How to Read Body Language and Identify Deception

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This article explains how to read body language to identify deception. Using these investigation techniques, anyone can learn how to determine who is telling the truth and who is lying.

What if you were investigating the disappearance of an attractive young woman, and her husband said, “In the morning, I’ve been taking the dog down to the park where she walked. It was our time. A lot of times, I can’t make it very far,” he says, crying.

Do you believe him? Are his tears genuine or crocodile? Are you hearing the words of a man suffering an unspeakable loss? If you think he is grieving, you have been deceived. You are not the first person to be deceived by a convicted murderer, Scot Peterson.

According to the prosecution at his headlining trial, Peterson killed his wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner. Peterson, who exhibits various psychopathic tendencies, deceived Laci, his girlfriend Amber Freye, his parents and siblings, Laci’s family, and a sympathetic public.

Read Body Language to Detect Deception

As a species, our ability to detect lies is disappointingly poor despite millennia of communication. Scientists aim to identify the most reliable lie detectors among professionals and pinpoint specific gestures, facial expressions, eye movements, and body tension indicative of truth or falsehood.

Approximately 100 years of lie detection research yield limited useful data. Professionals like law enforcement officers, psychologists, and judges aren’t notably better at detecting lies than average individuals. However, Secret Service agents excel in reading dishonesty through body language and verbal cues due to their specialized training.

Recognizing truthfulness consistently could significantly reduce the costs of our multi-billion dollar judicial system. High-profile trials, like those of O.J. Simpsons and Scott Peterson, incur substantial expenses, with Peterson’s trial costing taxpayers $4 million. Accurate lie detection could prevent innocent individuals from becoming suspects, saving time and money in legal proceedings.

The Quest for Truth

Diogenes (the Cynic) isn’t the sole misanthrope seeking an honest person. The quest for a reliable method to analyze truth and lies has continued since communal living began. Various civilizations have attempted to address this issue, and one contemporary effort is the polygraph, developed in 1918. Polygraphs are increasingly used in pre-employment assessments.

Despite being utilized in the legal system, polygraph results are generally inadmissible in court due to variations influenced by the operator’s experience, training, skill, and sensitivity. The polygraph’s origins are traced back to an ancient Chinese honesty test involving holding rice in one’s mouth, but its reliability is questionable. The autonomic system, governing glands, responds to stressors like fear and anxiety, impacting saliva production.

The US military’s National Polygraph Training Center, situated in Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, is working on advancing lie detection into the 21st century. During the Cold War, intelligence agencies used so-called truth serums, like barbiturates, to extract information. Still, these are no longer employed due to unreliability, potential dependence, addiction, and side effects.

Various historical methods for detecting lies, such as observing body language or peculiar behaviors, are subjective and lack scientific basis. In a 2006 case, a Nevada Highway Patrolman, Eddie Dutchover, detected a wanted polygamist, Warren Steed Jeffs, through the observation of a pulsating carotid artery. Unlike skilled officers like Dutchover, most people do not recognize such physiological indicators.

In the pursuit of truth, numerous reasonable explanations exist for behaviors associated with lying. While people may have individual methods for detecting deception, relying solely on subjective cues can lead to misinterpretation. Advances in lie detection methods, such as those developed by the National Polygraph Training Center, offer hope for more accurate and reliable truth verification.

Body Language as a Lie Detector

Humans use many forms of deception. Facial expression is a very complex and easily manipulated form of communication. Facial expression can be quite subtle. Very few individuals are accomplished incorrectly interpreting deceptive motives or emotions. To complicate matters, the facial expression is achieved using an infinite combination of musculature, features, skin elasticity, and complexion.

Even the skilled Secret Service Agent can be misled. Understanding body language is critical for officer safety. There is more to body language than movement. Behavioral studies indicate that individuals establish a personal space circumference, which may change depending on the type of message they are sending and their goal. We establish a comfortable distance for personal interaction and nonverbal (unconsciously) define this as our perimeter. Personal distance is just as much a part of non-verbal communication as a smile or a frown.

Notice the extent of facial muscle involvement in a smile – more muscles mean a more natural expression. In situations of distrust or paranoia, personal space tends to increase. Law enforcement training emphasizes maintaining a safe distance from suspects. Your subconscious may signal danger or discomfort if you instinctively move back from someone. Be attentive to these cues. Conversely, if a suspect encroaches on your personal space, it might suggest aggression or intimidation. Tactical body language comprises facial expressions, gestures, stances, and personal space. Remember, while observing a suspect’s body language, they also scrutinize yours. Evaluate your body language in a mirror to understand the messages you convey.

Facial Indicators

The following indicators will help you read body language. Here are a few obvious facial signals:

  • nostril flare (may signal arousal or anger)
  • grin (happiness, affiliation, contentment)
  • grimace (fear)
  • lip compression (anger, high emotion, frustration)
  • canine snarl (disgust)
  • lip pout (sadness, submission, uncertainty, seduction)
  • Sneer (contempt, intimidation)
  • Frown (anger, sadness, concentration)
  • brow raise (intensity, curiosity, slight surprise).
  • Big pupils (arousal, fight-or-flight, drugs)
  • Small pupils (rest-and-digest)
  • direct gaze (affiliate, threat, deception)
  • gaze-down (submission, deception, distraction)

(Adapted from Givens, 1998-202, Center for Nonverbal Studies)

Remember, you are not the only person who studies body language. Don’t forget misleading body language can be used to do just that—mislead. Look at the individual’s entire presentation when in doubt. Incongruity may be an attempt to conceal or mislead. The truth is consistent. When the spoken word is at cross purposes with body language, it is usually safer to believe the body because body language is more likely to be unconscious.

Read the book Frogs into Princes: Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Richard Bandler and John Grinder. I read it several years ago. However, it is not an easy read. But it does contain fascinating information to help you better understand yourself and others. Also, the site listed under the first scoring category above is a treasure trove of helpful information. Begin your research study. Watch your fellow beings and note their behavior under various circumstances.

Sale
Frogs Into Princes: The Introduction to Neuro-Linguistic Programming
  • Richard Bandler (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 208 Pages – 06/01/1990 (Publication Date) – Eden Grove Editions (Publisher)

If you have any questions about how to read body language, please post a message below.

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