So You Want to Be An Expert (part 3 of 3)?
Take Home Points for Step 1 and Step 2
We covered Step 1 and Step 2 in the previous blogs. Let’s review the take home points.
Step 1: since the face conveys lots of information, you want to learn what to look for given your specific interest or profession and what you should ignore. This is part of the process we call creating a baseline.
Step 2: if you want to learn to read faces, you need to learn to reliably recognize facial expressions. Start with the seven universal expressions of emotion (joy, sadness, fear, surprise, anger, contempt and disgust). Chances are you already know what the macro- version of these expressions look like. So the next step is to learn how to spot the microexpressions of these emotions. Humintell Microexpression Recognition Training (MiX) can teach you how.
Putting it All Together
This is the elephant in the middle of the room that everyone is trying to ignore. Invariably in the back of everyone’s mind when they first learn how to spot microexpressions is the secret fantasy that they are going to become a human lie detector. They will be able to fight crime like Superman, know exactly when their friends, family and romantic interests are lying to them and make millions in Vegas. All in their spare time. While it is true that learning to spot microexpressions is a HUGE part of detecting deception and will open up a whole new world for you – hear me now, people…
There is no Pinocchio.
There is no single “thing” that is a sign of lying. If someone tells you that there is, well in that case (and that case only) you would know that he or she was not being honest with you. Joking aside, there is a perfectly good evolutionary reason for this. Think about it. If you knew just from looking whether or not people were being honest all of the time, the world, as we know it would fall apart. There are many exaggerations (“you are the best boss ever”) and low stakes mistruths (“honey, I know how busy you are, don’t worry about forgetting my birthday”) that allow us to get work together and get along.
The reality is that any microexpression could be associated with lying. It depends partly on the baseline you observed (remember Step 1) and also on additional cues to deception that occur in the other nonverbal “channels”: the voice, gestures, verbal style and verbal content for example – in addition to what is going on in the face. Still in all, because the face is the most important signal system we have, we believe (and the research bears this out) that microexpressions and subtle expressions are the key to helping people evaluate truthfulness.
A microexpression allows you to understand what a person is feeling, but not why. So what do you do if you are talking to a friend and you notice – by spotting a microexpression – that they are feeling sad even though they are talking about how good their life is going and how much they love their job and how their marriage couldn’t be better? Deciding what to do depends on the relationship you have with the person and your own professional or social skills. After all, figuring our why people feel what they feel is a lifetime occupation for psychotherapists and social workers.
The key here is that you noticed that the microexpression – which indicates what the person is feeling – and what they are saying are incongruent: they don’t seem to go together.
We call these “hot spots”: they are emotional cues. They indicate a moment where you probably need to get some more information in order to fully understand what is going on if you decide that this is the best thing to do given the context of the situation. Remember that there are times for each of us when – whether or not someone else can tell what we are feeling – we may wish to keep those feelings private. It is important to respect this.
Leave it to the Professionals
Now think about spotting this type of incongruence in a different situation. Let’s say you are a detective interviewing a person of interest about a convenience store robbery. And you see the microexpression for fear even though the person is saying something like, “Yeah, I know that store. Been going there since I was a kid. I still live in the same neighborhood”. You just identified a hot spot. Does the hot spot mean the person is trying to deceive you? No. It just means that talking about the convenience store has elicited a feeling in the person of interest you are talking to. Maybe they broke up with their girlfriend there or got in a fight. Or maybe they got bad Slurpee.
But in seeing the hot spot, while the detective does not know what it means, he or she knows that they need to pursue additional lines of questioning so that they fully understand.
Step 3 Take Home Point
Humintell Microexpression Recognition training (MIX) teaches people to read facial microexpressions. This is part of what we all “hot spotting” – detecting incongruent verbal and nonverbal messages. We have the A, B, Cs (and D, E, Fs) of detecting deception:
A. Awareness of your own emotions and cultural differences from the person you are talking to
B. Baseline observations: what is the person’s normal behavior?
C. Check for Changes in demeanor when a topic is raised, and look for;
D. Discrepancies between verbal and nonverbal channels (think of this as a hot spot versus a lie: there are no guaranteed “lie” responses” – so you have to…
E. Engage the hot spot, and;
F. Follow up with questions to figure out the nature of the hot spot you observed.
If you are interested in learning more, Humintell teaches workshops about how to detect deception. We also offer webinars to the public. Check our website for upcoming schedules.