Can you recognize when your partner tells a boldface lie? Have you ever stretched the truth on your resume? Do you sometimes offer compliments out of kindness, rather than true genuineness?
According to renowned psychologist Paul Ekman, most adults don't have a clear understanding of deceit. As the inspiration for the hit FOX-TV series Lie to Me, Ekman is best known for his research on universal facial expressions and micro expressions that reveal concealed emotion. His incredible ability to recognize lies has earned him the reputation of being 'the best human lie detector in the world.'
He's also the author of 15 books, including Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage in which he shares his ground breaking research on lying and techniques for detecting deceit. The American Psychological Association has even named Ekman one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century and Time hailed him as one of the most 100 influential people in the world.
Needless to say, Ekman knows a thing or two about lies. But, he reports that most adults don't know the truth about lying. He recently shared the most common misconceptions about lying with me.
Myth #1 -- Everyone lies.
Not so. Not about serious matters, not about lies which if caught could result in the end of a relationship, employment, freedom, large sums of money or life itself. Those are what I call high stake lies; they are the lies that the police and the FBI and insecure spouses are trying to catch. They are the lies of the criminal, the terrorist, the philanderer, the embezzler, and what the cops call 'bad guys'.
Myth #2 -- No one lies.
Hardly. Nearly everyone tells low stake lies. Politeness, for example, or praising the host for a dull dinner and conversation, flattery, and so forth. No one really expects to be told the truth in those situations.
Myth #3 -- Women can spot lies better than men.
No they can't; most people are terrible lie catchers, fooled by high stake lies again and again. Often they want to believe the liar. Do you want to find out your lover is unfaithful, your children are using hard drugs, the person you recommended for the job is embezzling? These are hard truths to accept, so the target of the lie often cooperates in being misled because the truth is too painful.
Myth #4 -- Psychopaths are perfect liars.
Psychopaths are no more skillful at lying than anyone else, but they are so charming we want to believe them, and we do.
Myth #5 -- Looking up and to the left is a sign of lying.
The research shows that which way you look before answering a question is unrelated to whether you are lying.
Myth #6 -- Micro facial expressions are proof of lying.
Fleeting facial expressions do reveal an emotion that is being concealed, and that is a kind of lie, but innocents under suspicion may conceal their fear, or anger about being suspected. You need to find out why they are concealing their emotions in order to judge whether it is sign they are guilty of the offense you are investigating.
Myth #7 -- Scientists have discovered a silver bullet, which works on everyone, to betray a lie.
We don't have Pinocchio's nose. Nothing exists which, if absent, means the person is truthful and if present is proof of lying. The polygraph, the so-called lie detector, is just a little bit better than chance. Yet it does have its use in a criminal investigation--if only one of the suspects fails the test, he or she is the first one to investigate, bearing in mind that this suspect may be the most nervous or worried about not being believed, though innocent.
Myth #8 -- There is no way to spot lying from how people behave.
There are what I like to call 'hot spots' which indicate you are not getting the full story. If you really do want to catch a liar there are nearly thirty different hot spots to pay attention to. Micro facial expressions and gestural slips are the two most important ones, but there are many more.
For example, a slight shrug, usually of one shoulder, coinciding with a verbal statement of confidence is an example of a 'hot spot' revealed in a gestural slip. Something is awry. Another is a slight head shake no, only very slight, when saying 'yes.'
If you're interested in knowing more about Ekman's research, check out his books. You can also go to his website to learn more about the online training tools that can teach you to spot concealed emotions.
Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, keynote speaker, and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, a bestselling book that is being translated into more than 20 languages.