Sunday, June 5, 2011

Eye Contact: The Myths About Lying; The Truth About Deepening Your Love!

This week I was confronted, once again, with the old myth about lack of eye contact being indicative of deception. Someone I know had been involved in interviewing a candidate for a job. He told me he was convinced the candidate was being dishonest because “he kept looking away and wouldn’t look me in the eyes”.

Oh, dear! Their gut reaction that the candidate was dishonest may have been correct, but it is highly unlikely it was being shown by the lack of eye contact.

I shall now add my lawyer's disclaimer and preface what I am about to say by stating that I do advise people going for job interviews to try to not let their eyes wander around the room while they are being questioned. I say this out of an abundance of caution, for fear that the interviewer will think the candidate is disinterested or, worse still, a liar. I do not, I hasten to add, give this advice because this is necessarily a sign of either disinterest or lies, but because people THINK it is.

We can blame all of those who, through the ages, have said: “look me in the eyes and say that.”

Professor Aldert Vrij of Portsmouth University has written about eye contact and deception. His research, along with the research of many other deception experts and the experience of my colleagues and I, has shown that, while an averted gaze is often considered a sign of rudeness, rejection or deception it is in fact not to be presumed to be any of these. Why do I say “not to be presumed” rather than “is NOT any of these”, simply because the person might be lying, but this is not a good indicator, or tell, that they are.

Indeed, Vrij is quick to point out, and most of us instinctively know to be true, that an averted gaze is often a comfort display. We look away because we feel comfortable in doing so, as we sense no threat from the person before us. Also, looking away can allow us to clarify our thoughts, or allow the unconscious mind to provide us with information while the conscious mind is distracted elsewhere.

There is even research by, among others, Evan Marshall, that some people actually increase eye contact when they are lying. When we think about the misconceptions regarding eye contact and veracity this makes perfect sense. If we think that good eye contact equals veracity then wouldn’t it be safe to assume that liars do too? And, wouldn’t it therefore be safe to assume that they would want to increase eye contact to make us believe they are being truthful?

While I am on the topic, another common misconception about "lying eyes" (and there are many) regards blink-rates. The thought goes that people will blink with greater frequency the more dishonest they are being. Unfortunately, while it has been scientifically proven that blink-rates increase with anxiety, this is the case whether the person is lying or not. Anxiety can be caused by things other than lying, so again, people need to be careful before they yell “liar, liar pants on fire” at someone who just remembered they forgot an anniversary or at someone who is having difficulty breaking in a new pair of contact lenses.

It is unfortunate that a lot of research that has been conducted into non-verbal indicators of moods and feelings has been twisted, or overstretched, by those keen to state that they have just perfected the latest technique for training human lie detectors. There is, I shall say again, no such thing as a human lie detector, but there are very effective detection of deception methodologies that rely on stimulus based reactions and proven indicators that occur in clusters.

For me the fact that I can read the mood of an individual through non-verbal indicators is a hugely beneficial skill set. Many times that tells me all I need to know about them and the situation without having to kick in an actual detection of deception methodology.

I shall however end on a happy note regarding eye contact and provide some information that may help deepen your affection for the special person in your life. Let us look at eye contact and love!

There was a wonderful experiment conducted in the 1980s by Professor James Laird of Clark University. The experiment he conducted was based on the assumption that loving couples spent a lot of time staring into each other’s eyes. Laird wanted to show that a feeling of love could be created by having people stare into the eyes of another. In essence, he wanted to show that the way we feel influences our actions and that the way we act influences our feelings. Laird was right!

The experiment showed that people in the experiment felt increased amorous feelings for those whose eyes they had stared into. So if you want to increase amorous feelings between you and your partner spend some time staring into their eyes.

Do liars make us love them, or feel more friendly towards them by staring into our eyes? Perhaps they do, or perhaps that would be as big a jump as those who say that indicators of feelings “prove” someone is a liar. However when it comes to veracity don’t rely on lack of eye contact as evidence through which you can presume a lie. When it comes to love though, to pervert a common legislative pronouncement: “the eyes have it”.

30 comments:

  1. Excellent, very well researched and well written. What impresses me most is that you do not over-promise or present hype. It would be great, with your skills, if you would write a book pulling it all together. Nicely done!

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  2. Jim Partrick, MDJune 5, 2011 at 4:19 PM

    Again, I am just going to say you should take this into the business arena and start applying this to stocks. I would also encourage you to write a book. You have tremendous writing skill and a really neat wit, together with subject matter knowledge that would be something I would buy and I don't buy many books.

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  3. Angie, Washington, DCJune 5, 2011 at 4:20 PM

    You really should be on TV!

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  4. I am a huge sceptic on all this human lie detector stuff too. What grinds my gears is people who claim tiny micro-expressions (that they admit can only really be seen on video playback) tell you someone is lying. That is bull!

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  5. Tell us how to get people to love us, right after you beat up on Weiner. You are a hypocrite. Blink rates are proven to be effective determinants of lies just like profuse sweating and steepling of fingers. You should do some more research or do your right wing masters not allow that?

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  6. Great post and good stuff. I agree you should write a book and relate this to business and stocks.

    I am surprised by the number of people who buy into the facial stuff. The creators were nowehere near as confident about it being indcator of lies a few years ago but I guess making it look better sells shows and books. Emotions do not equal lies: THANK YOU so much for setting that straight before more people fall victim to that "lie"

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  7. I read a study was done on blinking focusing on Nixon's "I am not a crook" speech. Thankfully more research has now been done and we have learned blinking equals discomfort or anxiety but we canNOT tell where that comes from.

    Nicely written and well researched. It would have been better if you had rounded out the other eye myths.

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  8. More propaganda from the CIA man and his buddies! What happened, no progressive politician for you to beat up on today?

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  9. It seems a solid detection of deception model would work well in higher education in concert with HR, negotiations, mediation and threat management (especially investigations). I would be interested in knowing your thoughts on overlap?

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  10. Anyone who tries to sell a lie detection method without science to back it up is a liar! And are you suggesting that if I keep starring into my dog's eyes I will want to date him?

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  11. @Jimbo: Word is staring and I would imagine from your post your dog would say no anyway!

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  12. Henri, Marseille, FranceJune 5, 2011 at 5:03 PM

    The point about liar making us love or like them by look deep in our eye while lying is, perhaps, a very good one I have not yet read in other literature and think, perhaps, you have hit on something other than just acting in way we will believe because of all we read. This is excellent article and I am now reading your other piece which I think I enjoy. I look forward to reading more and agree book would be nice as you have good humour. Bon chance!

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  13. Lars, Koln, DeutschlandJune 5, 2011 at 5:08 PM

    Very excellent writing. I am glad you write this as culture is big difference and many peoples not comfort looking into eyes of other.

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  14. In Russia is very ride to stare into eyes.

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  15. It is a shame people buy into the bull they read in "bestsellers" or see on a TV show. Hurts us all!

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  16. Any intelligent liar who sees a book at Barnes and Noble on lie detection will read it. Looking up and to the left, looking away, blink rate, crossed arms, open and face-up palms, facial expressions, etc. Anything that tells you what to look for in body language/microexpressions can be replicated by someone attempting/needing to imitate body language.

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  17. @ Fortune from ex-RangerJune 5, 2011 at 5:50 PM

    I am sorry but that is a naiive comment spoken by someone who may have read a bit but never put it into play. There are many reflexes that cannot be faked and there are many tells / responses you won't find in your books and these give you the keys to the kingdom if you know where to look and how to dig. A select group know them. Most of the books are on moods and emotions but the authors want to sell them so they say they are detection of deception. Look at early work of one well known face recognition man that is now sold as lie detection. There are more things in heaven and earth than.......

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  18. Eh... I put them into play on a daily basis, its in my pathology. There are 43 muscles in the human face that control/makeup/form the emotional responses we show on a daily basis. Learning to control these muscles is the same as learning to wiggle your ears. You stare in the mirror, and you practice...

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  19. My point is, at best, you are looking at someone's mood. If you are doing the "lie to me" facial stuff you should be aware that a study done showed people trained in that were no better than others, it was coin toss stuff. All the good stuff is kept under lock and key and away from civilians, don't be fooled!

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  20. George, Gauteng RSAJune 6, 2011 at 5:22 AM

    I am interested in the application of this in two arenas business and sports. The scandals in football now could really use some analysis, not of the media review, but sitting down in the room with people like Blatter and the others who have brought football into disrepute. In business I think much could be gained from a thorough analysis of statements made by C-Suite fellows. Here I look at Eskom and other debacles, in the USA you had your Enron. I would also have said politics but, here especially, we run on the assumption people are lying to us on a daily basis and so a method for determining truth might be better placed. Sterkte vir die toekoms!

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  21. Great piece, Sir, and grounded in research. Very few people actually cite research anymore. I am going to add my 2 cents (although not the currency of my country) and say yes, it would be great if you could put all of this (moods, emotions, deception) into one place / book. I also appreciate you continuing to write this blog with such interesting views on it. I do not by any means agree with all you say but, I believe you are honourable and have a great sense of humour and that is what is appealing. Plus, it does not seem that you censor out comments that are negative to your viewpoint. There are very few bloggers wh are not in the mainstream media who do that. So good job and please keep it coming.

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  22. Nice. Shame that so many people have taken mood determinants and tried to sell them as lie detecting. I read your article on Assange and I completely disagree with you. But this is solid and worth the read, more of this kind would be good. There are too many political pundits out there, punditry with a lie detection edge, that would be good. Cheers!

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  23. Interesting, I am former LEO have always been taught that liars avoid eye contact, blink a lot and squirm a great deal. That is still taught a lot in academies. You seem to have done your homework and I love that you focus on emotions, I think there is a lot of traction to be gained from looking at those. This was forwarded to me by a friend and current officer and I will stay tuned in hopes you do some more of these.

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  24. As I stated on another blog piece: I am intrigued to see if this crosses over into the corporate world and whether there are publications that run this type of analysis for investors?

    You write very well and with a ready wit, I think the combination of legal analysis coupled with easy writing skill and your abilities to detect deception and gauge emotions make your publication a potent tool that could be very lucrative. I would counsel though that you be wary of too much political commentary without analysis as it can turn people off (you appear already to have one negative "fan").

    Do keep them coming!

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  25. More bullsh*t from a right-wing apologist member of the profession that invented lying!

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  26. I took one of your classes and do enjoy reading what you have to say. You know your stuff and can communicate it very well. You know I am telling the truth as I already have my grade 8-)

    I am interested to know if the reading of emotions has overlap with threat assessment. Now I am teaching I am looking for more tools to help me become a better threat management practitioner.

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  27. Your method works, you got Weiner.

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  28. Good points. There is one issue though, how do you convince people that eye contact is not indicative of veracity? Aside from blogs and articles, it seems to me that something must be done or people will lose out on job opportunities because of misconceptions. I hope you will post more like this, very useful.

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  29. I love this post. I am definitely one of those people that break eye contact in order to make my thoughts come together more coherently. It's nice to have more info about this out there so that employers are aware that breaking eye contact isn't a sign of weakness or deception. Very well-written.

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  30. Great article you really know your stuff. There are a lot of books out there that spout all kinds of BS, seems you did your homework and your research!

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