A Picture Speaks ONLY a Thousand Words!
Is a picture really worth a thousand words? What exactly can a picture tell you about someone’s character? When trying to detect deception, one has to be very careful to not interpret the wrong information or misread pertinent nonverbal signals of deception such as microexpressions.
Many people may have heard of David Loughner. He has been identified as the gunman that recently killed six people and seriously wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on January 8, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona.
An article, “Behind Loughner’s million-mile stare” comments on the disturbing picture Loughner (shown left) taken at Pima County’s Sherriff’s Forensic Department.
It is clear from his actions on that fateful day that Loughner has psychological problems to say the least. However, judging a person based solely on a photograph is very risky. There are many elements at play in a still frame of a person’s face. Just because someone looks like a “monster” for a moment in time does not necessarily make them a monster.
Dr. Alan Hirsch, a Chicago-based neurologist and psychiatrist commented that the fact that we’ve come to associate that look [wide eyes, exposed whites of eyes and eyelids higher than normal] with monstrous acts has more to do with Hollywood than psychiatry. “In movies, the person who’s psychologically deranged will have bulging eyes,” he says. “That’s how they portray the evil person…”
Hirsch goes on to state that when we make judgments about someone’s character based on their looks is something called metoposcopy. “That’s the idea or concept that you can tell a person’s character based on the way their face looks,” he explains. “And we can misinterpret things. We’ll see someone whose eyes are bulging, but they’ll have hyperthyroidism.”
Dr. Matsumoto also stresses that microexpressions can be as fast as 1/15th of a second and represented in a photo may only reveal the beginning or end of a person’s emotional state.
Dr. Dan Iosifescu, associate professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine exemplifies Dr. Matsumoto’s views on whether a photograph is a reliable document.
Dr. Iosifescu affirms, “I don’t think you can make too much out a single photograph…It could be bravado, someone who’s trying to play a game. In most animals, including humans, this kind of fixed-eye contact is a sign of aggression. But it could also be the attitude of someone who feels cornered in the police department but is trying to appear otherwise. It could be a show that he’s putting on.”
See the video below for Dr. Matsumoto’s detailed response to the question; can a photograph serve as a reliable document? He answers the question about 13 minutes into the clip.