Paul Ekman's classic book on how to tell when someone is lying has been issued in a third edition which includes his more recent research. Made popular by the Fox TV show "Lie to Me
," this book documents the line of research used, not only by the show, but by Secret Service, police, jealous spouses and a host of others who want to be better at detecting lies. New material includes how to identify the facial expressions indicating that someone is likely to become violent.
Ekman points out that we often look for the wrong things when trying to detect deception. Even much of the information he has reviewed in training materials for job interviewers, jury selection, and other deception detection professionals is just plain wrong. The hard part about lying effectively is not concealing information, it is concealing the emotions the liar feels while lying. Guilt, fear and even the "duping delight" a clever liar feels when getting away with a falsehood can provide clues obvious to a trained observer. While Ekman acknowledges the value of verbal slips and body language cues, his research reveals the greater value of focusing on facial expressions, particularly "microexpressions" that are displayed and quickly concealed. He teaches readers to identify and interpret them.
Some of the interesting points the book makes as it teaches us to catch liars in the act:
- We should avoid the "Brokaw Hazard" of assuming someone is lying because their speech seems evasive or convoluted. Some people just speak this way, lying or not.
- We should also avoid the "Othello Error" of branding someone a liar because of fidgety behavior, such as repeatedly touching themselves or adjusting their clothing. They may be uncomfortable, but are not necessarily lying.
- Emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, disgust, distress, happiness, contentment, excitement, surprise and contempt are conveyed by distinct facial expressions, common across all cultures.
- Deception detection is most effective by someone who is familiar with a possible liar's usual behavior and can notice deviations from it.
Paul Ekman's book is recommended for anyone interested in detecting lying. It is a rough read in some places for a popular book, but is far more readable that the journal articles we would need to read without it. Forgive the author his writing style and learn some valuable lessons about his area of expertise.