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February 2006 - Newsletter

“I’ll read the books so you don’t have to!”
Wendy Allen, Ph.D, MFT


I have always been fascinated with the nature of lying. We all lie- a world without “little white lies” would be uncivilized. And 99% of us have told bigger lies in our lifespan. For most of us, lies told in our personal life makes us feel bad, but lies in business are often deemed acceptable and commonplace.

“Everybody lies, every day; every hour; awake, asleep; in his dreams, in his joy; in his mourning.” Mark Twain

I worked with custody cases for many years and often needed to figure out who was lying when Mom/Dad/and Child would tell me completely opposites recounting of the same account. I got good at it because I followed eye movements and also just got a sense of the energy in the room.

What I mean by this is, Neuro-Linguistic Programming says that when people are constructing imaginary or  fantasy images we look up and to the left if we are right-handed and up and to the right if we are left-handed. Think, “What color is my Mom’s hair?” Where did your eyes go? Now think, “I’m an astronaut and when I went to the moon I made a snow-man out of moon dust.” Where did your eyes go this time?

“The visionary lies to himself. the liar only to others.” Frederich Nietzcehe

There has been some research lately that says been some research lately saying that this analysis is too simplistic to be counted upon. However detectives use it along with other tools .One time I read about a detective who was featured in an “Outside Magazine” story about an investigation into poaching in a national park. He claimed he could tell within one minute if someone was lying. I got very excited and tracked him down to a sub-station in Wyoming. He said that he teaches his skills to trainees in one hour but he wouldn’t tell me what they were. Maybe he thought I was a secret poacher (which is hard to be in Santa Barbara)..

The Way the Brain Works Can Tip You Off
(some excerpts from “The New Science of Lying.” New York Times Magazine, February 5, 2006, ppgs 48-83.

Charles Bond, a psychologist at Texas Christian University reported that among 2,520 adults surveyed in 6.3 countries, more than 70% believe that liars tend to avert their gazes and/or stutter, touch, or scratch themselves or tell longer stories than usual.

The sad truth is, this is mostly a myth.

 “There’s no such thing as a dead give-away. Only about 5% of people have some kind of innate ability to sniff out deception with accuracy” said Bond.

The subject lying is very hot right now. Not only is it important to sniff out every-day issues but the federal government is pouring money into lie research in the war on terrorism.

The polygraph machine does not necessarily point out lies. It just points out emotional arousal, like sweating. This is why it is not admissible in courts. Sensitive M.R.I. machines that show the brain in action. It can show that certain regions of the brain were more active on average, especially the cingulated cortex, when a subject was admittedly lying. Brain mapping, however, is still a strategy for the future.

At Harvard, psychologist Stephen Kosslyn more specifically saw that the anterior cingulated cortex lights up when a subject has been instructed to spontaneous lie. A spontaneous lie might be, “who was that on the phone?” “Oh, it was a wrong number.”
A rehearsed lie would be something like, “I went to your office to surprise you and your secretary said you were out. Where were you?” “I was at a meeting with my banker.”

The rehearsed lie has been put into place often hours before it is needed and all a brain needs to do is retrieve it. The spontaneous lie takes more work and show more brain activity.

“Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth.” Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1939

Deception researchers use a refined version of the ordinary EEG. It shows that subject took a longer time (200 milliseconds longer) to lie than to tell the truth. Now, this is something that can visibly show up when you are trying to read the liar’s behavior.

In the book, Telling Lies by lie-catcher Paul Ekman, he presents his “facial action coding system.” These are the facial expressions we all use that are hard-wired to the brain and will show up without our conscious control. However, they are fleeting because as every liar know, putting on a false face is very important.

I have seen this book and it is filled with hundreds and hundreds of facial expression. It is impossible to learn the code just by reading. One needs to go to an Ekman training. Ekman says that one can be trained easily to learn to read these fleeting expressions that do no match the lying words. 

“Liars cannot control the ‘leakage’ (reports Ekman) of their true feelings which run in microexpressions that last half a second.

He also says that voice, hand movements, posture, and speech patterns can also run across the body and don’t fit the words. Liars may choose words that construct “distancing” language, like talking in the third person. Example, “Are you having an affair with your secretary?” “You know it’s against office policy for anyone to have an affair with an employee” “Distancing” liars often soften their tone at the end of their sentence.

Ekman also points to distracting behavior by the liar when asked if s/he is lying, like blowing up, blaming, or going into any kind of frenzy.

“Lying is so ordinary, so much a part of our everyday lives and everyday conversations.” (that we hardly notice it), said Bella DePaul at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

She asked her students to log down every time they lied about anything. It turned out that each student lied on average, 1.5 times a day. Because none of these were injurious lies, her students said they did not feel guilty but didn’t feel great either after lying.

They came up with the word, “smudgy” to describe the smarmy feeling they were left with after they had lied.

There are many types of lies: “Kindhearted” lies that most of us call “little white lies”, lies of omission (where information is left out), lies of commission which allow us to get along with our social groups.

Then of course are the malicious lies that have a serious and injurious effect on both the liar and the Other.

The next newsletter will be all about these kinds of lies and how to spot them, spotlighting the great book, Never Be Lied to Again by David J. Liebereman, Ph.D.


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