I’m a real boy

Is there such a thing as a fool-proof tell that someone is lying?  The Holy Grail of deception detection.

Body Language, expressions, the use of language and even technology have been used to try to give us a hint at lies.  Sadly, to date, there is no Pinocchio’s nose.

If there was such a thing, imagine what our legal system would look like.  Certainly the time spent in courtrooms would be much reduced and police investigation would be a lot simpler.

When we are looking for deception all we can really is look for a sign that something is not quite right.  Paul Ekman calls these signs that something needs to be looked as a Hotspot.   But a hotspot itself is not a sign of a lie, all it tells us is that there is something outside of the normal operating practice of the person we are looking at.  Something has happened out of context, the emotion displayed does not match the words used, or perhaps the words used are distancing or out of context.  Think of someone yelling at you that they are not angry!  The words don’t match the voice pitch, tone and volume, and it is likely that the facial expression would also be angry.  You can be pretty sure they are angry.  As I have said these hotspots do not indicate a lie, only that something has happened that needs to be investigated further.

Consideration should always be given to “Why?”  It is very easy to jump to a conclusion or think about how you might have reacted in the same situation.  We really need to look at all the possibilities of why something happens before we make a statement.  Consider also that other people may react completely differently to the way you may react in a very similar situation.  Assuming a reason for a reaction based on your own personal experience would only be valid if we all exactly the same.   These are very hard habits to break.

When we jump to a conclusion we are at danger of coming to the wrong conclusion.  Paul Ekman describes this as The Othello Error.  Seeing the emotion but misinterpreting the reason for the emotion.  When Desdemona was challenged over her fidelity she became fearful and begged that Othello check her story with her supposed lover.  Othello announced that he had already murdered her alibi.  Desdemona’s fear increased.  Othello saw this fear and made an assumption that this was because she had been discovered and feared for her own life.  In reality she was in fear of being disbelieved and punished for something that she had not done.   Fear of discovery and fear of being disbelieved in the truth is still fear, and looks exactly the same.

Looking at all the possible alternatives for a hotspot is our only defence against making Othello’s error, and there may even be times were we can’t make a decision especially when you remember that it is unlikely you will ever be in full possession of all the facts.

If someone tells you that they have a fool-proof indicator of a lie, are they lying?

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Get out of my face!

Personal space is very important to us.  We have boundaries, imaginary fields of the acceptable and unacceptable.  Some are socially adaptive changing their frontiers depending on where we are at the time, some are emotionally adaptive based on trust and acceptance.

Standing on the concourse of Euston Station you can see excellent examples of both situations.

In the UK we are very clear on our personal space.  In most cases, with people we don’t know, our personal space usually extends about two feet from our body.  However, in Japan this can be three feet or more.  In the UK a handshake is an acceptable greeting, it allows that two feet distance to be maintained but is an acceptable invasion of space.  In Japan the formal bow remains distant, it is considered inappropriate to touch.

Most of us maintain comfortable safe distance but we easily adapt to the current situation.  In a crowded railway station the two feet barrier almost disappears.  Even some  elements of physical contact almost become acceptable.  Cram all those people onto a train and personal space becomes restricted to literally just around the head and face. Something that the professional pick-pocket relies upon to ply their trade.  Moving out of the train and back into an open space and our personal borders re-assert themselves.

Emotional barriers work slightly differently, adapting over time and situation.

Two people meeting for the first date usually have their borders firmly in place, but as time goes on these barriers are either reduced, or reinforced depending on the response of the individuals.  Subtle shifts in position and posture, leaning forward, moving the hands into the no-man’s land across the table top are all signs that the barriers are being removed and an invitation to personal space.  Social grooming is the sign of trust and acceptance.  Reaching out to brush lint from a shoulder.

Do not assume that once a boundary has been relaxed that it will stay as such.  These psychological barriers can be very quickly re-established if trust is lost.  Stepping away,  refusing to meet the eyes, flinching away from the grooming hand; all very clear social signals that trust is not given.

Remember, different cultures have very different social rules for personal space, and there are always individual differences.  Don’t assume that someone accepts the same approaches that you will.  Look for the responses to your actions and behaviours.  Don’t assume.

Could you live without fear?

Would you really like to live without fear?

I came across this article a while ago and thought it would be nice to give it an airing and the thoughts associated with it.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12017039

 

Reading through the article it becomes immediately apparent what fear actually does to protect us from harm in our every day life.  This story clearly shows how difficult that fearless life could be.

How on earth has the woman in the article survived?  After reading this article I went further into some of the other research documents.  The woman mentioned regularly put herself at significant risk because she didn’t feel the fear necessary to tell her “This may harm you.”

She did feel fear in the past.  When she was a child she knew that things would scare her just like anyone else.  However, due to a very rare medical condition she has reached the point where the part of her brain responsible for fear no longer operates.  Does her brain not recall the time in the past when she did have fear and let her go through the cognitive process of “this might harm me”?

In the study she was asked to keep a diary of what she did and what happened to her on a daily basis.  According to her own log she regularly stepped into traffic, walked through dark parks at night resulting in her being attacked by a man with a knife and held at gun-point.

In supervised experiments she was introduced to a tarantula.  The spider itself was a particularly dangerous species, she knew this and yet the only feelings she described were feelings of curiosity and wanting to touch the animal.

Fear is one of the best self-preservation mechanisms we have.  It tells us that something is likely to hurt or harm us and actively works to make us avoid that situation.  It is fear that makes us pull back from the growling dog.  It is fear that stops us walking down the alley in the more disreputable parts of town.  It is fear that puts our foot on the brake when someone steps in front of our car.

Would you really want to live without fear?

I don’t think I would.

Isn’t it all a bit…

Isn’t just looking at body language a bit pointless?

I had a discussion over this with a friend a while ago.  We were discussing body language, micro-expressions, she asked “Don’t you think it is all a bit pointless, if you are spending so much time looking at the body language, how are you meant to do anything else?”

How right she is.  Not about it being pointless, but more about the effort of will that is required to focus on so many things happening at the same time.

When we are making an assessment of someone for credibility there are five channels of communication that we need to focus on.  Focussing on five very different areas for the minutia of information and then comparing that with the signals you are getting from the other four channels, it could give you a headache.  Making sure that the questions that you are asking are pertinent and then listening to the response while also thinking the next question up.  Is the response appropriately worded, at the right speed and pitch, is the language distancing?  At the same time what is the posture like, what are the emblems being shown and do the expressions match the details of what is being said?

But if we restrict ourself to just body language, as many practitioners do, we are missing a lot of information.  It would be like looking at a tapestry down a toilet roll tube.  You would only see a tiny part of the image and wouldn’t get the whole picture.

Assessing someone is like driving a car.  You have to control acceleration, gears, clutch, braking, monitoring the instruments, steer and keep an eye on everything that is going on outside the car.  When we first learn to drive, all of these things take a huge amount of concentration, but as we become a lot more accomplished, some things become second nature.  It can be the same with the assessment process.

Some people have an advantage where they have a natural talent, just like some formula one drivers have a natural ability in driving in comparison to your average road driver.

There are ways that you can make this easier on yourself.  Work in pairs or teams with one person asking the questions and listening to the answers, and the other person focussing on the non-verbal elements.

But remember,  before all you must try to establish a base line – the normal operating level of the person.  Without the baseline it makes it difficult to spot the deviations from normal that give us something to focus on.  Baseline does not just happen, and should have some time devoted to it.  Establishing normal operating levels but also what a genuine emotional response looks like.  Take your time and become familiar with normal.

This is something that is nearly always missing in job interviews.  A couple of minutes chatting about inconsequential things can make a huge amount of difference in finding out what is really going on with someone.

 

Fear leads to…

“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to suffering…”  The words of Master Yoda.  Does fear always lead to anger?  It is certainly a legitimate question.  Surely the source of the fear would have a big relevance?  Some people will predominantly respond to a fear situation with anger as it is seen as challenging what they see as a form of personal weakness.  They get angry at the thing that makes them scared, almost whistling at the dark.

Fear is  a natural response to a threat, whether that treat is real or imagined.  It is a response that comes from the most basic part of our brain, the limbic or reptile brain.  A lot of fears can be learned responses, and some are just triggers of self-preservation.

When dealing with fear a lot of people do get angry, though that anger is not always directed outwards.  Sometimes, that anger is internalised and aimed at the self  for being afraid of something, though this could easily become self-disgust or self contempt.  Just as easily fear can become relief, excitement, grief, anguish, or delight.  Once again we come to the cause of the fear.

Looking at a couple of scenarios:  we have a person working for a large company that is not doing well in an economic downturn, instantly you get a mood of apprehension for the future.  Being called to a one to one meeting with the management that apprehension can become fear.  It is a response to a perceived threat to personal well-being.  The situation can go one of two ways.  The person is told that they have lost their job, they have been made redundant.  The person may well react with anger, why have I been selected for redundancy, that could easily lead onto disgust over the way they have been treated and contempt for the ones making the decisions.

Perhaps the person has been told that they are going to be kept on when their colleagues have not.  That can lead to a form of guild called survivors mourning.

Look also at the deceiver.  Fear of discovery is one of the factors that makes a deception discoverable, followed by the emotion that is shown after the fear.  What about that smile and flash of happiness we know as duping delight?  The little flash of a smile when they think that their lie has been believed.   Fear can elevate further if that lie has been discovered, leading to that flash of righteous anger, “how dare you challenge me?”

Fear can even lead to excitement.  A roller coaster works on this very principle.  People boarding that roller coaster right up until the first drop may be fearful. People will demonstrate a lot of the signs you expect to see in fear.  The flight or fight response.  Pallor caused by the blood running to the limbs and organs, increased heart rate and respiration, dilated pupils and even the sweats.  Very quickly this changes to excitement, enjoying the ride and burning off all that adrenaline in excitement.

Fear can lead to practically every other emotion.  Understanding the cause of that fear can give an understanding of what to expect next.