Detecting Deception: Are You Being Lied to?

BN1213-NonverbalsWritten for Tactics and Preparedness, Issue 6, April 2014
By Dr. Hyi Sung Hwang and Dr. David Matsumoto

Behavioral anomalies are verbal and nonverbal signs of cognitions and emotions that give additional clues to what an individual is thinking and feeling beyond the content of the words being spoken. We can improve our ability to detect lies by becoming more skillful in reading the reliable nonverbal behavioral indicators to lying. The first and most important step is to learn to recognize facial expressions of emotions that are called basic emotions. Basic emotions have various fruitful and discrete characteristics. For one, they appear to be universal and spontaneous and thus difficult to hide once the subject is emotional. That means all people, regardless of race, culture, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, religion or any other demographic variable, express emotions on their faces in similar ways. The basic, universal emotions that are commonly communicated and identified are anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. Here are examples of the facial expressions of emotion that research over the past four decades suggest are universally expressed and recognized.

Most of us may be easily able to identify each emotion listed in the static photo images illustrated. In real life, however, those emotional expressions on the face are sometimes not held long enough for us to catch them, disappearing so quickly that we don’t notice them. These expressions are impossible to completely control, just as we cannot or do not count the numbers of blinks of our eyes. These expressions are called microexpressions.

Micro-expressions have been well known as a critical source of information in deception detection. They are very fast fleeting expressions of concealed emotions, sometimes as fast as 1/15th of a second. The reason they are so quick is that they “leak out” very quickly despite the fact that the individual may be trying to conceal them. Most untrained people do not notice them in daily social interactions. They are immediate, automatic and unconscious reactions. However, once you get used to recognizing them, you will see that they are the closest thing to a universal language.

What we have to remember for our hybrid learning process is to practice to read those emotional expressions on the face in real life, especially at similar speeds to the ones that actually occur in our lives and especially during stressful interactions and situations. If you can, observe certain micro-expressions that are flashed by a subject during your dialogue. For example, you may consider that there may be concealed thoughts, feelings or pinions held by this individual that are not being verbalized. This does not always necessarily refer to a signal of deception; rather, they provide clues or you to know what topic to explore and where to investigate closely and carefully in order to rule out any possible deceptive clues. For example, a fearful flash on the face may be a good stop station for you to understand the background of why the individual expressed it or what the person was afraid of disclosing. Of course, at the end, whether you can successfully obtain accurate information and answers to your questions may depend on your rapport with the individual and your communication strategies. The nonverbal indicators can flag you where to pay attention during the limited time of your interaction.

As a second step, understanding the context in which micro-expressions occur would be valuable because the potential inconsistency between the expressions and the context often means that the subject feels something differently than what is being said. For example, if you observed your subject displaying a earful face when he or she said, “I definitely did not meet the guy,” you may want to avoid jumping to a conclusion that the person did not really meet the guy because the context in this case, the person’s statement, informed you that the behavioral indicator does not match the context. We call it a hot spot here practitioners should carefully interpret the meaning of the individual’s reported information in relation to the microexpression displayed. Although someone is faking an emotion, there are times when an inconsistent behavioral indicator with the context does not give you a simple final answer concerning f the subject is lying or not. It would aid you to get closer to the facts and to understand what is being said and not.

Facial expressions of emotion and microexpressions are largely involuntary reactions and important nonverbal behavioral indicators that can be important cues to deception that can be applicable across people of different cultures. In many situations, the interviewer is primarily focused on the story being told and not so much on how it is old and what is being shown when it is told. Thus, just as it is often fruitful to evaluate politicians based on their actions, policies and achievements ather than the words they speak, when communicating with others one should pay attention to the validated facial expressions of emotion and micro- xpressions. Of course, it sounds easier than it is in practice because observing multiple behavioral channels while simultaneously participating in the act f communicating is never simple. However, training and practicing the ability to recognize micro-expressions can aid individuals to be more accurately aware of potential hotspots in deception detection. We believe that continued discipline based on scientific evidence will strengthen an individual’s accuracy of eception detection and aid in assessing an entire story more accurately.

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