Maureen O’Sullivan’s Wizards Project Update

Photo courtesy of Psychology Today.

The Wizards Project was a research project conducted by Drs. Paul Ekman and Maureen O’Sulllivan, that studied the ability of people to detect lies.

This research showed that for the average person, being able to detect deception is not an easy task.  Most people can detect deceit only about 50% of the time, which is the statistical equivalent of flipping a coin.

However, the Wizards Project study purported that there is a very small group of people who are extraordinarily adept at detecting deception with more than an 80% accuracy rate.  These individuals were deemed “Truth Wizards”.

According to EurekAlert the study tested about 13,000 individuals using 3 varying tests.  Later sources site that there were 20,000 participants with 50 who were able to claim to be Truth Wizards or natural lie spotters.  Among the wizards are JJ Newberry and Eyes for Lies.

 “Our wizards are extraordinarily attuned to detecting the nuances of facial expressions, body language and ways of talking and thinking. Some of them can observe a videotape for a few seconds and amazingly they can describe eight details about the person on the tape, “ commented O’Sullivan.

The project is no longer in existence as Maureen O’Sullivan has since passed away and according to the information right now, no one has taken over the project or is continuing new research with such a large scale group on “truth wizards”.

Dr. Matsumoto’s response to the question, Since the passing of Maureen O’Sullivan, what is the status of research into Naturals? Who is doing this work now, and where can we learn the latest research results? is, 

“I don’t really know the status. We offered several times to her estate to help to finalize her final works and consider continuing that work, but have not heard back.”

Dr. O’Sullivan did note in the study’s findings that, “…we found groups of people who are consistently better at spotting deception, although most groups, including police officers, CIA and FBI agents, lawyers, college students and therapists, do little better than chance.  By carefully analyzing the videotapes used in our test, we were able to find many objective behavioral measures that could have been used as clues to deception, but most people did not pick up the signals.”

She also states that facial muscles are not under our conscious control all of the time especially when there are strong feelings involved.  These expressions that flash on and off our face at high speeds and are now labeled microexpressions.  She delineates that the wizards were able to pick up on those fleeting facial expressions more so than the average person.

Dr. Matsumoto’s response to the question, what makes one person better at reading emotional expressions than another, is,

“Practice, experience and one’s natural propensity to read emotions. Some people are born better sensors and perceivers of the world to begin with. It most likely has something to do with one’s genetics, personality and life experience. Also how much a person hones their ability by practicing would have a great impact on reading emotional expressions.”  

The wizards study showed that training for 20 minutes was able to significantly improve a person’s ability to recognize microexpressions, an important key in detecting deception.

To see a short video featuring Maureen O’Sullivan click here.


5 responses to “Maureen O’Sullivan’s Wizards Project Update”

  1. Keith D. says:

    Well, if anyone from O’Sullivan’s estate happens to read this, I would REALLY REALLY REALLY love to see this project completed and read the whole thing.

    If that never happens, what would be the chance that someone else could or would start over following in her footsteps recreating this study? Or is this the sort of thing that the industry or society as a whole simply doesn’t really value? It seems an awful waste for so much work to just be lost into the aether. I think about this study at least every few weeks or every month and wonder if it’s been picked up by anyone to finish it up and publish it.

  2. This is really sad that O’Sullivan didn’t pass on her work. It was so important to science.

  3. Much thanks you for your great comments!

  4. Michael M. says:

    I use these concepts in my work daily. I would be extremely interested in knowing if I have an ability that equals my interest. I hope Humintell or another group would pick up where Dr O’Sullivan left off. Thank you for keeping us informed.

  5. I am so sorry to hear that Maureen have passed away!

    Her work was really interesting and very important .
    I use my ability in my daily work and Maureen helped me believe in it when I did not know what to do with my inner “truth detector”.

    I agree with Michael. Hope somebody would pick up where O´Sullivan left off.

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