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”.