How to Spot a Liar with Pamela Meyer
Not all lies are scams, but everyone lies, even if it’s only about someone’s birthday gift. Liars give out both verbal and nonverbal cues, but how do you know what they are? Listen to this episode to learn how to spot a lie.
Today’s guest is Pamela Meyer. Pamela is certified fraud examiner, international speaker, entrepreneur, and the author of Lie Spotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception. Her TEDtalk “How to Spot a Liar” is one of the 15 most popular TEDtalks of all time with over 30 million views. She has been featured on NPR, CNN, ABC, Forbes, The Washington Post, and The New York Post, and she writes regularly for The Huffington Post.
- [1:03] – Pamela’s background is in business and for many years she was in media. She had developed some websites and sold them. She shared how a Harvard Business School reunion sparked her interest in deception.
- [2:41] – When Pamela returned home from the reunion, she realized that there was a huge interest in the topic of deception but that the information on it was inaccessible.
- [3:31] – Pamela shares the story that is also featured in her book Lie Spotting, about an assistant she had many years ago.
- [4:56] – Just because it is taught in the CIA, doesn’t mean it can’t be learned by the public.
- [5:23] – The myth of lie detection is that it is simple. It is actually quite complex.
- [6:02] – Pamela shares another myth regarding lie detection through the eyes.
- [7:10] – When someone is lying, sometimes people will try to overcompensate their body language to appear truthful.
- [8:20] – What’s important with lie detection is starting with baselining. One indicator doesn’t mean anything and Pamela describes why.
- [10:02] – If you know someone very well and you notice that something is a little off, it could be an indicator for lying. Pamela explains that someone trained in detection will be able to note exactly what is off.
- [10:52] – Professionals can usually determine a baseline for someone and detect lies within a half hour, 15 minutes, or even 5 minutes.
- [11:56] – If you are having a difficult conversation, what you’re looking for are energetic changes.
- [12:53] – Pamela begins sharing a good starting point called BASIC in learning detection which is a 5 step process. This is different from the advanced masterclass she offers.
- [13:03] – The first step is B for Baselining. A is for Ask open-ended questions.
- [14:07] – Be warm and be in an environment that is free from distraction. Sit in a non-threatening way and make the person feel comfortable.
- [15:47] – Be authentic with building rapport with someone. Prepare for harder conversations ahead of time.
- [17:39] – The biggest issue with cues to verbal and nonverbal deceit is what we call Cognitive Load. When you’re trying to think what to say, act composed, appear spontaneous, if you are lying you leak verbal and nonverbal cues.
- [19:03] – Pamela shares some nonverbal cues that someone who is lying could adopt when in conversation with you.
- [20:37] – The verbal cues in a difficult conversation could be pushing the main point of conversation off to the end. Someone who is truthful will typically tell a story with a beginning, middle, and an end.
- [21:29] – Pamela describes some verbal cues that could mean deception.
- [22:40] – These methods are not weapons. They’re just techniques to help you get to the truth. Deception isn’t always indicative of something bad.
- [24:22] – Everyone lies. Although the term “lying” has a negative connotation.
- [25:01] – S in BASIC is “Study the clusters.” Look at the cues and study them. I is for “Intuiting the gaps.” Keep your instincts in mind and identify and fill in the holes.
- [26:37] – Pamela describes behavior gaps and emotion gaps. What is the person saying and are they flashing contradictory facial expressions or body movements?
- [28:10] – These indicators are not to point fingers and call the person a liar. They are to give you more information and give you guidance on the harder questions to ask.
- [28:32] – C is to confirm. After you’ve done everything prior, you need to now ask the questions that will confirm your thoughts of deceit. These questions often indicate that you have some information that you might not have.
- [30:18] – Pamela gives some examples of what a truthful person will say to answer these questions and what a deceitful person will say.
- [31:17] – You don’t always have to use these questions and in most cases you won’t need to. But Pamela has several that she keeps in her back pocket in the event that she needs more.
- [32:09] – A good interrogator or interviewer is prepared. If you are an artful interviewer, you will be prepared with tons of questions to determine that Cognitive Load.
- [33:13] – To answer the question of “can you teach me to lie?” Pamela says no because anyone who is really talented at interrogation will be able to detect deception.
- [34:07] – We all have biases and blindspots. So we are not completely immune to being conned or lied to.
- [34:57] – We are past polygraph tests these days. There is a lot of technology out there to detect deception. It can’t be used in all settings but it’s available.
- [37:34] – There is a lot of technology that is effective and some that are not. Pamela gives some examples of studies that are going on currently.
- [39:08] – Chris and Pamela discuss the problem of cyber threats and not knowing the baseline of someone. This also applies to AI algorithms.
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Can you give me an overview of your background and how you got involved in deception detection?
Yeah, absolutely. My background is in business, and for many, many years, I was in the media business. It was really interesting. I was trying to figure out what to do next. I sold a bunch of websites that I developed in social networks. I was moving from the internet age to the what’s next age.
I was at a Harvard Business School reunion. I was in the class of ’86, HBS. At these reunions, what happens is that teachers do workshops to do mini-lessons on what their research is on. Five hundred people will come into an auditorium and listen to a teacher or a professor talk about his or her work. I was sitting there with my roommate from business school, having a good time, drinking our lemonade, having a reunion. This professor comes in. He’s actually a Harvard professor, not an HBS professor, I think. He starts talking about his research on deception.
It was something interesting to me because this entire group of masters of the universe has flown in on private jets, country clubs, CEOs. We’ve been out of business school for quite a while. A lot of people, for whom nothing is ever new, all of a sudden are looking up from their phones. They’re no longer in the hallway. They’re no longer running out to have a board meeting. They are paying attention.
I remember turning to my roommate and saying, “You know what, this is interesting. There’s traction here. There’s something about this material.” I realized after I went home and did a bunch of research that there was this incredibly robust science of deception detection that was housed in inaccessible places. It was inside of the CIA. It was with the FBI. It was at police training schools. No one had really thought about what pieces of these could really be applicable in the workplace, and so I made it my business to do that.
That’s awesome. I know a lot of people that I interview about specific scams and things like that had a relative or themselves that were victims of that scam. That’s why that resonates so passionately with them. Was there some sort of triggering event for you in that session?
Of course, I’ve been exposed to various scams over the years. In the book that I wrote, Liespotting, which is really a survey of all the research that’s out there and a bunch of techniques on how to get to the truth. At the beginning of that book, I do tell a story about an assistant that I had many, many years ago who really went down a vortex of lying with me. She ended up fraudulently forging checks, lying to me about that, lying to me about what the reasons were, lying to me about her availability. It took me four or five really hard conversations to unravel it all.
Many months later, it turned out she’d even impersonated me and gone to my gym to get a nutritional analysis. It was just a crazy thing. That did get me thinking there are people out there. She was fabulous. She’s very smart, Ivy-educated, very talented, on another level, quite devoted.
As we know with most bad things that happen in our lives, it’s always a mixed bag. It’s never just, “This is horrible. This person was a crook.” Usually, there’s a lot of subtlety to it. It got me thinking, but that was not really the main reason because that predated quite significantly my launch into this world. The significance for me was discovering that there was so much information out there that was accessible and could be made available to people that don’t have to be considered secret. Just because they teach it in the CIA doesn’t mean it’s hard to learn.
And it doesn’t mean that it’s something that the public shouldn’t know.
Prior to this, I assume there are a lot of myths about spotting lies—the traditional, “Hey, if they look up to the left or look up to the right, then that’s obviously a lie.” Are there other myths about spotting lies?
There are so many myths. I think the first most important myth is that there’s a sure-fire way to do it because just like the weatherman can’t tell you for sure that it’s going to rain if he reads the signals, the same is with lie-spotting.
They find multiple sources. They confirm their facts carefully. They plan their interviews meticulously. There’s a lot more to it than just did someone’s eyebrow twitch?
You’re right, eyes are associated with lots of different misconceptions, but we do think that you can detect lies by watching the eyes—gaze aversion, looking down, looking away, or looking up to the left or the right. There’s a science to this proving that anybody is lying. In fact, we do know that the honest person is on average going to essentially look you in the eyes only about 60% of the time because that’s what’s comfortable in North America.
Oftentimes, if someone’s being deceptive, what they do is they overcompensate for that myth and they look you in the eyes too much. That’s a backward cue, but it can tell you that they’re overcompensating if you see that happening.
That’s interesting that one of the ways to spot someone who’s lying might be that they’re trying to compensate through the myths about lying.
Yeah. I mean we have a lot of them. We think if we’re anxious and twitching, it shows that we’re lying, and so oftentimes, liars will try really, really hard to be calm. You can see a forced calm in their body or their blink rate has changed. Again, they’re overcompensating in some ways.
What I always tell people is that there’s a systematic way to get to the truth—and I can certainly go through that with you—but you really have to step back and just ask yourself, is what you’re seeing logical? We call these hotspots. Is there just a giant gap between the words that someone is saying and the body language that you’re looking at? When you see that, that’s oftentimes a signal. Not that you know what the truth is, but it certainly tells you that there’s a lie or potentially omission.
Is that the sort of thing where—I’ll oversimply this—you ask a person a yes-no question, they say yes, but they shake their head no. Was that what you’re talking about in that?
Yes. What’s important with lie detection is that you look for clusters. One of those things doesn’t mean anything. You have to start really with the first step, which is baselining somebody.
You’ve probably heard about baselining because, with your show, you’ve probably interviewed some FBI interrogators and others. But just for people who have not heard of that: “How are you?” “How is your weekend?” “How are the kids?” “Did you go shopping?” When an FBI interviewer asks you that, they’re not really that interested in whether or not you went shopping. They’re interested in baselining you. They’re trying to get a reliable reference point so they can measure changes in your behavior later.
If you see one of those clusters, one of those indicators like the one that you just brought up, it doesn’t mean anything because it could just be someone’s baseline. If someone is normally a foot-tapper, you ask them a hard question, and they’re tapping their foot, it’s meaningless because that’s their baseline.
You really have to know what someone’s blink rate is like, what their posture is like, what their hand gestures are like, what their local tone is like, the speed, the volume, the pitch of their vocal tone, what the style and duration of their laugh is like. You have to really have a really good sense of a profile for that person.
Oftentimes, we don’t do that in a workplace because we’re just not that curious. If you do start making a practice of observing people very carefully, being curious about them, baselining them, and getting a sense of what their normal cadence is like, what you find is that not only are you going to be a better lie detector, but you’ll have better relationships because when you observe with that much intensity, you actually develop a better rapport with people. You have to start with baselining, you really have to. But yes, there are lots of cues.
That makes sense. I’m going to draw from something that may make more sense to me and some of the listeners. When you’ve known someone for a while and you’re having a conversation, you’re just like, they seem off. Is that your own internal system telling you something’s off with the baseline, against the baseline?
Absolutely. If you’re a trained observer of human behavior, what you’ll be able to do is say, “Huh, they’re lowering their voice a lot.” You’ll be able to parse that down a little bit more, but that off feeling will become much more specified for you. Or you’ll be able to say, “They seem to be slumping back in their chair, and that’s not normal for them because they’re usually very much leaning forward and highly energized.”
This is a little bit more complex over Zoom or over virtual calls, but still, you could read all of this on Zoom if you’re a careful observer.
How much time, let’s just say, on average, would it take a trained professional to be able to develop the baseline on someone?
It depends. Usually, 15 minutes. Most professionals, when they go into an interview, don’t spend that much time baselining somebody because the business of interviewing has gotten very condensed. If you’re doing it well, you should be taking at least half an hour to an hour to just take someone out to lunch, talk to them, get a sense of their norms, and then you have some sense of what they’re like and a palpable feel for it. But there are interviewers that can do it in 15 minutes, even five minutes.
Wow. I don’t know if that’s cool or terrifying.
I do want to say that people with extreme characteristics, of course, are easier to baseline. If you’re extremely withdrawn or you’re extremely expressive, that’s much easier to observe than the rest of us that are in the messy middle. Most of us are in the messy middle.
You’re looking for things that are outside the norm for the person. If they’re more extreme, then something that’s outside the norm is more noticeable?
Yeah. I wouldn’t call it an interrogation in a workplace or at home, but if you’re having a hard conversation, an interview, or a discussion with a family member, what you’re really looking for are energetic changes. That is pretty easy to detect. They’re like, “Oh my God. A cold, still wind came across the room after I asked that hard question.” We’ve all been there. That’s baselining.
Got you. You said that was the first thing. What’s the next thing?
I call this the BASIC method. Just so you know, I’m just about to launch an online master class on detecting deception and getting to the truth. What I’m going to tell you today is a five-step shortened method, but what I teach in that course, which is 11 modules, 45 videos, and a giant workbook, is this certification of advanced-level course. It’s not quite the same method, just to make that clear.
In this little five-step method I’ll teach you, which is really a good working start, the first thing you want to do is the B for BASIC. You want to baseline someone.
The second thing you want to do is ask what I call open-ended questions. What is an open-ended question? That means you’re not fishing for information—not for a simple yes or no. You’re saying, “What were you thinking when you went to the restaurant that night?” “How are you feeling?” Open-ended questions just to get someone talking because what you’re doing when you ask open-ended questions is you’re establishing what you know and what you want to know.
You’re getting the person into a rhythm of discussion with you. You’re developing rapport with them. You’re trying to get them just to talk so that when you’re ready to ask those harder questions, you’ll be able to elicit an observable response because certain people are much harder to get talking than others. You want to develop a rhythm of discussion and just keep them talking with open-ended questions so that you’re in the early stages of essentially tilling the soil and developing a warmth between you and your subject or your subjects.
What you don’t want to do is avoid any arguments, bring up any controversial information. You need to sit in a non-threatening way, be warm, make sure that you’re in an environment that is comfortable and free from distraction. Don’t take them to a noisy Starbucks.
Then, once you ask open-ended questions, you can start to narrow them down. You’ve probably been exposed to this as well—a funneling of harder and harder questions. You start with an open-ended—do you imagine a funnel that’s like an upside-down triangle? At the top would be these very, very open-ended questions. As you get more and more granular, they get more and more specific and you’re funneling down to the information you’re trying to elicit.
It’s trying to get them to tell a story, multiple sentences, paragraph responses as opposed to yes, no, 42, it was an Epson printer, things like that.
It’s worth preparing before you enter into a hard conversation about what it is you really are curious about that person and showing that genuine curiosity because you really will be able to connect with those open-ended questions if that’s the case.
It’s the authenticity of the conversation that builds the rapport.
That’s absolutely right.
Once we’ve got the baseline, we’ve built the rapport, what’s next?
Then you’re going to start to ask harder questions. I just want to say that when you prepare for an interview—this is the subject of another three-hour conversation so we can’t go into this all right now, but you do want to prepare in a robust way for that conversation with lots of questions that you’ve already answered yourself before you walk in.
Really, really good investigators—people who are excellent in detecting deception, people who are able to obtain hard-to-obtain information—don’t do it because they’ve got a series of clever tricks on their hands. I would say over 50% of their success is dependent on the extent to which they’ve properly prepared. I will tell you what cues to a verbal or non-verbal response would show you that somebody’s lying, but I will just back that up by saying preparation is everything.
Maybe the analogy would be if you’re in the court and you’re the lawyer, you never ask a witness questions you don’t think you already know the answer to?
Almost. I wouldn’t go that far because much of what we do in daily life is not quite that high stakes of a situation. Oftentimes, you’re just trying to figure out why your teenager didn’t come home last night and you probably don’t know the answer to that question. You may not get it either, but yes, you’re right.
I just want to say that the biggest issue here with cues to verbal and non-verbal deceit is what we call cognitive load. When you’re trying to think what to say, act composed, appear spontaneous. If you’re lying, you leak verbal and non-verbal cues because the cognitive load is so high on your system because you’re operating on so many levels at once.
When the cognitive load is high and somebody is trying to keep lots of details together, they’re trying to figure out what you’re going to figure out, they’re trying to answer the question in a way that they’re doing essentially impression management on you where they’re going to appear very honest. When they’re trying to second-guess what your next question is going to be, they don’t have a lot of room left to keep themselves from showing verbal or non-verbal cues because they are processing so fast and so hard.
Most liars really will leak these verbal and non-verbal cues, not because all liars do it, but because the questioner put them in a situation where the cognitive load was high. I want to just preface it by that. Just the same, when you ask those hard questions, this is a stimulus-response system. You ask a question, you’re looking for the response.
On the body language side, you may see someone exhibiting what we call grooming gestures like dusting lint off the shoulders, twirling with the hair. They may rub their eyes—men do that a lot more than women. Women do more like touching below their eyes. You may see hand-wringing or they may curl their feet inward. They may start to take what we call barrier objects. We see this on Zoom a lot as well.
They’ll take an object that makes them feel comfortable like a phone, a book, or a backpack, and they’ll put it between you and them as a way to feel protected and comfortable. They might arrange barrier objects around the desk in front of you. They may shift their blink rate. They may shrug in a non-synchronous way, a way that doesn’t really work with the rhythm of the conversation. You may see clenched fists, winks, or palms turned up and out, out of sync with the dialogue. You may see sweating, finger-tapping.
Oftentimes, when we’re interrogating people and we’re trying to get to the truth, we’ll stop the conversation and signal that it’s going to be over. Then we’ll watch them exhale and fall back into their chair. It’s called post-interview relief because they think the interview’s over like exams are over. “Oh my gosh, I’m done.” When you go back to asking those hard questions, you’ll see which ones caused them then to stiffen up again. That can be quite telling. That’s the non-verbal side.
On the verbal side, people who are telling a story tell their story in many different ways. Liars tend to—with story structure—push the main event. Let’s say a computer was stolen out of the office or something, they’ll push that to the end.
If they’re telling the story in a truthful way, there’ll be a beginning, a middle, and an end, not necessarily in chronological order, but there’ll be emotional content at the end. “Oh my gosh. I can’t believe I left that computer in the office with the door open. I feel so terrible.” But the liar is going to say, “Yeah, then I left for work and just closed the door.” That’s the end of the story. The main event will be cut off in some way.
Specific verbal cues would be things like qualifying language, ball-string language—you know, to tell you the truth, in all honesty, I certainly didn’t do that. Sometimes, you’ll see an attitudinal shift, whining about how long is this conversation going to take. They’ll argue with you about some ridiculous detail. “No, I had the chicken, not the steak.” Which is like, that’s not the issue. You’ll see a lack of appropriate emotion in the parts of the story where it would’ve been appropriate. You may hear religious references: “I swear to God on my mother’s grave.”
Again, with verbal cues, what you’re looking for is whether or not you see two or three of these on the verbal side or two or three of these on the non-verbal side. It’s really when you see clusters that it’s significant.
The last thing you want to do is like, “Honey, that’s a ball-string statement, I’m getting a divorce.” You have to be realistic. These are not weapons. These are cues and they’re useful. They really can help you get to the truth and observe behavior in a really effective way, but don’t be silly about it.
Take a break from the content for a moment. Deception is not necessarily a lie. It could be you went and bought the person a gift and you don’t want to tell the person you bought the gift until you actually give it to them. The story-changing might not necessarily be indicative of something bad happening.
As we always say, just because someone’s lying doesn’t mean we know the truth. We lie for lots of complicated reasons. We lie to protect other people. We lie to maintain privacy. We lie to get out of awkward situations. We lie to protect somebody we love from being punished. We lie because we’re trying to avoid embarrassment.
Not all lies are scam-related. Not all lies are to obtain rewards that you couldn’t get in any other way. Some lies are really extreme impression management. They’re the downstream effects of extreme information control.
There are lots of different reasons and lots of different motives for lying. It’s important to understand that because all of us are liars. Everyone does it. Everyone uses deception as a way to navigate complexity, and so it’s important to understand that when we think about lying. It’s a very loaded word, but the behavior that it’s associated with is very complex.
The impression behind if you say a lie, there’s always this impression that it’s malicious.
It’s to benefit the person who’s telling it, not to protect somebody else or not to manage a situation.
That’s exactly right.
We talked about the baseline. We talked about the open-ended questions. Did we explain what the S was, or do we take a break there?
S stands for studying the cluster. It should be a C, technically, because these are cues but I call it studying the cluster because you have to study them.
The I in BASIC is—honestly, in many ways—what separates a really good information elicitor from someone who’s just riding the waves. This is what we call intuiting the gaps. What I mean is that the goal of this step is to keep your instincts in mind and really identify and fill in the holes. You may have huge statement gaps. What the facts say happened and what this person says happened could be a huge gap between those two things.
I always tell people, before and after a hard conversation, to do a walk-and-talk with your closest colleague who’s on your side on this because there are logic gaps. Oftentimes, we’re too close to the trees to see it. How does this person say the course of events unfolded? What is the logical or typical course of events that would have unfolded?
I’m not saying you should judge it but always keep it in mind. Maybe a tree really did fall right across the car, and that’s the reason why the car was found abandoned in the middle of the park. But how often do trees really fall? You have to use logic and your basic knowledge of events to see if there might be a gap and really start to press a little harder in that area, if that’s the case.
Then we look at what I call behavior gaps. What was someone’s baseline against how they’re behaving against these questions?
Finally, and this is probably the most important piece, and this is the one that’s also the most loaded, I think, is what I call emotion gaps. What is this person saying? Are they flashing contradictory facial expressions? Are they conveying with their body a different attitude?
In the TED Talk that I gave, I identified two facial expressions. They’re really associated with deception but are also very emotionally loaded. One is what we call duping delight, the unconscious smile like getting away with a whopper. Oftentimes, you will see that. Someone will be talking about something tragic but there’ll be a slight smile leaking through. That’s a huge emotional gap.
The other thing is sometimes we smirk, we express contempt, or we’ll pull our lips up in an asymmetrical sneer. We’ll say, “Great deal. I’m dying to work with you. I’m so happy we closed this deal. I’m so glad I have this job.” The person will smile or shake your hand and then they’ll flash this huge expression of contempt. Something is not right there. There’s something almost toxic.
John Gottman—one of the most famous researchers on relationships—uses, among other things, expressions of contempt as one of the predictors of—I wouldn’t go so far to say divorce, but relationships that are in need of serious repair. If there are emotion gaps, again, you’re not going to point the finger and say, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” But that’s a red flag for you to start asking some much harder questions.
What’s going on? Why is this person smiling when telling a tragic story? There’s something up here.
We move on to C, number five.
The final one is what I call confirming techniques—to see is to confirm. This means that you’ve done all your homework, you’ve asked your hard questions, you’ve got them talking, you’re studying the clusters, you have a sense of where your gaps are. And then you’re going to ask certain questions that we just know are associated with guilt or truthful responses.
Oftentimes, what we’ll do is we’ll ask the person on the other side of the table to start to speculate: “Is there any reason that you can think of that the cameras saw a car being driven out of the parking lot at 3:00 AM in the morning?” That’s a baiting question. You have to be careful with that. Police studies, that can oftentimes backfire on you because it’s very, very controversial.
A lot of times, those questions have been used as hypothetical, but you’re essentially suggesting to somebody that you have evidence that you don’t have. They’re very triggering for certain people, but there are times when you may ask a question that suggests you have some information and the person who is lying will then come forth. They will get very defensive or they’ll just say, “I don’t know.”
If you ask somebody who is guilty, “What should happen to whoever stole that car?” The guilty person can say, “I don’t know. You guys need to investigate that. That’s not my job to say.” The truthful person is going to say, “Are you kidding? Call the police. They don’t belong here.”
Swift to the righteous judgment.
Harsh punishment is highly associated with a truthful reaction normally. If you say to somebody, “Look, how do you think this investigation is going to come out? What’s your sense of it?” A guilty person is going to say, “I hope it’s going to be OK. It should be OK.” The truthful person is going to say, “It should be great. I’m so glad you’re doing this. You need to get to the truth.”
They’re going to be on your side. They’re going to signal that they’re being cooperative with you in some way. If you share a question that minimizes the significance of the event, if you say, “Look, it’s no big deal but we really do need to get to the bottom of this. I hope you’ll help me.” Oftentimes, a guilty person then will start sharing information, whereas a truthful person is not going to change their reaction one way or the other.
A truthful person isn’t going to all of a sudden—because you’ve signaled they’re not going to get in trouble—start coming forth. They’re not going to shift how much information starts to flow. They’re simply going to stay in the same tenure, but a guilty person will shift somewhat.
They’ll ask the questions like that. We call this confirming technique. You don’t always have to use them. I have my own favorite questions to get difficult people to talk and they aren’t lie-spotting questions. They’re just how to get passive-aggressive, difficult people who don’t really want to talk to you who are scared to come forth. Sometimes, I just use those and I have those in my pocket.
With our discussion on this, with your master class, and getting certified in spotting lies, do you see your customers or your clients using these techniques to protect themselves? Or is the cognitive load in these types of situations so much that even if you know the techniques, you wouldn’t be able to use them to protect yourself, so to speak?
Chris, that’s exactly the right question, because a lot of people think, “Oh, this is going to start an arms race. The better we get at detecting lies, the better other people will get at lying. The more we learn about detecting lies, the better we’re going to get at lying.” But the truth to the matter is that a good interrogator or a good interviewer is so well-prepared that they’re going to throw somebody off no matter what.
You may have a psychopath or you may have someone who is what we call these conditioned witnesses. They’ve given the answer so many times that they can’t be thrown. But if you’re an artful interviewer and you’re going to come in with a number of questions phrased in a number of ways that will raise the cognitive load no matter what—and it is an unconscious process leaking verbal and non-verbal cues.
I give speeches all over the world and there’s always one or two that comes to me afterward and says, “Hey, can you teach me to lie?” That happens to me all the time. My answer is, “No, this isn’t going to work for you.” You’ve got to be honest because anybody who’s really, really talented is going to be able to get to it no matter what. It’s just not worth it.
There are too many things you can’t control as the liar.
I think so. There are lots of exceptions to the rule. There are good cons out there. There are excellent con artists everywhere and there are lots of soft targets. There’s an entire world in the middle where people who are soft targets for a con tend to be in tons of need. They may be going through a traumatic divorce. They may be very financially needy.
A good con artist is going to offer them exactly what it is they need at that moment. The person observing them, no matter how well-trained they are, is never going to be able to see that because we’re just blinded by our own needs. Blind spots are everywhere. They’re on all of us. We all have biases. We all have blind spots. We are all subject to it. It’s very, very hard to manage around that, but certainly, there are instances where that can’t be the case.
Got you. Do you see a time coming when artificial intelligence or machine learning would be able to spot lies, stories, and facial expressions, or based on those?
We’re there. This is a subject for a whole other conversation. I’d love to come back. Maybe I could introduce you to the folks at Converus. For example, now I sit on the advisor board of that company, just to let you know. They’re the most advanced on this.
We’re way past polygraphs at this point in the world. I can tell you that between emotion-recognition for AI—which is rough but is getting there—deep fakes, and the technology that many companies have now, which Converus is sort of the leader on, which is using electronic methods of detecting deception—we’re there. Not that it can be used necessarily in all settings, and it has to be used in the right way with the right use cases.
For example, Converus has a very sophisticated technology that’s been in development for decades now that takes close to 100 different facets of eye movement, eye behavior, and pupillometry. It allows the user of the technology to be able to tell with incredible confidence whether or not somebody’s being deceptive just by asking them a series of questions because the autonomic response is not something in the eyes that you can control.
We’re there and it changes significantly in lie detection. It does not change the messy art and science of getting to the truth. When you have somebody hooked up to a machine, if you’re trying to figure out if somebody is a drug dealer, if somebody is a member of a terrorist group, if somebody has been convicted of a prior crime they haven’t revealed, or if somebody has committed any kind of sex act that is outside the law, those kinds of questions really can easily be surfaced through a series of electronic questions.
It’s a little bit different when it comes to the human side of connecting with somebody and getting them to reveal the truth, but my belief is that we are moving forth into a very interesting era where the combination of artful questioning and scientific analysis of data is going to provide us with a whole different landscape from which to find information that we couldn’t ordinarily obtain.
It makes me think of—maybe I’ll date myself here—the original movie Blade Runner where they have their computer. They’re interviewing someone to see if they’re a human or not. It was based on the autonomic responses to the questions, the emotional gaps, and things like that.
The problem is that there’s a lot of steps out there that aren’t as effective. For example, voice stress analysis. I know you know that, but for those of you that are listening, that’s a different category of technology.
Chinese also have enormous research that they’re doing in this area. The combination of sophisticated AI, new algorithms, technology that’s now being not just tested in a lab but also field-tested. We’re seeing really positive responses from field studies. We’re going to see a huge shift.
This is a good thing because, as you probably know, within the government, for example, there’s a huge backlog of people that want to get their jobs and they just can’t get clearance because it takes a long time to get through the clearance systems. These technologies are not just effective at detecting lies. They’re also efficient for institutions that really need hardworking individuals that are ready to go.
I’ll delve into the weeds here for a moment. With the AI and ML systems for spotting lies and deception, are they the same sort of issues that you have with facial recognition in terms of gender, race, and cultural bias in the training of these systems?
There’s a huge issue there. I would love to point you to a fantastic organization run by a really brilliant woman named Miriam Vogel. It’s called EqualAI. She would be a great person for you to interview.
We have a real problem because in the same way with cyber threats, it’s very hard sometimes. We don’t know what the baseline inside an organization is so when there’s piercing of the attack surface, it’s not clear, necessarily, if the baseline was off. We’ve got the same issue here with artificial intelligence and algorithms.
If you start out with an algorithm that is off, you could end up making all kinds of conclusions that are absolutely not fair. We’re just in the earliest days of figuring out what the law is, what the policy should be, how to train organizations, how to certify them. It would be great for you to take a deeper dive into this because it really intersects in a really important way with this work.
Yeah. It’s always very fascinating to me, these types of subjects.
If people want to get involved in your master class and learn more about deception detection and spotting lies, where can they go for that master class?
They should go, for now, to liespotting.com, and then by the time you post this, I’m going to send you something to put up next to the interview, which will be the actual enrollment link for the class itself. But if they go in and they just shoot an email through the contact form on liespotting.com, we’ll put them on the list.
When we have that link to the master class, we’ll definitely put that in the show notes. Are there any other ways that you’d love people to follow you or meet you on social media?
They can find me on Twitter always, and they’re welcome to DM me. I’m available all the time. I love talking to people. I love hearing their stories. This is huge, fun so it’s great to chat with you.
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