The esteemed editor of the popular website Kurzweil submitted an article How to tell
when somone's lying
The tips in the short article are said to be based upon the studies of Professor of psychology R. Edward Geiselman, who teaches at the University of
California, Los Angeles.
The article, interestingly, seems to indicate that this cited credential lends credence to the professors expertise, but fails to mention that the
professor is an employee of "The Institute of Analytic Interviewing", a California-consultant firm specializing in training law enforcement how to
detect lies while "interviewing" .... people. The good doctor has testified several hundred times as an expert witness in regards to testimony and
In my opinion, the crux of this notion is among the collection of malignant myths which plague our society.
As a preface, I would like to point out some great reinforcement the doctor and those teaching this idea have. The media has many shows where
forensic specialists and people-reading wizards solve dastardly mysteries in the most entertaining manner. Some of these shows (like "Lie to me")
are extremely entertaining making any suspension of disbelief worthwhile. The reasoning goes like this, a well trained attentive and critical thinker
can, by observation alone, determine the genuine emotional content within the words spoken by another. They can, by cataloging behavior, use a
mechanistic interpretation of subtle cues to tell when a person is straying from an account of fact to one of fabrication.
I would accept that in the world of Hollywood there are superheroes out there who can tell if someone is lying; but in the real world, believing that
is not only naive, it's dangerous. It can lead to tragic accusations and consequences for people who do not merit the kind of treatment they are
bound to receive, simply because some vainglorious officiate is allowed to proclaim he or she 'can tell' when people lie.
I am not going to delve into mysticism or metaphysics here. So let's discount 'psychic hunches' and nebulous indefinable 'instinct' which seems
to suffer abuse in any discussion regarding this topic.
Allow me to touch on some examples which demonstrate my intense rejection of the idea that anyone can ever feel confident that there is a 'way' or
'method' to tell if someone is lying.
(I cannot resist the observation that the article appears to me to be a 'hook' into the current fascinating and sensation public attention given to
'terrorist' threats and Osama bin Laden's demise. Making the baser part of me wonder aloud if they are not trying to drum up business on the heels
When questioned, deceptive people generally want to say as little as possible.
What this tidy meme engenders is the understanding that when interviewed by an authority figure if you do not blather on as if at a cocktail party,
you must be practicing deceptive communication. Or perhaps that all people of a reserved and introspective and concise verbal style are potential
criminals. Also, those who are intimidated and fearful MUST be lying, otherwise they would be spewing a never-ending stream of information for the
interviewer. Of course the interviewer could never be disliked, and therefore the interviewee must be holding back. This particular generalization
discounts the subjects culture, background, upbringing, social status, personal nature, and emotional state - as well as the interviewers personal
For some reason the author thought to include this statement at the end of the segment about this....
Geiselman’s investigative interviewing techniques are designed to get people to talk.
What this implies of course is that all people respond equally to the 'technique' which apparently is presupposed to "always" get "any" person
The author adds that "deceptive people" (we've finally identified the underlying meme) spontaneously justify what they say without prompting.
The first troublesome aspect of this is that we are entering the 'interview' with an understanding that the subject may be among those he
categorizes as 'deceptive people.' Again, it seems clear that volunteering information is a sign of deception, while personal restraint and brevity
is also a sign of deceptive tendencies. In either case, suspicion of intent to deceive becomes 'justified.' Disingenuous investigators and the
occasional strong-arm police officers must like that one.
"First the suspect would only answer in brief sentences... then he started to explain what he said before I asked him to .... it was all too
The technique of Dr. Geiselman is to also point out when subjects repeat questions asked of them; offering two reasons behind the behavior: 1) perhaps
to give themselves time to concoct an answer. and 2) to read you to see if you are buying their story.
If one is of the slow-speaking kind... like about half of all non-euro-white cultures, you are obviously going to end up on the 'suspicious' list
aren't you? Also, there's the small blessing of those cultures who view watching the person you are talking to as rude and confrontational... so at
least they won't be accused of trying to 'read' the interviewer..... But I think trying to get an understanding of how someone is perceiving what
you are telling them is roughly half of the communicative experience, so there's another guaranteed way for people who think the way I do to land on
the 'suspicious' list.
They (liars) tend to use sentence fragments more frequently than truthful people; often, they will start an answer, back up and not complete the
Again, the imposition of such a 'rule' of observation virtually guarantees that you can be considered suspicious no matter how you answer...
hesitate, try to answer deliberately and ensure you are making the point you wish to make and you are a potential liar.... speak an a solid stream of
fluid conversation and appear to have rehearsed your story.... again.. perfect for those who are 'certain' they are questioning the right
They are more likely to press their lips when asked a sensitive question and are more likely to play with their hair or engage in other
“grooming” behaviors. Gesturing toward one’s self with the hands tends to be a sign of deception; gesturing outwardly is not.
This is one of the more outrageous assertions to make, unless you specify that a huge portion of the human population engages in this behavior
according to their own cultural and social standards, thus any such generalizations virtually ensure the imposition of a judgement made by a white guy
about American students and convicts .... not 'people' in general.
The 'wisdom' this article shares dives deeper into trouble as the assert flatly that truthful people when challenged about details, will often deny
that they are lying and explain even more, while deceptive people generally will not provide more specifics. As if the lack of more specifics is a
damning piece of evidence.
Ultimately I see a construct here, one that empowers the interviewer to 'decide' whether the subject will be subjected to more intense scrutiny ..
and it has nothing to do with the truth or lies... it's about the perception of the interviewer and how people like this doctor, mainstream media,
and certain law enforcement institutions want us to believe that there is a magic bullet to detect lies.
For decades it has been known that the 'infallible' polygraph was not in anyway shape or form 'infallible'. This truth was so much in evidence
that courts will not exonerate a suspect based upon polygraph results (although prosecutors continue to use them 'against' the suspect with
impunity.) This is yet another one-way construct to allow for the mechanical acceptance of reasonable suspicion, taught to thousands of people, and
validated by meme repetition and media productions.
People can lie. People can lie so well that not even a machine can tell. People can control their physiology, very gifted people can tell you the
truth and virtually convince you they are lying. It can even be done to machines.
The idea that because someone doesn't look you in the eye, or have a firm handshake, or never gestures outwardly, or speaks slowly, or hardly at
all... these are traits, not indicators. This psychologist is lucky that he and his colleagues are sending a message authoritarians love to hear, and
desperately want us to believe.
"You can't lie to us..., we'll know." - That
is a lie.
If you really believe that these techniques work... do you dare live by them? I hope not, because you may die for them. The most dangerous people in
the world can lie to anyone
without a single hitch in their 'story' and no amount of cookie-cutter pop psychology can change that. But
don't tell the California police departments that dish out millions for the training, all based on a presumption that is far from realistic.
I would continue, but I suspect that many will want to refute my statements here.... if for no other reason than to assuage their fear that there is
no infallible way to tell if someone is lying.... but I'm sorry to say, the right person with the right lie will invariably sail past you
unnoticed... it is the way it is.