People tend to measure dishonesty by a person’s physical tells such as fidgeting, breathing rate, etc. Often times these tells coupled with the baseline of the individual and intuition leads us to be correct in our analysis when it is someone we know well. However, these techniques including measuring blood pressure and pulse as in a polygraph, are not admissible as hard evidence of deception in any legal form.
It is for a good reason that these signs of anxiety are not reliable indicators of a person’s honesty. They can be a representation of nervousness or just how a person normally behaves. Science has long tried to accurately map out lies from truths using technology and with the exponential growth of technology today, researchers can now delve into our brains.
Today researchers studying the brain and deception use a full body scanner that employs functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) technology to determine whether someone is fibbing by tracing blood flow to certain areas of the brain, which indicates changes in neuronal activity at the synapses (gaps between the neurons). “If you’re using fMRI, the scanner is detecting a change in the magnetic properties in the blood,“ says Sean Spence, a professor of general adult psychiatry at the University of Sheffield in England.
Scientific American notes in their article about this research that hemoglobin molecules in red blood cells exhibit different magnetic properties depending on the amount of oxygen they contain. The most active brain regions use—and thereby contain—the most oxygen.
Spence goes on to note, “When you know the answer to a question, the answer is automatic; but to avoid telling me the true answer requires something more.“ Polygraph, or lie detector, tests are the most well-known method of discerning fact from fiction, but researchers say they are not reliable because they measure anxiety based on a subject’s pulse or breathing rate, which can easily be misread. “They’re not detecting deception but rather the anxiety of being…[accused of deception],“ Spence says. “It’s known that psychopaths have a reduced level of anxiety,“ that would allow them to fool a polygraph. The fMRI, he says, images the actual processes involved in deception.
The researchers had a unique opportunity to study a woman convicted of poisoning a child in her care. This provided a stage for Spence and his colleagues to extend their, which until then had only been conducted on young, healthy university students as many studies of this sort do.
The team used an fMRI on Susan Hamilton of Edinburgh, Scotland, who was convicted of poisoning with salt a girl diagnosed with a terminal metabolic condition. Hamilton, who was in charge of feeding the child via a feeding tube that led directly into her stomach, was arrested after the girl was admitted to the hospital with massive blood sodium levels. The police testified that a syringe full of salt was found in Hamilton’s kitchen, but she denies any knowledge of it. The woman was released from prison last year and has continued to search for ways to publicly prove her professed innocence.
The researchers scanned Hamilton four times; during each scan they grilled her about the poisoning. With the fMRI, Spence was able to see that she activated extensive regions of her frontal brain lobes and also took significantly longer to respond when agreeing with the cops’ account. The results did not prove her innocent, Spence says, but suggested that her brain was responding as if she were innocent.
Spence and his team acknowledge that the results might have been more accurate if he had first done a baseline study that included asking her more general questions unrelated to the charges. Unfortunately, TV is show biz and his time with her was limited.
“Being able to study this lady pointed out problems with the technique,“ the researchers note, “There are a number of control studies we want to do.“
Dr. Matsumoto recently gave a CLE workshop to the New Hampshire District Court. He is an expert in nonverbal behavior and reading people’s emotions in high-stakes situations.
Being able to read nonverbal communication signs is extremely important in many professions, but especially for attorneys. Dr. Matsumoto and Humintell now specializes in teaching nonverbal communication techniques to lawyers for CLE credit in various states across the nation.
The New Hampshire Bar Association reports on this course and Dr. Matsumoto’s take on learning these techniques and implementing them in daily life.
This specific training seminar focused on training the 172 lawyers and judges in attendance how to recognize microexpressions: involuntary flashes – as quick as one-tenth of a second – of the seven universal expressions of emotion as they zip across human faces. Studies have shown that anger, sadness, happiness, disgust, surprise, fear, and contempt are universally expressed the same way on the human face, regardless of race, gender, culture or other factors. But, you have to watch closely:
“They’re so quick that unless you train your eyes and your mind to see it, you don’t,” Matsumoto said. “And once you learn how to see it, you can’t turn it off.”
A microexpression isn’t proof that someone’s lying. When compared to a personality and behavior baseline, an unexpected microexpression is merely an indicator that the person has some deeper emotion about a particular topic. If the topic is relevant to your case, recognizing that deeper emotion can be useful in depositions, juror voir dire, mediation, or settlement negotiations. If the person happens to be your wife, this skill can be quite troubling.
“I walk into a room and I know immediately if my wife is concerned about something,” Matsumoto said. “For the first five years, it used to drive her nuts, but now she’s used to it… Now, it almost makes things easier, because she doesn’t have to wait for the right time to bring something up. I see it right away.”
Matsumoto’s new research is focused on how reading emotions might help predict future behavior. He’s studying how emotions work in terrorist groups and whether authorities can predict, based on how a person approaches a checkpoint, whether he or she is lying or carrying contraband. He’s using test subjects wired with biometric sensors – some who are carrying contraband and some who aren’t – to try to identify differences in the way they approach the checkpoint.
“I believe there is a difference, but we haven’t found it yet,” he said.
If you are a lawyer and are interested in taking a microexpressions course for CLE credit, please contact us at email@example.com (Our online course is also CLE certified in IL, NH, DE, NY, OR, ND, WV & SC)
A recent study that focused on compassion found that meditation can actually boost a person’s ability to read other people’s facial expressions.
Lead author Jennifer Mascaro of Emory University in the US state of Georgia stated, “It’s an intriguing result, suggesting that a behavioral intervention could enhance a key aspect of empathy.”
The New York Daily News goes on to report that the meditation program called Cognitively-Based Compassion Training, developed by Lobsang Tenzin Negi, was directly taken from Tibetan Buddhist practices. This training has been shown to activate regions in the brain that help us be more empathetic.
The results were based off fMRI brain scans of participants while completing a version of a facial expression test called the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), which consists of black-and-white photographs that feature only the eyes of people making various expressions.
The meditation group showed much improvement on their Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET) over the control group after their mediation practice sessions.
“The idea is that the feelings we have about people can be trained in optimal ways. CBCT aims to condition one’s mind to recognize how we are all inter-dependent, and that everybody desires to be happy and free from suffering at a deep level,” Negi purported.
In a similar article by Science Daily meditation improved emotional behaviors in teachers. The findings suggest that schoolteachers who underwent a short but intensive program of meditation were less depressed, anxious or stressed — and more compassionate and aware of others’ feelings,.
“The findings suggest that increased awareness of mental processes can influence emotional behavior…The study is particularly important because opportunities for reflection and contemplation seem to be fading in our fast-paced, technology-driven culture,” said lead author Margaret Kemeny, PhD, director of the Health Psychology Program in UCSF’s Department of Psychiatry.
Do you have any experience with meditation? How about some meditation tips?
Share them with the Humintell Community
Can brain scans show when someone is lying?
This debate is taking place right now between Gary Smith, who says he didn’t kill his roommate and Montgomery County prosecutors, who say otherwise.
According to an article in the Washington Post, some of the nation’s leading neuroscientists, who are using the same technology to study Alzheimer’s disease and memory, say MRI brain scans also can show — at least in the low-stakes environment of a laboratory — when someone is being deceptive.
However, many experts doubt whether the technology is ready for the real world, and judges have kept it out of the courtroom.
In a previous blog post we talked about some of the physiological factors of lying and fMRI scans.
What do you think?
Do you think brain scans should be admissible in court as a reliable sign of if someone is telling the truth or not? Do you think this technology is too good to be true?
Recent research published online in the journal Chemosensory Perception suggests that anxious men have a heightened sense of smell, presumably to detect predators or disease-carriers.
The study entitled Enhanced Olfactory Sensory Perception of Threat in Anxiety: An Event-Related fMRI Study tested 14 mens’ perception of odors, including bad ones. In some trials, the men were in an MRI scanner, and odors were faint.
According to Scientific American, participants were simply asked if they could detect a scent, yes or no. In addition, the subjects were also tested for anxiety: their breathing and skin electrical conductivity were measured, as in a lie detector.
The results? More anxious men were significantly better at detecting lower concentrations of scents, particularly nasty ones. This suggests that anxiety evolved as an evolutionary trait to protect humans from predators.
What do you think about the results of this study? Do you think the findings make logical sense?