Can Liars Really Control Their Facial Expressions?

The University of Buffalo has released more evidence that liars under intense scrutiny cannot suppress their facial expressions of emotion.  Recently, the reliability of microexpressions in lie detection has come into question.  ABC has reported on the perceived validity of microexpressions and their use by the TSA.

The scientific truth is that there are seven universal facial expressions of emotion.  These expressions can and do appear on a person’s face as microexpressions and are very helpful in detecting deception as verified by Dr. Matsumoto in the article Evaluating Truthfulness and Detecting Deception, which appeared in the June issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.

The article cites renowned facial expert Mark Frank, who has spent two decades studying the faces of people lying in high stakes situations.  The study published earlier this year in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, examines whether subjects could suppress facial actions like eyebrow movements or smiles on command while under scrutiny by a lie catcher.

Carolyn M. Hurley, PhD, lead author of the study and Frank, co- author of the study, found that these actions can be reduced, but not eliminated, and the suppression of one element of expression resulted in reduction of all facial movement, regardless of their implications for veracity.

This new study “Executing Facial Control During Deception Situations found that although liars can reduce facial actions during intense situations such as questioning, they can’t suppress them all.

“As a security strategy,” Frank says, “there is great significance in observing and interpreting nonverbal behavior during an investigative interview, especially when the interviewee is trying to suppress certain expressions.”

An interesting side note is that most of the participants believed that they had controlled all of their facial movements during their interrogations.

What are your thoughts on the veracity of microexpressions in truth accuracy aka deception detection?

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