Wouldn’t it be great to know when we’re being lied to? And, wouldn’t it be nice if exposing falsehoods were as easy as it is portrayed on television? Changes in nonverbal behavior may indicate deception around key points.
If only it were this easy.
Your boss tells you that “this change is for the best,” but as she speaks, you notice her stiff body posture and forced smile. Is she being honest with you?
Your co-worker says he’d be happy to help you with your project, but he seems to pause a long time before answering – and while talking, his eyes stay focused on his computer monitor. Can you trust what he says?
“You can count on my support.”
“It wasn’t my fault.”
“You’re next in line for a promotion.”
Wouldn’t it be great to know when we’re being lied to? And, wouldn’t it be nice if exposing falsehoods were as easy as it is portrayed on television shows like “Lie to Me” and “The Mentalist?” But of course, those are entertaining fantasies. In real life, human beings are more complex than that. And, as commonplace as deception is, deception detection remains an inexact science.
For the vast majority of the individuals you work with, the act of lying triggers a heightened stress response. And these signs of stress and anxiety are obvious, if you know where to look. Basically, what we’re finding is that the mind has to work a lot harder to generate a false response. One theory – posed by Daniel Langleben, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania – is that, in order to tell a lie, the brain first has to stop itself from telling the truth and then create the deception, and then deal with the accompanying emotions of guilt, anxiety, and the fear of being caught.
Spotting deception begins with observing a person’s baseline behavior under relaxed or generally stress-free conditions so that you can detect meaningful deviations. One of the strategies that experienced police interrogators use is to ask a series of non-threatening questions while observing how the subject behaves when there is no reason to lie. Then, when the more difficult issues get addressed, the officers watch for changes in nonverbal behavior that indicate deception around key points.
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