5/21/11

Microexpressions: Lie Detection 101

When I picked up playing Texas Hold'em poker, I read a lot. I read books by the poker pros, I read tournament strategy, I read statistics and probability and I read about bluffs and tells. It was in the latter selection of reading that I began to really focus on body language and microexpressions. I read books on lying and lying theory. I read books on common body language reading and how to baseline people. But microexpressions really interested me in that they were a split-second "slip of the tongue" except in this case the tongue was your face and the slip was an involuntary muscle reaction of the mind. I could not believe what I was reading. Was there really a method of lie detection that worked on everybody and I just did not know about it? I had to research more.


Microexpressions came about pretty recently and have only been in research for the past thirty years. The man at the forefront of the work (and the basis for the protagonist of the show Lie to Me) is Paul Ekman. Are there others in the field who contributed/discovered a lot of information and breakthroughs for microexpressions? Sure, but Paul Ekman was the one to map every muscle movement of the human face and correlate it to a particular emotion, whether it may be shame, pride, contempt or amusement. Keep in mind when I say split second, we're taking about somewhere between "1/15 of a second to 1/25 of a second." No wonder I had not been seeing the signs before.

In one of Ekman's books on the subject, Ekman recalls a story of a psych-patient looking for a weekend pass away from the hospital. The patient was there because of severe bouts of depression and had previously attempted suicide, but on the review of her temporary release, she was smiles and laughter. It was her daughters birthday, the patient explained to the board in charge of approving her release, and she so very much wanted to be with her for this occasion. The interview was filmed, as they all were and the voices of the board could be heard asking the patient a number of questions. The patient smiled and politely answered them, explaining she had lied previously for weekend passes when she was denied, but on this occasion she was sincerely feeling better, happy for life. Just as the patient was approved for her weekend pass she came clean: do not approve her, she stated, because the only thing she wanted to do when she went home was kill herself.

When Ekman reviewed the tape of the interview, he watched the events over and over. The length was roughly twelve minutes long and at first, nothing came to his mind that the patient was employing deception. But as Ekman began to slow the tape down and now that he knew the conversation by heart, certain segments of the piece did not sit with him. When asked about her plans for the future, the patient hesitated and Ekman clearly saw a split-second reaction that hinted to the contrary of her supposed happiness. It was pain, and it was sadness. When asked about how the patient was coping with her present feelings, the patient shrugged. But it wasn't a full, double shoulder shrug that would be used normally. It was controlled, much like the expression that looked unsure on her face. The patient deceived the doctors because everything was obviously happening in real time. Only when Ekman's edited video was slowed to nearly one-twentieth fifth of a second of the normal speed did anything come to light. A microexpression.

Ekman has a program on the market which you can buy to train yourself to spot microexpressions. The program is currently used by various government agencies that are specifically in need of facial reading and microexpression detection. There are various training programs online for free that you can test your own skills at facial recognition and mircoexpression detection at Ekman's own site F.A.C.E. training and at M.E.T.T. training tool. For both cases only click the number/slide/test section once. If you have to repeat the facial expression, you've already failed that question.

37 comments:

  1. i'm lying right now

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  2. whoa. nice article. keep it up!

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  3. Commented on the wrong post there....
    Literally don't know how that happened.

    Great post... :D

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  4. fascinating, groundbreaking stuff. I psychologists make soem good progress with it. i speak from personal experience when i say that there have been patients, like the lady in your story who have had depression and faked their way out only to kill themselves.

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  5. It much easier to tell face to face. Think about how communicating by text lessens the degree of understanding.

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  6. interesting, nice blog

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  7. I could never pick up on microexpressions. They go completely unnoticed with me. Really interesting to study though.

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  8. very interesting

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  9. Nice post, maybe i should come back at poker..

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  10. Great read, seems like it could help even in everyday conversation.

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  11. Another excellent article on a subject that really interests me. I wonder how one could go about coniditioning one's self such that these little "slips of the tongue" are removed altogether.

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  12. This is really neat. I've always wanted to read a little more into things like this, to get a bit better at detecting them myself. Thanks for sharing :)

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  13. I'll search for Paul Ekman books, want to learn that stuff

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  14. Nice. I'd stil beat you in poker, though.

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  15. The surprised face is the funniest one. Good read

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  16. So if I play poker with you, I will have to fake these expressions to get a big pot from you?

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  17. haha, have to try this out

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  18. cool post. never stop to think about that stuff.

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  19. That's why I always load my face up with hefty amounts of Botox before I play poker.

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  20. Xebitoth, it is very difficult to fake micro expressions, they are jerk reactions most of the time. And bear in mind that this all happens in a split second, it would be hard to consciously "react" like that.

    I'm a fan of Lie to Me, and I now plan to read one of Ekman books, Any suggestions Fortune?

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  21. @Ezz, Telling Lies

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  22. I just realized from looking at those pictures that "disgust" takes less face muscles to pull off then "happiness". That's kind of sad in a way.

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  23. Quality post, bro.

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  24. well i guess i didnt know that... i mean reading emotions outta peoples faces. thats very hard.

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  25. If you know exactly what to avoid doing when telling a lie, some people can get very good at it.

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  26. Hehe nice one, I like the series.

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  27. love your posts m8. they're always so interesting

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  28. Its so weird what people hide up their in between their skulls.

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  29. that's really interesting and actually really useful. it could be applied to everyday jobs and not only poker

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  30. Being slightly sociopathic myself, I need to know micro expressions as I find it hard to trust people. This article is pretty much a confirmation of everything I've learnt from experience.

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  31. man this is relly cool

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  32. I've always found it relatively easy to read people, more so now that i've actually started concentrated on doing it; this post was great - got some confirmations and tips :>

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  33. I think its interesting when you can read a certain expression for a brief moment, and than the other person manages to mask it.

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  34. body language is such a good thing to study! if your a cop, or play poker they will both benefit a great deal! just too bad poker players can wear hats and sunglasses... oh well.

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  35. Pretty cool tips, new most of them but i did pick up a few little tricks on reading people

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