If you look away, you're lying; if you do not, you're lying

Title at least ambiguous and cryptic, but deliberately chosen to highlight an extremely delicate aspect of the possibility of determining whether or not a subject is lying, doesn’t matter whether during a conversation or a formal interrogation.

Knowing that the signs in this sense can be numerous, and also referring to the risks involved in such a discovery activity, risks discussed in my previous short article, here I would like to restrict the theme to «gaze» and how it varies during communication, also remembering that this is not limited to eye movements, certainly primary in importance, but also to those of other parts of the body that, in any case, have direct consequences on its direction.

With reference to the FACS (2), I am speaking therefore both of the Action Units that directly affect the eyes (AU7 and, above all, AU43, with the AU45 which then, with increasing frequency, can indicate a situation of stress), and that of those having an effect on the gaze, like AU61 and AU62, which highlight the direction of the eyes, respectively, left and right, but also the Action Units that affect the movements of the head and, specifically, the left and right rotations - AU51 and AU52 - and its lowering - AU54 - which has a special meaning, indicating, especially when accompanied by the lowering of the eyes - AU64 - a possible feeling of shame or defeat (that is, for example, the typical position taken by children when they are scolded because caught in doing something they should not have done).

The subject is delicate, I said, and it is because of the contrast between voluntary actions and involuntary reactions, which, in the case of a subject who is deliberately lying, fight among themselves in an attempt to make sure that the lie is not unmasked. (4)

The ambiguity, if we can call it that, is partly linked to the widespread belief that the liar tends to divert his gaze from the interrogator - or, in general, from his interlocutor - a sort of unconscious, automatic reaction that highlights a situation of tension and, consequently, a desire for closure and escape. (1)

This involuntary behavior, however, contrasts with the will of the liar, who is well aware of the risk deriving from the actions of the limbic system, which governs our involuntary emotional responses, tries to disguise or hinder them by adopting an opposite behavior, which leads him, in fact, to look into the eyes of the interlocutor, as if to say "Watch, I'm not afraid to look you in the eyes and therefore I'm telling the truth".

The liar, then, during the conversation, will be forced to give strength to his mendaciously arguments staring at his interlocutor (often, especially in the case of the serial liar, this fixity of the gaze can be accompanied by the micro-expression formed by AU12 and AU14, which, although fleeting, reveals the satisfaction of deceit). (3)

Emerge then, I fear, an even greater difficulty than one is often led to think, a thought also fed by the excessive simplifications that are often seen in literary, television and movies, where the expert is able to detect the lie with a glance, something that the real experts know to be almost impossible in real life, where the determination of the truth or not of what is said is possible only with a long and complex ex-post analysis, that is almost impossible to perform without the help of video recordings of the conversation, interview or interrogation.

So, what can we do when our task is to understand if our interlocutor is lying or not ? The answer, as usual, is not to look at the single event, but rather to their variations, considering the context and, if possible, the baseline behavior of our interlocutor. In short, nothing new compared to the well-known 3C rule, which reminds us of the importance of the Context, the Complex and the Coherence.

Therefore, our attention, both during the conversation and in the desirable retrospective analysis, will be on the changes of the gaze and on what triggered them, be it a question, a consideration and a direct accusation. In this sense, specific attention must be given to those involuntary movements, those micro-expressions, which lead the interlocutor, even if for a fraction of a second, to lose the voluntary control of his facial expressions, making emerge what he tries to hide - assuming this is the case, of course - with the firmness of his gaze.

Interessante, a tale proposito, il “protocollo per la valutazione delle dichiarazioni dei soggetti sottoposti a intervista/interrogatorio”, proposto da Mastronardi e Mangiameli (una sua sintesi è disponibile in (5)), che propone un approccio metodologico, articolato in sette fasi, che vanno dalla definizione della baseline (comportamento basale), all’individuazione dei cosiddetti Red Flags, cioè quei segnali non verbali sinonimi di incoerenza con quanto viene detto, fino ad una reiterazione dell’intervista/interrogatorio, questa volta focalizzata su quei segmenti dove i Red Flags sono stati valutati particolarmente significativi, al fine di mettere alla prova il soggetto intervistato o interrogato.

Interesting, in this regard, the "protocol for the evaluation of the statements of the subjects underwent to interview/interrogation", proposed by Mastronardi and Mangiameli (a summary is available in (5)), which proposes a methodological approach, divided into seven phases , ranging from the baseline definition (baseline behavior), to the identification of the so-called Red Flags, that are those non-verbal signals synonymous of inconsistency with what is said, up to a reiteration of the interview/interrogation, focused on those segments where the Red Flags have been evaluated particularly significant, in order to test the interviewed or questioned subject.

Andrea Zinno - De Corporis Voce

Bibliographic references

  1. Allan Pease e Barbara Pease - “The Definitive Book of Body Language” - 2006
  2. Paul Ekman - Facial Action Coding System - 1978 and 2002
  3. Paul Ekman - “Emotions Revealed” - 2007
  4. Paul Ekman - Telling Lies. Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage” – 2009
  5. Vincenzo Maria Mastronardi - “Manuale di comunicazione non verbale. Per operatori sociali, penitenziari, criminologici” - 2016
  6. Giulio Perrotta - “Quello che gli altri non ti dicono. Come riconoscere e interpretare i «segni» non verbali del corpo” - 2018