Detecting Deception: Be still my eyebrows!
Here’s a study we found at Science Daily and thought was a useful addition to our ongoing exploration of how to identify deception. While eyebrows have been found not useful in identifying Mormon faces, apparently they are useful in identifying deception. As it turns out, it is harder for liars to control the upper part of their faces than it is to control the lower face. And when asked about it following the videotaped interview, the majority of the liars thought [falsely] that they had successfully controlled their expressions and remained ‘poker-faced’ throughout the interview. Read the entire description of this study over at Science Daily.
In business settings, according to the blogs at the Harvard Business Review, identifying deception is quite difficult. These writers recommend observing for discomfort, evasion, and manipulation and provide multiple behavioral descriptors for identifying each strategy.
Perhaps most interestingly, they identify some new research on just who is most likely to lie. And just like in pre-trial research where we rarely come up with demographic identifiers correlated to verdict, it isn’t men or women, certain racial groups or age groups that are more likely to lie. Rather, it’s something that makes intuitive sense but that you may not have spontaneously identified. Liars are often under pressure.
“Aside from those three behavioral clues, you should also consider if the speaker is more likely to lie. You’ll find plenty of new research on this subject, much of which has been conducted by Pamela Meyer. For example, she explains that a person who is under pressure (behind on a project, needing to earn a performance reward, struggling to meet quarterly expectations) is more apt to stretch the truth than someone who is not. Also keep in mind that certain people might be better liars, or more inclined to lie.
A person who has power over others often feels more comfortable lying, but a CEO presenting to angry stockholders won’t easily lie well because he doesn’t feel powerful. Other frequent liars include extroverted people and those who excel at “reading” others. And in general, people feel more comfortable telling lies when they perceive their audience to be deceptive themselves. As they gain success in evading and manipulating the truth, liars find it increasingly easy to lie. Use your common sense and ask yourself if the person has been truthful in the past — and be particularly suspicious of those who haven’t.”
These are very intuitive, common-sense rules that we often see applied by jurors in pre-trial research. These sorts of rules resonate with us (and therefore seem accurate) as they are ways many of us strain to intuit deception. However, in spite of good research and a determined effort, we are pretty bad at detecting liars. Barely better than a coin-toss.
What becomes important to identify though, is not if jurors are accurately perceiving, but what they are perceiving. It isn’t about accuracy. It is, instead, about perception. If they perceive your honest-as-the-day-is-long witness as a liar, they will act accordingly. While we all long to identify those who lie to us, we can’t really do it. What we can do is modify presentation so that truth-tellers do not appear to be liars.
Carolyn M. Hurley, & Mark G. Frank. (2011). Executing Facial Control During Deception Situations. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 35 (2)