Microexpressions in High-Stakes Lies

By Guest Blogger Liespy

*Liespy is a regular contributor to David Matsumoto’s blog. She honed her deception detecting skills as a fraud investigator for the insurance industry and employs these skills to analyze the world at large.

The truth is, everyone lies. But not all lies are created equal.

There are white lies. For the most part we view them as harmless – maybe even necessary if they spare someone’s feelings or make them feel supported. These are low stakes lies: no one really gets hurt and there isn’t a big down side to getting caught. Psychologists tell us that there usually isn’t a big increase in emotion or cognition with white lies, which means that people tend not to display microexpressions when they are telling this type of lie.

High stakes lies are quite a different matter.

Maureen O’Sullivan, a UCSF professor who studies truth wizards – people who are natural human lie detectors – says that high stakes lies happen when “liars and truth tellers are highly motivated, either for personal reasons or by some significant positive and/or negative reinforcement (substantial reward, serious punishment)”.

Lying on the witness stand or lying to your partner about an affair would definitely be considered high stakes lies.

Which brings me to the question on everyone’s mind: How can you tell if someone is lying?

Try changing your focus.

Most of our attention is usually focused on the words a person is saying. However research suggests that up to 90% of the messages we communicate in any interaction are nonverbal. And of these nonverbal messages, the face is the most important communication channel. This is why learning to recognize microexpressions is the foundation skill for learning how to be able to see hot spots, which can be an important clue in detecting deception.

So it stands to reason that if we are going to be able to detect deception, we’ll need to be more than good listeners. I’ll write more about what that right stuff is in a future blog.

3 responses to “Microexpressions in High-Stakes Lies”

  1. Cornelius says:

    I really like your blog and i respect your work. I’ll be a frequent visitor.

  2. Peter says:

    Valuable thoughts and advices. I read your topic with great interest.

  3. Susie Wright says:

    I am transfixed on this subject and plan on taking your courses this year. I handle large volumes of interviews that are transcribed. When I listen to the person being interviewed, many times I am able to surmise they are not being truthful through such things as the pitch in their voice and rapid responses to certain questions – (when prior, there had been slow responses and normal voice pitch range). I also am practicing on the tests you offer for Free. This is not as easy as I thought it would be!

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