A Look at the Truth

In order to better detect when someone is lying, Dr. Matsumoto states that it is equally as important to be able to detect when someone is being truthful.

More often than not, those of us who are knowledgeable about the topic of detecting deception and nonverbal behavior tend to know what signs to look for when trying to catch a liar. Based on scientific research done in the field of detecting deception, we know that there both accurate and inaccurate cues to focus on when trying to decipher a lie from the truth.

We know that the cues to deception exist, but occur in many channels including facial expressions of emotion, gesture, verbal style, verbal content as well as others. We also know that there is no Pinnochio effect- that is, there is not 1 reliable clue to deception that alone can determine whether or not someone is lying. Things such as fidgeting, eye gaze, lack of eye contact, scratching of the nose and excessive blinking by itself is not a 100% foolproof way to detect deception.

What is extremely important to focus on are all nonverbal behaviors, particularly facial expressions of emotion. We emphasize looking for inconsistencies between verbal and nonverbal statements, which we call hot spots. For example, if you see someone say the words “I love you” and then you see disgust on their face, this could be a possible hot spot.

Take a look at the video below of a woman named Erin Runnion. Her 5 year old daughter Samantha was kidnapped outside their home 8 years ago. In this video, Runnion confronts her daughter’s killer during the penalty phase. See the raw emotion in her face and the consistent facial expressions she shows. Her words and expressions are powerful- almost to the point where we can feel her pain.

We apologize in advance- the video could not be embedded on this page. However, if you click on the image below, it will take you to the site where you can view the video.

Contrast Runnion’s emotions and behavior to that of Diane Downs, a convicted felon who claimed that a stranger had shot her and her children. It was later found out that Downs had committed the act herself:

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As you can see, there is a HUGE discrepancy in their demeanor. Downs often seems distant, emotionless and even is smiling in the interview during parts where it is very inappropriate. Fast forward to 3:04 where Downs is talking about blood coming out of her daughter’s mouth. Downs actually smiles when talking about this subject numerous times- highly inappropriate and inconsistent with a grieving mother.

In Runnion’s confrontation to her daughter’s killer, there is raw emotion, pain and anguish on her face. There is really no mistaking how Runnion truly feels about the situation.

5 responses to “A Look at the Truth”

  1. Stacey Sheldon says:

    Thanks for your excellent post. Your videos drive the contrast and point. Raw emotions are very hard to fake unless ones is really a professional liar.

  2. Russ Conte says:

    Today I finished re-reading Telling Lies by Paul Ekman. He makes the same point several times in the last chapters – it’s critical to be able to spot honest people. During one interview (I think on the Diane Rehm (sp?) show), he said that when he talks with TSA, he tells them to look for honest people, that’s what you need to know.

    Ekman also wrote (as I recall, pending any correction) that people who are trained in this area are better at detecting lies, but not as good at identifying a truth teller. I like the way Eyes for Lies says it – the truth just flows. I’ve found a few exceptions, but the truth almost always does really flow. Now it’s up to me to get better at spotting it and identifying it when I see it.

    Russ Conte

  3. Keith D. says:

    The video of Erin Runnion is a great example of non-verbals matching verbals, and the video of Diane Downs is a remarkable (and truly horrifying) example of non-verbals not matching verbals in even the slightest. Great examples to show to beginners, because the contrast is so stark.

    A lot can also be discerned from word choice, statements, tone of voice and cadence. Here are a couple examples of 911 calls that I like because they illustrate reasonably well the difference between honesty and deception when only voice is available (although the contrast is not nearly as pronounced and I don’t know if there is as much scientific research to back up what the differences are for purely verbal deception detection).

    This first one (deceptive) is of Linda Dolloff, who was convicted of murdering her husband. She first attacked and killed her husband, and then shot herself and called 911 to report an intruder in the house in an attempt to cover up her crime: http://abcnews.go.com/2020/video/wife-linda-dolloff-911-call-shot-11161812

    The second one (honest) is a collection of multiple 911 calls of real victims during a workplace shooting (this clip contains a fair amount of graphic language): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BA5I5j4fVho

  4. […] out A Look at the Truth Consider your own efforts at spotting truth vs. […]

  5. Clare Johnson says:

    I have watched the McCanns in interviews on you tube and on the tv,and i know what i think,do you see deception?.

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