How do you determine whether someone is doing something naturally or whether they are simply trying to act natural? For Marines on patrol, the question would be, how do you know if the farmer is actually a farmer working his field, or if the person is observing you and collection information on you but is trying to act like a farmer? For cops, the question would be, how can you tell the difference between the guy who is standing on the corner, smoking a cigarette, and minding his own business and the guy who is a lookout for the local gang and is trying to act like he is “doing nothing?”
Well, one of the principles of human nature that combat profiling uses to its advantage is this: Humans only look natural when you are naturally focused on doing one thing.
When your attention is divided, and your concentrating on doing more than one thing, your behavior and speech will appear unnatural. For instance, if someone is actually reading a paper then their attention and mental energy will be focused on reading the paper. If, however, that person is only acting as if they are reading the paper and instead are attempting to conduct surveillance, then their behavior will not look natural. Or imagine, for instance, having a conversation with someone who is attempting to discreetly watch someone in the crowd of people around you in an attempt to get some type of subtle direction from that person. The person you are talking to will not be focused on the conversation. Instead, his mental energy will be divided. His action will be “jerky” and his speech will seem choppy, broken, or slower than normal. His brain will have to switch back and forth between activities (Brain Rules, 84-88). As Alex Pentland, a researcher at MIT, explains, “When there are several conflicting “commands” coming down from our higher brain centers, each requiring our body to take different sorts of actions, this interferes with our ability to act in a smooth, consistent manner” (Honest Signals, 15).
So for the Marine and the police officer, observe whether the person looks natural. Are their motions fluid and consistent? Is their speech at a normal and fluid pace? Or do they look, act, and sound like they are distracted? The people whose behavior and speech are jerky are concentrating on something else beside what they seem to be doing. Contact them and ask them what else they are focusing on. You may surprise them and catch them off guard.
About The Author: Jason Riley
More posts by Jason Riley