Revisiting Nonverbal Behavior

We have shown that nonverbal behavior is crucial to detecting deception, but it seems that our previous discussions have been a little insufficient.

Certainly this has been a major discussion in this blog, but we have focused only on individual behaviors, like eye contact or gestures, in order to explain how important nonverbal behavior is. However, as new research by Dr. David Matsumoto and Dr. Hyisung Hwang demonstrates, clusters of multiple behaviors may be even more important.

In their forthcoming study, Drs. Matsumoto and Hwang build on previous research suggesting that focusing on a given individual nonverbal behavior is enough. They point out that lying depends on the maintenance of emotional states which help us continue our deception. This generally requires that we internalize additional emotions, corresponding to the increased cognitive work that lying requires.

While any individual nonverbal behavior may fade far too quickly to notice, a series of nonverbal behaviors born out of these additional emotions can last much longer, making lie detection easier. The goal of this study was to attempt to isolate deceptive behaviors and to see if certain patterns of nonverbal behavior tended to correspond with deception.

They hypothesized that patterns of nonverbal behaviors would reliably indicate deception and also that more open-ended interrogations would produce a greater amount of indicative nonverbal behaviors.

In order to answer these questions, they recruited a sample of students from various ethnic backgrounds and, after some initial assessments, divided them randomly into two groups. The first group was told they would be gifted a $100 check, while the second was told they could look at but not take the same $100.

The participants were eventually given the opportunity to steal the check, after which they were told that they had been “randomly” selected for an interview. Interestingly, each of them had been previously instructed to make a point of proving their honesty, regardless of their guilt. This is where the article’s data collection truly began.

The researchers employed interrogation tactics modeled after actual law enforcement techniques and utilized of a variety of open and closed ended questions, in order to test the second hypothesis. During this process, they tracked facial expressions and other nonverbal behavior like head movements and gestures.

Overall, the experiment demonstrated broad support for both hypotheses. They found that when participants lied, they produced a lower pitch in the voice and engaged in fewer head nods, which Drs. Matsumoto and Hwang suggest may be due to greater levels of emotion on the part of the deceiver.

These findings may set a new direction for research into deception detection and nonverbal behavior. Rather than just focusing on a specific feature, it is important to understand how larger underling emotional states can create persistent changes in behavior.

Naturally, this might be a bit much for any of us to keep in our head, so it may help you out to get some professional advice on properly detecting deception!

Nonverbal Clues to Deception

How crucial are nonverbal clues to detecting deception?

A recent 2017 study argues that reading nonverbal behavior is a crucial component to discovering mistruth and understanding if another person is lying. In this research, Dr. Eric Novotny and a team of scholars respond to previous research that underplays the role of nonverbal clues in everyday deception detection.

Their work built on a 2002 survey which asked participants how they tend to discover a lie. This survey found that most participants discovered lies through verbal cues or hard evidence, rather than noting tone, eye contact, or other nonverbal cues.

Based on that survey, Dr. Novotny hypothesized that there was a difference between discovering and suspecting a lie and that nonverbal behavior was critical to understanding deception detection. This distinction, he argued, was well-grounded in psychological research, because initial suspicion is a key part of changing one’s perception to the point that they would check a lie in the first place.

This initial framework led to a pair of studies. The first was a close replication of the 2002 survey. However, instead of only asking participants about what clues led them to discovering lies, they asked what clues led to the original suspicion of a lie. This adjusted survey was contrasted with a control group which simply asked the same 2002 questions.

Unsurprisingly, those asked the original questions reported non-behavioral factors, such as confessions or hard evidence as leading to their discovery, just as the previous research found. However, participants confirmed that behavioral evidence was used most frequently in terms of developing a suspicion, just as was hypothesized.

Dr. Novotny notes how extraordinarily different the results were with just a simple change in the questions asked. This raised the possibility that linguistic changes were more responsible for the differing results than anything else, so he conducted a second study to account for this.

This next survey worked with identical hypotheses but featured a variety of survey questions. The procedure was almost the same but divided the questions into four slight variants. Still, the same results were replicated despite minor differences in survey wording.

Because they also affirmed the 2002 study’s findings, Dr. Novotny and his fellow researchers concluded that discovering a lie is quite different from beginning to suspect one. This has critical implications on the field of deception detection. Instead of simply focusing on hard evidence, it is important to pick up on subtle nonverbal cues in order to begin to learn when we are lied to.

While we all have some ability to do this, it is also something that you can improve on, like all efforts to read people. That is exactly why Humintell offers both “Evaluating Truthfulness” and “Tactical Interviewing” training packages.

Our Voice’s Emotions

Humintell tends to focus on nonverbal behavior and facial expressions, but our voices also convey a lot of subtle information.

This should not be a surprise to many of you who intuitively see different emotions and attitudes in pre-vocal utterances such as sighs, grunts, or yells.

In a 2015 study, a team of researchers sought to explore these sorts of pre-lingual vocalizations as expressions of raw emotions, perhaps even dating back to before humans developed language. Specifically, they wanted to know whether these sounds conveyed recognizable universal emotions.

Their incredibly wide-ranging study consisted of two main investigations. First, they took a series of 16 vocalizations and attempted to determine whether these would be matched to the same emotions by diverse participants from ten globalized and industrialized cultures. In addition to these globalized cultures, which included Western, Middle Eastern, and Asian nations, the researchers also sought to replicate their findings in a remote village in Bhutan.

The emotions under consideration included all of the universal basic emotions but with slight variations, such as dividing happiness into desire, awe, amusement, and contentment. After specifying these emotions, the researchers tied them to related vocalizations. For example, laughter was seen as representing amusement and screaming as signifying fear.

With this framework established, the first study involved asking online participants to match instances of these vocalizations with brief, one-sentence stories intended to express different emotions. They were highly accurate in identifying the intended emotion, doing so about 80 percent of the time. Still, some vocalizations were systematically misidentified by given cultures, such as surprise in India.

While these results certainly suggest a broad consensus matching universal emotions with non-linguistic verbalizations, the study authors pointed out that each of the participants were wealthy, well-educated, and generally assimilated into globalized norms, such as through access to the internet and mass media. Thus, the study may simply be measuring norms promoted via a globalized and interconnected world.

In order to correct for this possible error, the second study came into play. This involved the researchers asking similar questions to non-globalized villagers from Bhutan. These new participants engaged in a face to face context as they lacked internet and electricity. Importantly, they comprised an autonomous community with almost no contact from outsiders, including tourists.

They were asked to perform similar tasks as in the first study, identifying vocalizations with the same, translated stories. While the villagers were generally less accurate, they correctly identified nine of the vocalizations, including those intended to evoke amusement, disgust, fear, sadness, and surprise, i.e. many of the basic emotions.

Thus, the researchers were able to find strong evidence that non-linguistic vocalizations do convey universal emotions, and that globalized cultures tended to identify similar emotional meanings.

This makes a great deal of sense given Dr. David Matsumoto’s advice in a previous blog, where he contended that words are often less important than tone and expression in understanding cross cultural emotions. An understanding of the sounds people make is crucial to help read them, within our culture and outside of it, and Humintell is proud to offer courses in both contexts.

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