We the specs talk a lot about survival and deception respectively. I decided to do some research on deception and associated clues as it impacts both topics. However, the real impetus for digging into this came from re watching the scene with Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken in Tarantino's True Romance. At one point in the scene the aggressor, Walken, says,

Sicilians are great liars. The best in the world. I'm Sicilian. My father was the world heavy-weight champion of Sicilian liars. From growing up with him I learned the pantomime. There are seventeen different things a guy can do when he lies to give himself away. A guy's got seventeen pantomimes. A woman's got twenty, but a guy's got seventeen… but, if you know them, like you know your own face, they beat lie detectors all to hell. Now, what we got here is a little game of show and tell. You don't wanna show me nothin', but you're tellin me everything. I know you know where they are, so tell me before I do some damage you won't walk away from.

The scene itself is powerful but very dark and graphic. But the whole thing got me thinking, do there really exist a set of 17 to 20 pantomimes or any universally accepted set of rules to detect deception?

I did a little google research and found some articles which tended to identify the same culprits over and over: lack of eye contact, body language, lack of details, long pauses, defensive/offensive behavior, touching the face, nervous movements, pupil dilation, trusting one's instinct and intuition, etc. They quoted psychologists and interrogators but without much supporting evidence. Forbes had a pretty good article on the topic. But there existed no specific set of "laws" so I decided to go a little further and investigate academic papers and CIA/Law Enforcement style publications (the agency writes some incredible manuals). Apparently, at the municipal levels of police work the interrogators generally assume guilt from the onset. The higher ranking government agencies, when dealing with suspected terrorists for example, use techniques like waterboarding and various other fear inspiring methods which are of no use in everyday life should you enjoy life outside prison. Not much help there so I moved to academia.

Saul M. Kassin wrote a paper entitled "Human Judges of Truth, Deception, and Credibility: Confident but Erroneous" in which he says research on the subject has pointed to the fact that in laboratory studies people are generally right only 55% of the time (vs. the 50% coin toss) in detecting deception yet they are very confident in their abilities. Kassin says closing one's eyes and listening tends to result in more accurate lie detection as the cues generally come from, "pauses, hesitations, changes in pitch, and increase in speech rate." But this also assumes you aren't dealing with someone who just talks faster or with an accent (think NYC speech vs anytown, USA). How does one define the control group?

At U of Texas James Pennebaker has developed a linguistic writing analysis software program that is said to be able to identify liars (with 67% accuracy) by virtue of: 1. fewer first person pronouns (i.e. they don't take ownership) 2. More negative emotion words (presumably as they feel guilt) 3. fewer exclusionary words (but, except, nor). However, all of this would only work if someone would submit to a writing test (and had a decent command of the English language). Rachel Adelson in APA Monitor 2004 says deceivers without adequate preparation take longer to respond but those with a rehearsed story begin more quickly. There were some physical cues but the article wasn't that convincing. They also found verbal patterns alter for liars (voice pitch).

This all seems suspect as well since most people view public speaking as the bane of being alive. Seinfeld's joke that most people would prefer to be in the coffin to reading the eulogy comes to mind. Either way public interrogation undoubtedly changes people's methods of communicating. Even if innocent, I am fairly certain someone facing a life sentence would be a bit excited. Or in matters concerning large sums of money people often have difficulty remaining calm…is that broker trying to trick me or is s/he busy and flustered? In the end the whole thing is subject to confirmation bias like so many numerological claims. Simply put, you find whatever you are looking for just by virtue of the fact that you are looking for it. Is that person a liar or did his/her nose itch?! There does not seem to be a clear means to determine with any real degree of accuracy without a large amount of detail and cross examination.

Based on modern research, Tarantino seems to have just written exciting dialogue without any truth behind it. In an unintended twist, while this post hasn't done much to identify deception quickly and easily it probably helps those who would lie to hone their craft. The best laid plans…if anyone has any related info I would love to hear it.

Pitt T. Maner III writes:

A little time back there was a discussion of Ekman's facial research and whether left brain techniques can truly tell what someone is thinking or what they feel in their heart.

I think that reading facial cues though can give clues to deceptive behavior (maybe with the exception of emotionless sociopaths or people who have trained themselves to respond differently or with a poker face). According to Ekman there is a universality to how facial muscles express and reveal emotions.

For a nominal fee of $69 you too can read faces in 1 hour's time. To be tested ….

"METT Advanced will improve your accuracy, as it has more practice and training items-and a review section for additional training than the original version. It will take about one hour.

METT Advanced-Online only This training is meant for those whose work requires them to evaluate truthfulness and detect deception - such as police and security personnel, and those in sales, education, and medical professions . If you should achieve the minimum target score of 80% or higher on the post test, a certificate of completion will be emailed to you . A minimum score of 80% or higher will grant you a certificate of satisfactory completion, a score of 95% or higher will grant you a certificate of expertise.

You can continue to access the training for refresher purposes."

It would be interesting to be proficient in this area and to try to read all the CNBC analysts and stock promoters. There was a guy, for instance, who hammered Netflix last week and was so negative it was almost too much. Did he really believe in what he was saying? How can one be sure without researching his arguments? I guess he was right today …

Heh, and there is a TV show related to the subject. On tonight I believe. Haven't seen it but might be of interest.

LIE TO ME is the compelling drama series inspired by the scientific discoveries of a real-life psychologist who can read clues embedded in the human face, body and voice to expose the truth and lies in criminal investigations.

DR. CAL LIGHTMAN (Tim Roth) is the world's leading deception expert. If you lie to Lightman, he'll see it in your face and your posture or hear it in your voice. If you shrug your shoulder, rotate your hand or even just slightly raise your lower lip, Lightman will spot the lie. By analyzing facial expressions and involuntary body language, he can read feelings ranging from hidden resentment to sexual attraction to jealousy. His work gives him the knowledge and skill set to expertly deceive others as well as detect lies.

A Webmistress adds:

 George, you should check out my favorite blog– she is a true expert on detecting deception with a 99. something percent accuracy rate on high profile cases where she knew people were lying before the truth was known. She says there are no hard and fast ways to know if people are lying, and all the sites and articles that tell you things about how looking to the left or itching your nose or even using facial expressions alone to detect deception are totally misleading and off.

The way she usually analyzes lies I've found after reading all her blog posts for two years is she tries to see whether the things people say and the emotions they show on their face when they are talking about their crime make sense… like if a person is radiating a glow when they are talking about their child being killed by an intruder, they probably were not an innocent bystander in the crime. A parent who loved their child would remember that night as the most horrifying event of their life and the emotions they experienced during that event would come back to them as they remembered it and would show on their face. If they are experiencing joy for whatever twisted reason as they are remembering the event, then something is obviously off. A lot of times people's emotions do not match their stories. 

Also she analyzes what people say when they talk about a crime. When people are lying sometimes they don't make total sense because it's hard to lie…you are fabricating a story and you have to think and constantly censor yourself. But when you are speaking the truth from the heart, it just flows….So often people say things that don't make any sense or indicate what they actually did rather than what they say they did…

Those are just some things I see her doing, but she always emphasizes there are never any rules in detecting deception. The site is great–I've learned a ton from it. 

Stefan Jovanovich comments:

Penebaker and Kassin's investigations confirm once again that baseball is the key to finding the truth in life. If you square up a baseball every time, you will hit .500 (the high school batting averages over .500 are attributable to the poor quality of the fielding). When Ted Williams hit .400, he was, in fact, 8 for 10. A quality player hits .300 - i.e. squares it up 6 out of 10 times, one more than a coin toss. May we all hit .300 for these holidays and the years to come.


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