Monday, March 8, 2010

Book Club... And Then Some!

Telling lies: Clues to deceit in the marketplace, politics, and marriage
by Paul Ekman

Book Review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

Telling lies is a book that everyone can read: expert and layman alike. There is no sophisticated vocabulary, scientific terminology, or eloquent theoretical discourses. If you are looking for a specific formula, exact template, or reliable protocol that can be used to investigate or detect liars, this book will serve little purpose because there is no such system. However, if you are looking for a catalog of the wide variety of cues that liars manifest (e.g., words, voice, facial cues, or body), and the results of numerous scientific studies on lying, and examples from politics, sales/business, government, and everyday life that reveal the various cues, this is a delightful, well-written book.

The narrative form that Ekman uses is interesting and engaging. What led me to this book in the first place was some recent research on lying. As reported by Benedict Carey, “Judging Honesty By Words, Not Fidgets,” in The New York Times (May 12, 2009, p. D1), he writes, “In part, the work grows out of a frustration with other methods. Liars do not avert their eyes in an interview on average any more than people telling the truth do, researchers report; they do not fidget, sweat or slump in a chair any more often. They may produce distinct, fleeting changes in expression, experts say, but it is not clear yet how useful it is to analyze those.” The study, according to Carey, draws “on work by Dr. Vrij and Dr. Marcia K. Johnson of Yale, among others,” and was conducted by “Dr. Colwell and Dr. Cheryl Hiscock-Arisman of National University in La Jolla, California. [They] have developed an interview technique that appears to help distinguish a tall tale from a true one.” The actual interview technique is not as important as the conclusion: “People telling the truth tend to add 20 to 30 percent more external detail than do those who are lying.” When liars concoct their prepared deceitful script, it is tight and lacking in detail, whereas those without a deceitful, previously prepared script, recall more extraneous detail and may even make mistakes. “They are sloppier,” say the researchers. The researchers point out that their interview, content-based approach does not apply to individual facts, may be poorly suited for those who have been traumatized and not interested in talking, and it is not likely to flag someone who changes one small but crucial detail in a story.

The point is that in the interview, content-based approach, those who seek to detect lies are not looking for specific nonverbal or verbal clues; they are looking more holistically at content. This “new” science is evolving fast says Carey.


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