Liar Liar – Part II: Reading in Between the Lies

– By Maha Nadeem Akhtar, NUST Science Blog

Done testing the visual cues? I’ve got better stuff up my sleeve this time. Besides simple look-abouts, there’re many other signs your face gives away while lying. We’re gonna be talking about ‘Micro-expressions’ in this article.

A micro-expression is basically an instantaneous. period. Involuntary. period. Facial expression. period.

And that, folks, pretty much defines micro expressions; unconsciously displayed by traitor faces trying to hide an emotion – or in our case – a lie. What makes us so sure, you ask? Well, since it’s concentrated into a very small fraction of a time, it makes the expression quite intense. It’s hard to spot but undeniable nevertheless.

I’ll be explaining the 7 basic expressions and how they are defined;

Happiness:

Since we are generalizing and converging, here I will signify ‘being happy’ with agreement, acceptance, comfort, etc. Now why subhead it as a micro expression? Why would one want to hide ‘being happy’ that our face tends to reveal? Maybe, at a serious/sad occasion, say a funeral, when one would want to try and pretend to be sad. Or a criminal might flash this micro expression showing that he might actually be proud of his crimes. Happiness is, of course, symbolized with a smile. The key is to recognize a real one.

Super micro hint:

Lip-corners turning up, cheeks rising but most importantly muscles around one’s eyes or crow feet formation (wrinkles at eye corners). Last one’s a must to define a true smile.

Know happy smiles from fake ones. Take a look here.

Sadness:

Happy-go-lucky people who are too self-righteous or whatever to admit that they may be feeling low. People not wanting to reveal sadness, regret, a bad memory associated with an object of conversation, and might give away this micro expression.

Super micro hint:

Drooping eyelids, frowning eyes, lowering of outer edges of eyebrows, little focus in eyes, lip-corners pulled slightly down.

Anger:

Finally a micro expression that’s easily spottable. Hiding anger is the hardest.

Super micro hint:

Tightly pressed lips narrowed, slanted down eyebrows towards the nose, nostrils flaring and most importantly; glaring.

Contempt:

A very interesting micro expression and quite rewarding to spot. The only micro expression that is unilateral (biased to one side of the face). All other micro expressions are equally distributed across the face about a vertical center-line.

Super micro hint:

Raising of one side of the lips. Subtle though it is, it’s pretty easy to catch. May look like a mere twitch coupled with a head tilting back slightly.

Disgust:

Disagreement, discomfort may also be relevant.

Super micro hint:

Upper lip raised to expose teeth and wrinkling of the nose.

Fear:

Enough said?

Super micro hint:

Lips stretched horizontally, lower eyelids tensed, upper eyelids raised, eyebrows raised and pushed together.

For a perfect example of micro fear expression, take a look here.

Surprise:

Be it a liar being caught or an innocent being accused wrongly; either way this is a very important micro expression in terms of lie detection.

Super micro hint:

Widened eyes, raised eyebrows and mouth opening a little.

Super duper micro hint!

If someone leaves their eyebrows lifted for more than a second, they are faking, my guarantee.

Lie detection through micro expressions is not just about knowing which expression is which. The real deal is spotting the micro expression embedded in the flow of expressions in a conversation for the micro expression – very rightfully named – lasts 1/25th of a second (to a full second for longest). Imagine the skill required to catch that.

It takes a LOT of practice. Trying hunting lies on TV. For practice’s sake, here’s a test for designed on the basis of “The Micro Expression Training Tool” by Dr. Ekman of University of California Medical School in San Francisco. Check it out!

Happy hunting! 🙂

And oh, btw, the article is almost totally based on research of the Psychology Professor from San Fransisco I mentioned above. The pictures are of Tim Roth – Dr Lightman from the FOX TV show ‘Lie To Me’.

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