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Reading Facial Expressions on TV’s ‘Lie To Me’

by Dr. Rick Kirschner on April 10, 2009

Today is the final post in a three post series about reading body language and facial expressions, like they do on the TV show ‘Lie To Me.’  

I think the TV show is way more hype than having to do with reality.  It’s entertaining enough (I really enjoy it!)  but when I look in its face, the expression I see there is not honest.  

First, these are actors acting in a controlled and scripted way, so their facial expressions are easier to freeze frame and label to make a point that leads to the proper conclusion. Most people are in mixed states of consciousness most of the time, we send mixed messages and our messages have multiple meanings to the people receiving them. 

When I was a single parent, I ‘lied’ to my daughter and told her I had a built in B.S. detector, that if she lied to me, I’d know. Well, her believing that caused her to give it away every time she tried. She believed my ‘lie’ because I was congruent when I told it to her. I could catch her lying because she was incongruent, torn by the thought she might easily be found out. 

Except in rare cases of danger, when you might be confronted by a hostile person who is sweating, red faced and with pupils dilated who is expanding the space they take up in order to appear larger and talking fast and loud – all indicators in that context that you should RUN AWAY or PREPARE TO FIGHT – I think observing for what is predictable works better than hallucinating freely. I like the show, but wouldn’t recommend that kind of behavior to anyone serious about creating meaningful communication with others.

Some people are more stoic and others more expressive, of this there is no doubt.  But making too much of this could mislead you.  Take someone like Sam Donaldson, for example.  A perfect double for Mr. Spock, the emotionless Vulcan of Star Trek, Donaldson is stoic in his expression.  He gives nothing away.  He looks exactly the same no matter what he has going on. I’m opposite, a highly animated person with an expressive face. 

I’m reminded of a book my daughter read as a child.  It was titled ‘The Phantom Tollbooth.’  In it, the lead character and his dog wind up leaping through the air and landing on an island called ‘Conclusions,’  upon which and after which they have many adventures.   The kid sums it all up when he tells his dog, “We ought to be careful about jumping to Conclusions.  It takes too long to get back!”

This concludes my series of posts on reading body language and facial expressions. Your comments are welcome, so what do you think?

Be well,
Rick

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