Friday, January 10, 2014

The Science Of Lying

We have all seen the appeals on TV made by the nearest and dearest of a missing person, they are often heart rending, tearful and difficult to watch. Equally we know that every tear, every nuance, every gesture will be analysed  by a whole team of forensic psychologists and behavioral analysts, waiting for that  little tell of a lie. They look for the verbal and physical signs of incongruity between the words coming out the mouth  with what the body is saying or what the liar is trying to stop the body saying.

                                                 What the future might hold...

 To the untrained eye- no matter how  good you think you are- it’s a 50/50 call whether  you  will spot a  lie or not. You might as well toss a coin, you will be just as accurate. New research by Manchester Metropolitan University is turning the art into a science. Soon you might be able to get an app for your phone to ID any lies that you are being told.
 Or if the taxman has one, any lies that you might be telling.
 It works by the analyzing micro expressions that betray your true thoughts, regardless of what your mouth is saying. The micro expressions   will appear on your face whether you want them to or not.
Of course people can train themselves to lie effectively, but it will never be totally convincing to an expert.
Liars will shake their heads from side to side slightly, while verbalizing yes.
   Ian Huntly killed Jessica and Holly
 On film, caring and concerned.
In reality, guilty.

When asked a question that requires a yes or no answer, a liar can give a gentle shoulder shrug, a ‘don’t know’ middle ground.
Liars have a huge ‘cognitive load’, i.e. the more you think, the less you are in control of your facial expression, or any of your actions. Lying, consistently especially when being interviewed by experts is very hard work for the brain. It is a huge strain on mental resources.  It is easy to clap while reciting the alphabet but the rate of clapping will slow down if you are asked to do the alphabet backwards. In high stake lying, the act of lying itself has a stilling effect on the body.
If asked a difficult question (or a simple one that is hard for a guilty person to answer), a liar will repeat the question to themselves. They will change posture, often to one of protection. The repeated question will be at normal volume, the given answer will be quieter as they are less sure. They can be slow to respond to a simple question like ‘What was she wearing at that time?’
                          Karen knew where her daughter was all along. Shannon was found alive.

It took one very accomplished liar, a double child killer, over one minute to come up with any description of what the girl was wearing the last time he innocently saw her. A whole minute of silence to recall somebody he had seen 24 hours before.
One thing that does tell the liar apart is the inability to recall a simple conversation - it might have only been about a piece of toast but a truthful person can recall it and will recite it nearly word for word. A liar tends not to and will just say they were muttering away about the toast or bumbling about the jam, ‘I wasn’t really listening’ is a common response.
 Liars will go into great details on the minutiae of the solid ground they are on, then gloss over the important bits…. Lots of info on the breakfast who had what, who cooked what, what the dog did, who cleaned up. But when asked what were they talking about… blank. One suspect, later convicted, chats away happily for 60 minutes and 45 of that is about trivia about the  hoover, the  dog hair, all ridiculous detail. A truth teller will be concise, giving a summary of what the interviewer will really want to know.
                                             Stuart appealed for Tia's return - the caring step grandfather.
                                              He had killed Tia and put her in the loft.

Psychopaths enjoy lying of course, they enjoy being better, being cleverer than the forces that are investigating them… the words they are saying that they want the missing person home, please help in the appeal, they will often say how many times the police have interviewed them, how many times their house has been searched… a smile of content—‘duping delight’ accompanied by the tiniest twitch of the side of the mouth, a small flicker of a line under the eye – a surprised smile of triumph.. hence while the film of these  appeals will be watched frame by frame and analysed… the flicker smile on the face can last less than a 1/5th of a second, five frames of film. For this reason the police will often encourage them to take the media spotlight, as the more film they can analyse, the more evidence of lies they will have. And most psychopaths love the limelight.
                                           Maxine believed her boyfriend, Ian Huntly was innocent.
                                           She gave him a false alibi that had seasoned detectives fooled.
                                          She probably  was trying to believe it herself.
It can be more difficult to detect a lie when somebody is lying to protect another, especially somebody they have a close emotional bond with as they can easily lie to themselves first that they are lying for the right reasons… so it can come across as truthful. Their impression management will be well tuned. They will appear nice, they will want to be liked, want the interviewer to trust them and believe them.
But we are not passive information receivers, we make our own decisions about people, reading any body language as signs that we are right. I knew it was him all along!  We have ‘confirmation biases’ and only see clues that support our beliefs Chris Jeffries, Johanna Lees, Lindy Chamberlain.
                         But the public were ready to believe all three guilty.

It can also work against the innocent who see no need to be nice, no need to be liked as they think that as they are telling the truth somehow we can see in to their soul and believe instinctively.
Polygraph is not a lie detector per se, it’s more of a stress indicator. Truth tellers can also get stressed when asked a stressful question. Did you steal that money?  The innocent will get stressed thinking, why do they think it is me?
New computer software reads the face during an interview, thousands of interviews of lies and truth tellers…. Called silence talker…. It recognises ‘truth’, ‘lie’ or ‘unknown’ by reading very specific parts of the face during certain statements. It has over ten years of filmed interviews in its databanks, hundreds of hours of images of fine grained facial features.   It analyses the face - a green light indicating truth. When it detects three untruthful statements or three lie gestures in a row, it turns red.  It goes back and forth during conversation.  It is proving to be 90% accurate and a human being cannot beat it. So why does the word botox come into my mind?? In one of the interviews a subject is asked, ‘Have you lied in this interview?’ He said ‘No’. But I saw a slight nod of the head. Gotcha! It’s currently being tested out on male university students, a police force is about to trial it but it will never replace hard evidence. Like most forensics, it is there as secondary evidence to support an ongoing investigation, not to  lead the direction  of an enquiry.

But think of the consequences in the domestic setting. How much did that dress cost? Were you really working late last night? Size doesn’t matter?  The dinner was lovely? Does my bum look big in this?  
Food for thought.

Caro  GB  10/01/2014


  1. Caro. I need the app now so I can point it at the TV where the governor of NJ is apologizing for his staff's disgusting arrogant frat boy prank that he claims he knew nothing about.

  2. And then, of course, there's no more lying to your doctor about how much exercise you're getting, or how much you're drinking or eating. And then how long before the lie-o-meter becomes part of giving testimony in a court of law? Or when the police officer pulls you over for driving erratically. "No, officer, I was NOT sending a text on my phone! And, no, I most CERTAINLY have not had any alcohol in the past 12 hours!!!"

    But just think what authors might find out about what their readers REALLY think...

  3. Imagine the Silent Talker lighting up like beacon when your editor enquires what the word count is and mentions casually how close the deadline is getting....

  4. If an inability to remember what I'm wearing even as I type this (let alone what someone else wore 24 hours ago), or drawing a blank when asked to recall what I ate for breakfast, yet being able to ramble on for hours about inconsequential matters (to which my students might be quick to attest), are a sure signs of a liar, my goose is cooked, my gig is up, my fish are fried the moment B__ aims one of those "Truth Only But(t) the Truth" devices at my innocent kisser. Thanks for the warning, Caro.

  5. So much for my well practiced impassive face.

  6. Yes Jeff, but as you really, genuinely can't recall it - your face would be green lighted as you were telling the truth. You would of course be red lighted when asked 'But were you actually paying ANY attention when I said that?' and you say 'Of course dear.'