If you have ever watched the hit television show, “Lie to Me,” you may be fascinated by lead character Cal Lightman’s brilliant ability to deduce a lie through the mere blink of an eye. You may have even tried out some of these techniques on your own with a shifty-eyed coworker or giggly girlfriend.
However, while the fictional Lightman Group solved plenty of cases through these methods, real world lie detection encompasses much more than this elemental representation of the craft. In fact, research has shown that not only were people who watched “Lie to Me” less adept at detecting lies, they also ended up incorrectly identifying honest people as liars. In case you were wondering, this isn’t exactly a good thing.
Ye Olde Body Language
The fictional crime fighters of “Lie to Me,” relied heavily on Old Body Language: the belief that certain rote gestures and physical movements reveal a person’s inner thoughts. But this is a dangerous concept — in some cases due to oversimplification, and in others because it’s just flat-out wrong. In her book, “You Can’t Lie to Me,” body language expert Janine Driver identified a few common myths which interfere with our ability to properly use our innate BS Detectors. Let’s take a closer look at a few of them.
Seeing Eye to Eye
We’ve all heard the expression, “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” While this is a lovely sentiment, the eyes are not necessarily the windows to deception.
For example, many people believe that darting or blinking eyes — along with lack of eye contact — indicate dishonesty. In fact, the overwhelming majority of research concludes the opposite: shifty eye movement and lack of eye contact have no bearing in themselves on truth. Rather, a subject’s true intentions are belied only by a deviation from the norm in terms of eye movement. Why? Because a number of other factors also affect eye movement — from dry contact lenses to ADHD.
In short, to draw a conclusion without first establishing a baseline — and we’ll go a little more into baseline behaviors later — can lead to inaccurate conclusions.
Make Me Laugh
Have you ever held back the temptation to giggle at a completely inappropriate time — like at funeral or during an exam? If so, you’re not alone. Does this mean that your feelings aren’t genuine, or that you find Great Uncle Fred’s deathbed to be as funny as a Seinfeld episode? Of course not. Because while laughter can indicate that you think the situation is funny, it can also be natural defense mechanism.
Anxiety, nerves and even fear can cause all kinds of unexpected behaviors, including laughter. So while liars may laugh, the relationship between laughter and lying isn’t mutually exclusive: plenty of people who laugh aren’t lying, and to assume this as concrete evidence of deception can lead to unfortunate false conclusions.
And it’s not just laughter: other commonly misrepresented indicators of lying include everything from nose scratching to hand wringing to leg jiggling to hair stroking. Of course, these things can suggest lying, but they can also indicate a variety of other things — from an itchy nose to stress to biologically-mandated preening.
Your BS Barometer
Your BS Barometer is both an art and a science; practice and fine tuning are an essential part of a Tool Wizard’s bag of “tricks.” So if you’re learning everything you know about body language from a 5-year-old television program, you are headed down the wrong track. Because while some of these things may hold true in some cases, none hold true in all cases. Deception is variable, and the techniques which recognize deception must acknowledge this.
Until we visit again ...
Keep It Real and Always Live at Level 10,
- Mark Call
Truth Wizards Radio Podcast Host
'Certified' Body Language Trainer