Microexpressions and deception detection

truthsignA Newsweek article (16 Aug) on TSA behaviour detection officers in airports and their training in spotting microexpressions stirred up some blog commentary. Reporter Patti Davis commented:

In the study of “micro-expressions”—yes, it is actually a field of study and there are some who are arrogant enough to call it a science—it has been decided that when people wish to conceal emotions, the truth of their feelings is revealed in facial flashes. These experts have determined that fear and disgust are the key things to look for because they can hint of deception…. Let’s see, fear and disgust in an airport? I’m frightened and disgusted weeks before I have to show up at an airport.

Eyes for Lies rightly takes Davis to task for contradicting herself: It’s not about spotting people who have emotional expressions that are consistent with experience at an airport. If you have a genuine fear of flying or disgust at the state of the washrooms, for instance, in most cases you won’t show microexpressions because in most cases you won’t be actively trying to conceal these emotions. Instead, EfL says, “Someone who sees microexpressions will be looking for the guy who is showing inconsistencies in emotions and behavior. For example, he will look for a guy who is acting jovial, yet strangely preoccupied and flashes an expression of disgust or fear across his face simultaneously.”

However, as Mind Hacks points out, published research that supports the notion that the ability to spot microexpressions is associated with the ability to detect deception is limited.

Dr X links to the piece and reminds us of Paul Ekman’s notion of ‘duper’s delight’ – the sheer pleasure that some people get out of fooling others.

Want to see some microexpressions for yourself? See Paul Ekman discussing microexpressions, together with a classic example, on YouTube. And if you’d like to test your ability to spot them, try your luck here.

Photo credit: jacampos, Creative Commons License

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