending capacity a region of the body has, the more a detector will focus on it, and the more the deceiver will try to control it. When lying, the deceiver will do his best to control his face; when being lied to, the detector will do her best to watch the face of the deceiver. As a result, something strange happens; the legs and hands (the poorest senders) leak more deception clues than the face (the best sender). But nobody – neither deceiver nor detector – notices it. When the face leaks, it’s imperceptibly fast, and neither person is likely to notice. This is great news for a liar like you. You’re already good at controlling your facial expressions from years of practice, and the people you’re lying to are trying to catch you by looking at the one area of your body that leaks the least. They probably wouldn’t know how to interpret leakage from your hands or legs even if they did look. But even better news is the edge you could have on them when they try to lie to you; watch their legs and hands. Learn how to read leakage from these poorly-monitored body regions, and you will catch them.
Ekman, P., and Wallace, Friesen V. (1969). “Nonverbal Leakage and Clues to Deception.” Psychiatry Journal for the Study of Interpersonal Processes, 32(1), 87-106.
Next Post in Series: Intro to Deception – Deceptive Dimensions