Lie to Me

Posted: September 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

The Cast of Lie to Me

Non-verbal communication is an art form fast getting lost in our ever-accelerating society. The emphasis on getting work done, that is, to bring across ideas in a concise and simplistic manner is so much more than being able to sense the “soft message” that is being transmitted along with it. This “soft message”, is, of course, non-verbal communication. However, thanks to a television show, “Lie to Me”, that is being shown in America on the Fox Television Network, there is now a spotlight shining on non-verbal communication.

“Lie to Me” is a television show based loosely around the work of Dr Paul Ekman, a psychologist who was named one of the top Time 100 most influential people in 2009. His work largely revolved around human emotions and how we express them. His research was extremely groundbreaking, with most psychology students unknowingly using his research, in particular the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), a system without which the study of psychology could be put back a decade or more. He specialized in deception, leading a project along with Dr Maureen O’Sullivan called the “Wizards Project” in which he attempted to study the layman’s ability to detect lies told by others.

His studies, however, were not confined solely to the face; he also studies the rest of the body. For example, he studies the types of nervous tics a person has when he lies, such as the way he adjusts his collar or pulls at his ear.  After all, it is much easier for a person to control how and what he says (since he’s actually conscious of it) than the movements his body subconsciously makes. Another aspect of his research is what is known as “distancing language”. That is, when a person phrases his words in a certain way to distance himself from a subject. This largely occurs when the person is lying. The most well-known example would be when then- American President Bill Clinton declared that he “did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinski”.

The program has been getting pretty decent reviews, recently having been renewed for its third season starting November 10. Such a show on primetime television will do wonders for the study of non-verbal communication, and in particular, the field of kinesics. In fact, quite a few of my friends who keep track of the show actually started reading up on Dr Ekman and his research, with a few attempting (rather amateurishly, I might add) to see if they could spot signs of deception.

The main reason I feel Lie to Me is good for the average television viewer and for the society at large is that it popularises a science that, while tremendously useful, would have been consigned to dusty libraries, with possibly only law enforcement officials making use of it. Now, the layman is exposed to the existence of such a science, and the ideas are also communicated very succinctly to the audience. How hard is it to remember that a look of genuine surprise involves the eyebrows moving up at the same time as the jaw dropping? Most people attempting to fake surprise only do one of either. Also, people who are lying tend to strive to make eye contact, as they are trying harder to project sincerity. This works contrary to popular opinion, where eye contact is usually associated with being truthful.

I think that Lie to Me is a worthwhile watch, and if you feel like picking up a television show where you’ll learn something, then Lie to Me is the way to go.


2009 Time Top 100 Most Influential People- Paul Ekman

Wizards Project

Paul Ekman Official Website

Interesting Reading

Blog of a Truth Wizard

  1. F. Ismailov says:

    Perhaps this show’s popularity will make the general public be more aware on the importance of the non-verbal communication.

  2. treenie7 says:

    Thanks for sharing this great television series. I feel that this series should be publicized more in Singapore, to help educate the people to become better at reading non-verbal cues. The government often criticized the young Singaporeans to be only book smart but not street smart. I believe that this television series would be able to educate the youngsters on the non-verbal cues. It is essential that one knows how to read non-verbal cues, in order to maintain good relationships with people at the work place. It is important that one does not step one anyone’s toes, and develop bad blood.

  3. Nix says:

    GASP i had no idea it was based off a real characther

  4. Rawbeanladen says:

    It seems to me that although Singapore is a high context society, we read a lot into non-verbal cues yet many people seem unable to control there non-verbal communication well. Sometimes I wonder if it is a lack of inhibition or just plain ignorance.

  5. henalenah says:

    I agree with what Treenie said. We are really more book-smart than street-smart, and this show can teach us how to learn the simple concepts of being street-smart like reading non-verbal cues.

    But of course, this show might spark another argument. Isn’t this a way to teach people how to lie too. Because after this show, we would know all the non-verbal cues to look out for, we would also, in turn, learn how to prevent people from discovering our hidden motives by changing our common perception and changing our way of lying to hide away from being exposed.

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