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Telling Lies

Clues To Deceit In The Marketplace, Politics and Marriage

Paul Ekman

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In many deceits the victim overlooks the liar's mistakes, to avoid the terrible consequences of uncovering the lie. By overlooking the signs of his wife's affair, the husband may at least postpone the humiliation of being exposed as a cuckold and the chance of divorce. As long as nothing is said, he can still cling to the sliver of hope that he's wrong, and she isn't cheating.

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A husband may tell his wife that, although hurt, he could have excused her affair if she had not lied about it. The loss of trust, he is claiming, is greater than the loss of belief in her fidelity. Of course it may not be true. Confessing an affair might be construed as cruelty, and the other may have preferred not to have known about it. Husband and wife may not agree. Feelings may change over the course of the marriage. Attitudes may change radically once there has been an affair, from what they held when it was hypothetical.

There is no single signal of deceit. There are only clues of emotions which don't fit the story being told. Le catcher has to learn how emotion is registered in speech, body face and hands. A barrage of information - too much to watch all at once - words, pauses, sound of voice, expressions, head movements, gestures, posture, sweating or blushing etc etc.

But not all are important - most people pay attention to the words and facial expressions, which are the least trustworthy indicators, and so are easily misled. Everyone learns as they grow up that people pay close attention to yr words. Liars carefully censor what they say because they know they will be held accountable for that, far more so than expressions or sound of their voice. They can always say "You misinterpreted - there was no anger in my voice."

Liars try to pay as much attention to their facial expressions as they do to their words, but that's not as easy. Words can be rehearsed, but face, not as much. Few people are aware of the expressions that show on their face. When emotion is aroused, the muscles on the face begin to fire involuntarily.

Should pay most attention to the voice and the body. it is very hard to conceal some of the changes that occur in the voice when emotion is aroused. Most people don't put much effort into hiding body movements, mainly because they never had to as they were growing up. Everybody else is usually too busy watching face and listening to the words.

Found it difficult to study lying in the lab, because people didn't want to tell lies with scientists watching them. So devised an expt using student nurses, who cd be told that they needed to be able to lie sometimes so as not to upset already traumatised patients. The expt involved watching 2 different videos. One was a pleasant landscape. The other was very unpleasant. A bit of research told them that the worst things to look at were burns victims (because you knew couldn't do much to relieve pain) and amputations (because you cd imagine how upset they wd be when they woke up missing some bits). So they cut the two videos together to make it look as if the amputees had got badly burnt, and then made nurses watch that. And they had to describe what they were 'seeing' on screen as if it was the landscape, and were marked as to how well they cd deceive the listener.

Interestingly, Ekman later found that the students who did best on the 'test' (ie cd hide their emotions well enough to fool the listener) turned out to be the best nurses later on.

Even the best showed little 'tells' - student after student gave lie away with a slight shrug when the listener asked them "Do you want to watch some more?" Shrug of helplessness or defeat. A shrug is an example of an emblem. Without words a gesture can mean anything, but an emblem can be used in place of a word, or when a word can't be used. There about 60 US emblems - things like head shake=no, hand to ear =talk louder.

Emblems show leakages in two ways. First they are incomplete - a tiny shrug, moving just part of one shoulder. Second, an emblem is usually performed obviously, usually out in front - giving someone the finger in anger. But a leakage example might involve just the finger showing on a hand in yr lap, not waved around obviously.

Often just simple carelessness gives liar away. Cites guy applying for a job with three glowing references, but each one mispelled the same word.

Face often contains 2 expressions at once - the false one to serve the lie, and the concealed one which leaks momentarily. Some face muscles under deliberate control, others not without intensive training. Most people can't detect false expressions (although most are convinced that they can). (Japanese famous for being able to suppress emotions but only applies when a social superior in room - if by themselves, they express as much as others.)

Face showing fear or terror eyebrows always both raised and pulled together. This is involuntary - it is extremely difficult to produce it deliberately.Everyone can do them separately, but not together.

Gaze is averted with a number of emotions - downward with sadness, down and away with shame or guilt, and away with disgust.(But most liars are aware of this, and can fool people with calm direct stare).

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