Don’t Believe Everything You Read.

Don’t believe everything you read. A recent article entitled “Every body’s talking:  Nonverbal cues can send powerful messages”, posted on October 31st in Inform, North Dakota’s news website, cited numerous fallacies of detecting deception and body language.

The article featured Gabriel Grayson, who was introduced as a body language expert and sign language practitioner. Grayson’s immense contribution to the world of sign language is unarguable.  He founded the Department of Sign Language at the New School University in New York City and became the principal sign-language interpreter for the New York City judicial system.  He also has been mentioned in a New York Times article for his contribution of interpreting and signing in courts of law.

However, in this article, many of the points he purports about detecting deception and body language are not grounded in science.   As we know, verbal language can be vastly different from body language, which is illustrated through Dr. Matsumoto’s (and others’) research on microexpressions and body language, which often contradict each other.

This article is a good example of how individuals should look up information to support the claims of others.  Perhaps, many of the things Grayson talks about in this article come from his book “How to Read a Person Like a Book”, involving two early experts on body language Henry Calero and Gerard Nierenberg.  However, this book was written 40 years ago.  Since then, many popular beliefs about detecting deception have been scientifically debunked.

Grayson claims that gender plays a role in nonverbal expression.  He suggests women tend to be better at interpreting subtle unspoken cues, such as behaviors that might suggest lying.  In general, they are not raised to mask emotions like many boys are, so they are more emotionally expressive.  This may seem more like an opinion than a fact, as Grayson does not provide any research articles published in peer reviewed journals that support this claim.

Grayson later goes on to purport that people scratch their nose when they are expressing doubt or trying to hide something.  Years of proven scientific research states that this is simply not true.  His supporting evidence for this claim is that the former president Bill Clinton touched his nose 26 times during the interview in which he claimed, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

The cues to deception have been proven to exist, but in multiple channels. Remember, there is no pinnochio effect- not one behavior that can definitively state whether someone is lying or being truthful. Just because Bill Clinton touched his nose when lying, doesn’t mean everyone who touches their nose is lying.  This is a huge misconception that has been refuted by experts in the field of body language and detecting deception.

Grayson’s analysis on smiles seems accurate in that there are different types of smiles and some are more sincere while others are just a way to maintain a pro social relationship with the people around you.  He notes that a sincere smile involves the eyes, which is also supported in Dr. Matsumoto’s description of the facial expression for happiness.  a true smile activates the muscles around the eyes and is called a Duchenne Smile. Grayson does make a verifiably great point about body language in general.  He warns about oversimplifying the complex language of the body.  Body language experts learn to look for a cluster of behaviors rather than one particular gesture.

Did you have a chance to read the article? What do you think?

2 responses to “Don’t Believe Everything You Read.”

  1. user125 says:

    I thought that one’s nose get itchy when he/she is lying (uncomfortable) because of a rush of blood to the nose. For me, I agree that no one indicator can be the basis for a lie but I am curious as to why a person would touch his nose repeatedly.

  2. Great analysis! That is one thing I find very frustrating. I had a comment exchange with another individual a couple of weeks ago. I suggested that we need a ‘standard’ around who is or isn’t an expert with body language (certification, education) etc., as there is no standard. They said, they doubt there ever could be and they are probably correct. As such I suspect mis-truths and non-scientific claims will always be present.

    I do find it interesting that you have stated that ‘some of’ what he said in the article is simply not backed up by science. Do you only use scientifically backed behaviors ever? I ask because as much as we can have research into what is and what is not effective, there is still the element of “something doesn’t feel right”.

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