The conclusion

“Assumption, my dear Mitz, is the mother of all f#%k ups!”

A quote from The adventures of Priscilla, queen of the desert. And something we need to be aware of if you are looking for signs of deception. I have already mentioned the lack of a Pinocchio’s nose (I’m a real boy), and in a way this is just as important, it is what Paul Ekman calls, The Othello Error.

We are all guilty of making assumptions every day of our lives, about each other, situations and even places we visit. But making an assumption when you are looking for signs of deception could give you a very different idea of someone’s motives. We like to take short cuts, we want things immediately and on tap and it can be very easy to skip over things that we consider to have no relevance.

Paul Ekman is a scientist so in the study of emotion and deception he followed a scientific process. He set out with a theory, applied a method, came to a result and then tested that result for its tolerance in the face of alternative theories. He tested his hypothesis.

We must do the same whenever we are looking at he emotions of another, and deciding if there is deception. We must deal in facts, of what can we be sure? What emotion was displayed and what evidence is there to confirm that is the emotion we have seen? This needs to be tested against its alternatives. Cognitive load and anger can look the same and many people often mistake fear for surprise and vice versa.

Then we move onto why are we seeing what we are seeing? Is someone swallowing excessively because their mouth has gone dry in response to heightened anxiety or because the air is dry and the have been talking for a while? Maybe the just have a sore throat? And if it is anxiety, is it because they are fearful of being interviewed, disbelieved, caught lying or even has a question brought back an associated event from their past?

The key is there are always more possibilities that you have to consider, and just assuming that the most obvious answer is the correct one is always going to be flawed and terribly unscientific.

Test your theories to destruction, and always be ready to change your conclusion!

This was brought home to me this week when in a discussion with some who professed to know “a lot” about body language accused a colleague of lying to them because he kept rubbing his neck. I happen to know that the individual had been in a minor car accident a couple of days previously and had whiplash. An assumption had been made without one important fact. Not only had they assumed, but they didn’t question or test the hypothesis. They also made a further assumption that this manipulator was a reliable sign of deception. As we know from the science they are not. The are physical or psychological comforters, in this case physical, rubbing the strained neck muscles.

The key is always to think there may be any number of reasons for an action or emotion, what you need to do then is start to look for things that support, or challenge that reason.

What are customer testimonials really saying?

Every day we are surrounded by advertisements.  Billboards, buses, radio and of course the internet and television.  Even watching a video on these days fires an advertisement at you.  How often have you seen those adverts that have a testimonial in them?

“I used ‘Product x” and within 2 weeks I was a millionaire with beautiful skin!”

We take them for granted, we may even occasionally pay attention, but what are they really saying.

We can listen to the words, but are they the real words of the customer, or are they scripts?  Are these really customers or are they actors?

We take a lot of things at face value, especially in advertising, and rarely pay attention to what is going on until we have made a decision that we are planning to buy.  But what if the advertisement is sending out the wrong message.

I have looked at a couple of ads this evening and had the briefest analysis of what is going on with the people providing the testimonial.  Some of them are really great ways of honing your skills at MFE detection.

Slips of disgust, anger, emblem slips, sadness.  All the signs are there in direct relation to the comments that are made.

I have posted one here for your view.

let me know what you think of the first couple and their statement.  Would you believe their testimony?  Does this give you a good impression of the company or a bad one.

I welcome your views, let me know what you see and think and I will post my views as a comment in a week.


It’s all in the code

An exiting week as I start my journey into the world of FACS (Facial Action Coding System).

A simple system for mapping what is happening on the face and some parts of the body with a series of alphanumeric identifiers.

It has been good to get back in touch with some old friends from my first days with Paul Ekman International and The Emotional Intelligence Academy, it has almost been like a reunion in a way and I think that has added to the whole excitement of the situation.

So what is FACS?

FACS is a way of demonstrating what is happening on the face by using a series of codes called an AU or Action Unit.  The idea being that you can demonstrate exactly what is happening on a face, without actually needing to see the face itself.  The system was developed by Paul Ekman, Wallace Friesen and Joseph Hager.  An AU itself does not define an emotion has appeared, simply that the use of a muscle or combination of muscles has produced a discernible difference on the face.  This is important to remember!  Many people think that the FACS system is a way of coding emotions, not true, though there are recognised combinations for certain facial displays associated with emotions.  Confused yet?

Think of this more like a map of what is going on in display only. A map of the local countryside is a map only and does not give you the reason for the fields and the hills. Think of FACS in the same way.  As you get deeper you can start to look at the emotional signals that we recognise and start applying a code to them.  A genuine smile uses the AU 6 and 12, and if it is a subtle or gentle smile may be coded as 6c+12c.  The letter following the number indicates the intensity of the action shown.

The cominations are varied and different and have very specific criteria for their measurement.  Not only this but one may impact on the display of another.

If it sounds complicated it is, while being essentially very simple at the same time.  The key is the understanding of how the various muscle groups work together and against each other in the facial displays that we see everyday.

It is considered to take over 100 hours of coding before you would be considered to be proficient at  measuring and mapping the criteria, and many thousands of hours before you could be considered expert.

The advantages of the system of those of us that deal with emotions is it gives us a far greater and finer insight into what actions are behind the facial displays we see.  The advantage is being able to spot the very subtle displays of emotion can be significantly increased.  Think also about squashed, masked, and even display rules.

The system is sound and has been used for many years, in the measurement of psychology patients and in these days significantly more for counter terrorism, advertising and even developing accurate facial displays for computer game characters.

There are many uses that FACS can be diverted into and certainly with the technology advances that are happening these days plans are in place to develop computer systems and programs that use elements of FACS to identify responses to advertisements.  Could we soon be looking at technology that reads what is going on with our face, understands that we are interested by what we see and continues to aim those adverts at us.

I can say with confidence that is being looked at, though at the moment processing power is an issue and the human brain is still far superior at coding.   The best computers are still taking weeks to code a face that takes an experience coder a few minutes.

I will certainly be using the new skills I am learning and expect to hear more on the subject in future.


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?

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.


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.

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.

Roll up – Roll up!

“There is something that you are not telling me”

How can you tell if there is something more that someone wants to add, but for some reason they are “holding their tongue”.  There are various ways and these can change depending on cultural background. But I am going to look at a couple of the more common ones.

A fair description of what goes on is what I have already said, holding your tongue.  When you are looking for clues to deception it is not always about telling a direct lie, sometimes deception can be accomplished by omission of information.  This can often be more difficult to spot.

Holding the tongue between the teeth is a signal that someone is trying to resist the temptation to say something, just as is the cheek bite.  Remember though, you may not be sure what the information being held back is.  It may not be a lie as such, there may be no intention of deceit.  They may be holding back on something they feel personally embarrassed or ashamed about.  We must also consider baseline.  This may be a normal operating procedure for them. Maybe they have a sore tongue, maybe they have dry lips.  Only by knowing what is usual, can you see what is unusual.

The other holding sign is the lip roll.  Rolling the lips inwards between the teeth or pressing the lips together so that the darker lip area disappears.  This is a really good indicator that someone is trying to hold back on saying something.  Consider other factors along side.  Nothing happens in isolation, you will need to look at the other signs at the same time.   Rolling the lips with a lowered brown and raised lower eyelid is closer to a sign of anger.  You can almost guarantee that someone is holding in their anger.

You have to consider many options when people don’t want to tell you something.  Don’t assume that there is a vindictive or deceptive reason for doing so.  Perhaps they are considering the impact of what they might say and sparing the feelings of those around them.

To make an assumption on what you see is inviting error.  Dr. Ekman called this the Othello Error.  Making an assumption that what you see means something specific rather than looking at the alternative possibilities.

Just what are you capable of?

So many people have the nay-say attitude, they stand in your way telling you that things can’t be done, that’s not going to happen, you won’t succeed.

For many years I myself felt that I would not accomplish much, and the biggest nay-sayer was myself.  I spent my early working years on a YTS scheme.  For those of you not brought up during the Thatcher years in the UK, this was a way of replacing the Apprenticeship system to get people out of school and straight into work.  Paying a basic limited wage with the intention of learning skills for a job.  I didn’t want this to be my life, but I had bills to pay.

From the age of sixteen I have steered my own path and made of myself what I could.  I am by no means an entrepreneur, but I can say that all my accomplishments have been my own.  Despite being told “you can’t do that!”

The only person that knows what you are capable of, is you!

It is very easy when we are low, when we seem to keep coming up against barriers in trying to accomplish things, to fall into a pattern enforced by people who have no concept of the damage that they can do.

If I had accepted what others believed, I would never have spent eight years as a successful Club DJ.  A career I loved with a passion.  It was hard work.  I worked late nights and usually had to follow those with long waits on station platforms waiting for a train back home.

When I became ill in 2005 and I had to make a decision to leave that life behind for something with more stability.  At the time I really had no choice over that decision, so I never grieved for that loss.  But what would have happened if I would have listened to the people saying that is not a real job?

It is very easy to fall into the trap of self-doubt.  Let us face facts, there are many people out there that are willing to put you down and get in your way if it will further their own agenda.  It can seem like every direction you turn starts to bring up a brick wall and your self-esteem starts to suffer. Don’t let it!

Next time you find yourself questioning your own abilities, or someone else does, remember, only you can know what you are truly capable of.  The challenge is going beyond that boundary to accomplish something more.  Then think of the satisfaction you will have of a job well done.  Let us be honest to ourselves, a little bit of shameful joy at proving the nay-sayers wrong is very satisfying.

Consider also before you discredit someone else’s ideas, consider the impact that might have, and look at a different way of delivering the message.

Remaining positive is key and the Stanislavski method has some elements that can help with this.  When you construct an emotion on your face and in your body posture you will actually start to feel elements of that emotion.  If you start to smile you will start to feel the happier emotion itself.  If you start looking angry you will feel the irritation and frustration you associate with anger.   Use this method to your advantage.  Next time you are feeling that low ebb, raise your head, jut out your chin, square your shoulders and challenge the world to a fight of wills you know you can win!

Infectious Emotions

As I have mentioned in a previous post, we are an empathic race.  We react to the emotions of people around us and mirror those emotions ourselves.  This is something that must be considered when you are in a working environment.  They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but more accurately contempt breeds contempt.

When building a team of people you have to consider a number of factors.  Firstly, you have to look at the skill sets that you are putting together to make sure there are no holes in the talent pool that you have.  But a lot of people when building a team don’t  seem to spend a lot of time looking at the emotional make up of the people they are putting together.  Ever since the early 90s a lot of stock has been put into psychometric testing.  Personally, I not only think these tests are flawed but can be manipulated and wildly inaccurate.  The same can be said in a way for assessment tests.

Scientists will often say that lab experiments have a built-in flaw.  But putting things into controlled settings you are removing an element of chance or chaos.  The unexpected.  I would say the same of the assessments that some staff are put through as part of the interview process.  You have been made aware that an assessment is part of the process.  You have had an opportunity to prepare, there is nothing really unexpected about it.

Psychometrics will tell you a little about someone’s character as long as they don’t know how to fool the tests, and assessments will give you an idea of someone’s reasoning abilities, but what about when things suddenly change?

Sudden onset of a stressful situation can change the dynamic and really turn the tables on the team.  Someone who tests well could become a complete liability.  Logical thinkers can not always take that leap of faith and think on the ball and come up with an inspirational solution.   Logical thinkers test well because there is a process to follow from start to finish.  Activists, or kinetic thinkers,  get bored by the hum-drum.  When situations are controlled and planned, they can get bored and can become easily distracted, looking for the next challenge.  These are the people who don’t tend to test well, but when you put them on the spot in a tense situation they shine.

What does this have to do with infection emotions?  If you get someone inclined to panic, you could end up in a situation.  Panic is a strong emotional response and falls under the Fear family of emotions.  In many cases it can overwhelm the calm.  Fear is demonstrated on our faces to warn people that something is happening they need to be aware of.  The signal needs to be passed on so that the whole community can be aware of the risk.

A good team should have elements of both logical and kinetic thinkers and the responsibilities of each team member should match their skills.

We are very set in our ways when it comes to recruitment.  There are ways that things are done, because that is the way they have always been done.  Almost like sheep everyone does the same thing without looking at different ways of doing things.

I am a firm believer that attitude is far more important than any already pre-existing skills in a new recruit.  Passion and attitude is far more difficult to create.  Aptitude and skills can be trained and learned.

So if someone doesn’t hit your target score on your assessment for working out percentages and synonyms.  If they have passion, drive, enthusiasm and an over all belief in your company and what it stands for; give them a chance, a job and buy them a calculator and a dictionary.  If someone truly believes in the company they are working for, they will work to overcome the issues of skill themselves.

The way that our financial climate is at the moment I believe that some companies need to look at the way they recruit.  There is a huge pool of untapped talent out there that is getting overlooked because they failed to score well on a test.


The Truth

Terry Pratchett stated in his book ‘The Truth’, “A lie can get around the world before the truth has its boots on!”

From our earliest years, right from the moment we start to communicate (from as young as 6 months old it is believed) we develop the ability to deceive.  There are so many reasons to lie:  to protect ourselves, to protect others, for some personal gain or to spare someone’s feelings.  But is there ever a reason that a lie could be justified?  Could the motives for the lie excuse the lie itself? And can we always be sure someone is telling the truth?

Firstly, let us remember one of the key tenets of the lie catcher:  There is no single indicator for a lie.  What you do get are hints and pointers that something might not be quite right, what Dr Ekman calls ‘hotspots’.  Individually these do not indicate a lie, merely that there is something happening that justifies a further investigation.  When you put these hotspots together you get a clearer picture that something is leaking out that they may be trying to keep hidden.  Again this may not be a lie, just something they don’t specifically want you to know.

Lies contain thoughts and feelings, but in order to make a lie work a lot of thought needs to take place.  This extra work is often called cognitive load; when your mind is heavily focussed on thinking, feeling starts to show through, and the feelings shown may not match the story being told.  This is emotional leakage.  The more consequential the lie, the more likely you are to leak information.

Paul Ekman tried a number of experiments around lying and detecting lies.  How people lie and looking for that holy grail of a sign of lying.   Needless to say he didn’t find his single indicator, but did find some other interesting facts.   His experiments initially were flawed, he realised quickly that people being asked to tell a lie in a lab setting had no consequence to their lie and as such were more difficult to detect.

When a lie has no consequence to it or a risk in its discovery, the emotional load is reduced.  The makes is much harder to spot.  The risk could be personal such as a loss of liberty or freedom, a risk to health or even personal gain.  If a lie doesn’t matter it may not show unless someone’s own personal moral compass is set in such a way that lies are considered taboo.

In order to increase the tension in the situation Dr. Ekman added some factors to the test.  He offered financial reward if they could successfully get a lie past him.  He left his students in a room with an envelope that contained a sum of money.  He told them that they could take the money or leave it.  If they took the money they would have to convince him that they hadn’t.  If they were successful they would get to keep the cash.  Secondly he also told them at the start of their interview that he would be able to tell when they were lying and he has never failed.  He had just increased the apprehension about being caught and there was a financial risk in place.   Suddenly the emotional leakage increased and the lies became significantly more obvious.

To detect a lie you increase the chances when there is some risk to the liar.

People also find it more difficult to lie convincingly if they have an emotional connection to the subject of the lie.  Dr. Ekman further emphasised this with another experiment with another study group.  The group was told to describe a pleasant scene that they saw on a film.  Half of the group were shown a film of flowers and gardens and asked to describe what they saw.  The second group was shown a film of a rather involved surgical procedure but were still asked to describe a scene of flowers and gardens.

In the experiment nearly all the people asked to lie were spotted.  They all leaked a very fast, subtle expression of disgust despite their more over demeanour of happiness.

We know that someone who feels no emotional connection to the subject and fears no consequence of being discovered is more likely to escape their lie being discovered.  This is also one of the failings of the lie detector test or as it is more properly known the Polygraph.  Lie detector itself is a misnomer as it does not detect lies.  What it does measure are changes in the Autonomous Nervous System.  Heart rate, body temperature, respiration and perspiration.  All of these are signs of Emotional Arousal, not lies. Fear of being discovered and fear of being disbelieved look exactly the same.  Excitement and fear look very similar to the polygraph.  The advantage of the human over any machine so far created is we can determine the emotion being felt and probe appropriately.

Some people say that the eyes are a good sign of a liar, that they will avert their eyes from you while they are lying.  Others maintain that a liar is more likely to hold your gaze to see if a lie has been believed.  At the moment there have been no confirmed studies that prove one way or the other, regardless of what the body language books tell you.

There are also other theories that rubbing the nose is a sign of a lie.  Again not strictly true.  The nose contains erectile tissue that expands when extra blood flows to it.  This happens during moment of emotional arousal causing it to tingle.  The key here is emotional arousal not lie. and you need to understand what emotions are causing this any why.

A lot of body language books put great store in illustrators and manipulators.  Illustrators are the visual punctuations to verbal statements.  The visual way of exclaiming and underlining.  Think back to the film footage of Adolf Hitler’s speeches.  He used a lot of illustrators.   When speaking from memory or something you passionately believe in illustrators tend to be visible.  When cognitive load increased illustrators tend to decrease.  Again not necessarily a sign of a lie, just that a lot of though it going on.

Manipulators are the comforting gestures.  Many exponents of body language cite these as reliable signs that someone is uncomfortable.  Yes they do appear more with discomfort; however, they are very easily controlled and suspended.  They can be reduced with very little effort.

A lie can sometimes be very difficult to spot because as Sir Terry said, it can get around the world before it has its boots on.  Detecting a lie can take time and patience compounded by the fact that most of us are biased to accept what we are told as truth.