“There is no sign of deceit itself (Ekman, 80).”  There isn’t one single gesture, facial expression, behavior or action that a person can do which is a guaranteed lie indicator.  Because of this fact and a number of other issues that surround successful lie detection, it can be daunting to the profiler at times to separate the liars from the honest.  We can only suggest various methods to use if this is your task.

We Aren’t Mind Readers

We teach our students to begin their search for anomalies by focus on identifying emotions and behaviors that don’t fit the baseline for either that individual or the environment.  If we are focusing on the display of emotions on a person’s face, all that we can identify is the emotion that a person is feeling at that moment.  A person who is displaying an emotion that doesn’t fit the baseline isn’t necessarily a liar, it is just an indicator that there may be some sort of conflict occurring in their mind.  At this point, the only thing we can be confident about is the recognition of the emotion.

Once you recognize the emotion, the goal now becomes to identify what triggered that reaction.  For example, if a person displays fear when you wouldn’t expect it, it could be due to fear of getting caught lying or it could be that since they provided truthful information, they are scared of being labeled a snitch.  Two distinct triggers with two distinct answers, which makes lie detection difficult.

In the previously posted video about the Paternity Allegations against Justin Bieber, we identified that the person being interviewed was displaying distress and fear while talking about evidence that would validate her claims.  She could have been fearful that her information would not substantiate her claim or it could have been fear that she would upset millions of teenage girls once Justin Bieber’s image was ruined.

A number of different factors could trigger that emotion and that is the first problem we face, not understanding what is causing the emotion.

Limits to Uncovering the Trigger

The most effective way, in my opinion, to apply this information is through sound questioning, interviewing, and elicitation techniques that allow you to create a pattern for that person’s behavior.  If you identify the emotion and topic that raises your suspicion, you need to find a creative way to come back to that topic later on and see if it provokes the same emotion.  Discussing the contentious issues multiples times helps you establish a pattern as well as open the possibility of the person revealing more information than they originally intended to.

This leads us to our second problem, socially acceptable behavior.  If you were talking to one of your good friends, a coworker, or your spouse and identify a kinesic slip there are limits to the extent we can push the issue.  If you make the decision to re-engage them on that topic, you make your intentions and standpoint pretty clear.  To ask them specific questions while overtly evaluating and scrutinizing their answers is often times not considered appropriate.  In most situations, the person you are questioning can simply walk away and leave the conversation all together.

This isn’t a problem for our military or police officers because they have the authority to restrict a person’s movement.  A police officer can put a suspect in an interrogation room or the back of police car, and in that setting, detailed questioning is acceptable behavior.  The same concept applies to our military deployed overseas and civilians are expected to answer their questions.

But for detecting deception in other settings, our ability to confirm what we may observe and truly identify what triggered an emotion is greatly restricted.  I encourage anyone who is seeking to develop their skills to find creative ways to solve this problem without causing their target to walk away or become defensive.

Profiling and questioning techniques are not two distinct skill sets but in fact have many overlapping attributes.  Studying one without learning about the other will limit your ability to collect high quality and actionable intelligence on the streets both here in America and overseas.

If you have any techniques that you have found to work, let us know.


Telling Lies, Paul Ekman