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?

Emotional Overload

Many people are frustrated by their emotions; “It’s like I am out of control!”, “The anger just wells up inside me!”, “I feel so down”

People usually say this and call these negative emotions.  You never hear people say “I wish I wasn’t so happy all the time.”  Why do we have such a resistance to these “negative emotions”?

Firstly, I don’t agree to the idea of of a negative emotion as such, as all emotions are necessary and serve a purpose.  Just because we don’t particularly like the feelings associated with them, they exist for a reason.  Perhaps we should focus on the reason why they exist rather than trying to avoid them.  Understand the triggers will helps us better deal with the feelings and the effects of the emotion.  They can be subtle and fleeting, barely the brush of a butterfly’s wing; or they can be absorbing, compelling and defying reason and common sense.

My interest began at about the age of 10 years.  I recall quite clearly being sat in my dad’s van while he was making a delivery and looking at my face in the side mirror on the door.  I clearly remember changing my face very subtly from anger to happiness and noticing how these very subtle changes could make such a difference.  I have a natural instinct for spotting these rapid signs of emotion that sometimes happen in just a fraction of a second, often called Micro-Facial Expressions or MFEs, or the subtle demonstration of an emotion.

These emotional signs can give an insight into deception, but they are not in themselves an indicator of a lie.  There is no single indicator of a lie, there is no Pinocchio’s nose.  What has to be considered is that when someone deliberately intends to deceive there is a conflict between the emotional load and the cognitive load, the challenge between thinking and feeling.  Understanding why these things happen gives us that insight.

These days I know a lot more about this subject and why I have the skills I do thanks to Dr. Paul Ekman.  Though I have always been able to spot these signs I was never very sure what I was looking at.  Dr Ekman put it into words and demonstrated the reliable signs of these emotions happening.  I can no put a specific name to what I am seeing.  Be that Fear, Anger, Disgust, Contempt, Sadness, Happiness and Surprise.

You may not always know the reasons for the emotions appearing, and some serious consideration should be given before jumping to a conclusion, questions need to be asked to understand the why of something.

The seven emotions mentioned above are the globally recognised emotions regardless of where you are from in the world.  Fear always looks the same, even when spoken language gets in the way.  The language of the visible emotion cuts through these barriers of language.

Even the idea of “Negative” emotions have their place. Sadness tells people we need support.  Anger warns others to stay out of our way.  Fear tells others there may be something that puts us all at risk.

Sadness and melancholy gives us time to recoup and ask for help.  By indulging our sadness we appreciate happiness more.

Accept your emotions but understand their origins.