Lie to Me- Skeptics’ Take

i’m sure the skeptical/scientific community will add much more insight into the TV show “Lie to Me”, until then, here is what i was able to find in my short research (the following is in the format of a conversation between me my friend Keldwud):

some info on the show:

some people can tell when people are lying slightly better than others:

women are supposedly better than men at detecting lies in one’s face.  the information in those links still doesn’t show that the guy’s abilities in the movie can be seen as science-based, but it may be possible to some degree.  remember, though, that polygraphs are not based on science and can be fooled.

hope that helps!  as i get more info about that from the skeptic community i’ll share it with you.

he replied, and i then replied to his comments (see how hard this is to follow so far?  well i don’t have the time to edit it- i’m already spending precious saturday night time so deal with good luck with the format  🙂 :

On Fri, Feb 20, 2009 at 10:09 PM, KELDWUD> wrote:

Thanks for the links 🙂
Yeah, I was figuring they were basing a lot of it off of real studies
but the way they were spinning it made me wonder what parts of it
*weren’t* real. A lot of it is plausible and then they make a good
case by showing famous people with the same expressions as proof that
they are all experiencing the same emotion.

yes, and as you and i both suspect they may be committing a post-hoc fallacy where you have lots of data (lots of pictures of faces) and you match these faces with what you’re looking for to support your theory.  many celebrity faces are shown in one scene’s example (some 20 or so i think) but how many thousands of pictures of celebrities lying were not shown?  it sounds too much like quote-mining Nostradamus in order to get an ambiguous quote that sounded like he predicted 9/11 or something else after the fact.  the book The Bible Code commits this fallacy as well:

…The only thing that it is missing is when people show those
expressions and they *don’t* mean what the others are feeling when
they show those expressions.

Wondering how effective his technique is in real world scenarios and I
am betting that his technique would produce valid hits more often than

What do you think?

this is another very good point as to why even when someone may be generally better at telling when someone is lying, they will not be able to read many people who react differently when they lie.  at best, i think someone may be good at telling if people are lying if they are already familiar with the person (like in a family/friendship), or if they are women (like i said, it’s been shown that they are slightly better than males at detecting deception.from Michael Shermer’s The Science of Good and Evil, page 176 (emphasis mine):

To the extent that lie detection through the observation of body language and facial expressions is accurate (overall not very), women are better at it than men because they are more intuitively sensitive to subtle cues.  in experiments in which subjects observe someone either truth telling or lying, although no one is consistently correct in identifying the liar, women are correct significantly more often than men [source: Myers, David G. Intuition: Its Powers and Perils, p. 119].  […] People who are highly skilled in identifying “micromomentary” facial expressions are also more accurate in judging lying.  In testing such professionals as psychiatrist, polygraphists, court judges, police officers, and secret service agents on their ability to detect lies, only secret service agents trained to look for subtle cues scored above chance.  Most of us are not good at lie detection because we rely too heavily on what people say rather than on what they do.  Subjects with damage to the brain that renders them less attentive to speech are more accurate at detecting lies, such as aphasic stroke victims who were able to identify liars 73 percent of the time when focusing on facial expressions (normal subjects did no better than chance).

I think it’s kind of a mixed bag, but one thing i think must be on the bullshit side are the cute little face gestures he teaches as being indicators of dishonesty.  this black/white methodology sounds to simple to be true, too learnable that it would easily taught and widely used today in all of the professions listed above.  it seems that the aphasic stroke victims most likely used intuition and nothing that could be listed or depicted in a textbook (ie “this curl of the lip here suggests…”).

FWIW, that’s the info i could come up with so far… hope it helps someone else out in pointing them in the right direction.  good luck!  if you’re from San Fransisco, you can attend this on the subject as well:


2 thoughts on “Lie to Me- Skeptics’ Take

  1. Gmail has this funny way of adding extra whitespace or carriage returns in emails. You’ll probably want to edit the quotes so that they are more congruent.

  2. thanks keldwud, i fixed most of it i think so hope it’s better now. this is why i prefer to blog via google reader shared items. i’d say it’s 500 times faster then editing these posts in wordpress. i do have a goal to blog here more now, though so hopefully i’ll stick to it.

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