Chapter 10: Body Language & Deception

In this chapter of Bel Canto deception and witheld information play a large part of the emotions that play out as this novel reaches its conclusion. The secretive relationships between Gen and Carmen along with Hosokawa and Roxanne cause even more urgency and agitation on the part of the reader to the actions leading up to the end. Lie detection has been considered a science for a long time. Over the decades much progress has been made determining the extent that various body language and mental processes contribute to detecting deception. Although much research has been done researchers still consider this field to be in development. As DePaulo and Morris point out in “Deception Detection in Forensic Contexts” deception detection is not an exact science.

One of the most fundamental events in deception detection history was the shift in perspective concerning if body language is culturally based. The main supporter of cultural bias shaping body language was Weston LaBarre in 1947. Specifically he argues that there is no “natural” language of emotion or gestures. Later research by Paul Ekman in a research paper titled “Universal Facial Expressions of Emotion” calls out LaBarre’s disregard for separating facial gestures from facial expressions of emotion. Ekman cites how smiling is a universal gesture across all cultures. Ekman is quick to point out however that some facial expressions may be culturally variable like winking or head bobbing. In a 1992 paper Ekman demonstrated this idea more deeply by taking groups of people from various cultures and displaying photographs of faces to them. The result of this experiment showed that across all Western and non-Western cultures, and even one preliterate culture in New Guinea, that emotions like enjoyment, fear, and disgust are universally recognizable. This contention and its resolution formed the basis for much of the physical expression studies now done attempting to connect body language and possible lying cues.

The main focus of research the past few decades has been centered around the eyes. In one study titled “How the Eyes Tell Lies: Social Gaze During a Preference Task” by Foulsman and Lock demonstrated that when an observer is trying to determine if another person is lying their gaze is unconsciously a good indicator but can also be used for misdirection. A key understanding demonstrated by this study is that it isn’t enough to simply see the eye and judge from strictly it the intent of the individual. Instead it is important to understand the motivation and reason why an individual might be looking at an object. One study that demonstrates this aspect of deception detection is by Dana Samson et al. and is titled “Seeing It Their Way.” This study points out how perspective taking can influence the observer’s own perception of themselves thereby enabling he misdirection effect demonstrated in the prevoius study.

As Victor Gombos notes in a paper titled “The Cognition of Deception: The Role of Executive Processes in Producing Lies” deception is an act that works many areas of the brain and body. Gombos explains that the executive process is a part of cognition involved with directing attention, meta cognition, and managing working memory. The directing of attention hits a chord with a previously reference study by Foulsman and Lock about eye gaze and lying. Liars must keep in mind both the truth and lie and actively suppress subversive actions. Gombos references a study by Carlson from 1998 to describe how pointing is habitually more truthful because its been reinforced to provide a truthful response. This bias toward the truth forces liars to pause longer in order to override this physical tendency.

Lies are built upon the backs of memories. In order to create long term lies one must be able to actively be aware of what was told to whom and at what time. In recent years many studies have come out attempting to differentiate between these true and false memories. In a study by Nobuhito Abe et al. called “Neural Correlates of True Memory, False Memory, and Deception” used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to determine how individuals lied by looking at how the brain functions  while a subject is actively truthful or deceitful. A major result of this study was that it provided evidence for the executive process theory in lying since it was revealed that while pretending to know or not know something utilized the prefrontal cortex thereby demonstrating higher cognitive processes at work. In another study by Danial Schacter and Scott Slotnick called “The Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory Disortion” also using neuroimaging techniques found evidence that true memories have far greater sensory perception attached to them in the brain in constrast to false memories which are stripped down immitations. Just like how mental models are the abstract representation of the real world false memories seem to also have hollowness when it comes to otherwise superfluous sensory detail.

In conclusion, deception and the theories that have come to shape our understanding of it are relatively new. The shift in thinking concerning the universalness of emotions and gestures opened the door for a flood of research. Gaze research was a focal point of that flood and resulted in a lot of work on misdirection and the perception processing. The executive theory demonstrating how cognition plays a role in deception then showed how liars use concious thought to suppress the natural truth telling tendencies. Finally, research has reached a point where active monitoring of the brain as it processes deception. Through those scans researchers are slowly being able to differentiate between false and true memories. All in all, deception and body language are huge topics that will improve rapidly as our understanding of the brain and processes also increase.

– Michael Pedersen
Abe, Nobuhito, Jiro Okuda, Hiroshi Sasaki, Tetsuya Matsuda, Etsuro Mori, Minoru Tsukada, and Toshikatsu Fujii. “Neural Correlates of True Memory, False Memory, and Deception.” (n.d.): n. pag. CiteSeerX. Cerebral Cortex, 27 Mar. 2008. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.
Ekman, Paul. “FACIAL EXPRESSIONS OF EMOTION: New Findings, New Questions.” PSCI Psychological Science 3.1 (1992): 34-38. Print.
Ekman, Paul. “Universal Facial Expressions of Emotion.” 8 (1970): n. pag. California Mental Health Research Digest. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.
Gombos, Victor A. “The Cognition of Deception: The Role of Executive Processes in Producing Lies.” Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs 132.3 (2006): 197-214. Print.
LaBarre, Weston. “THE CULTURAL BASIS OF EMOTIONS AND GESTURES.” Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 28 Apr. 2006. Web. 19 Nov. 2015. <;.
Samson, D., IA Apperly, JJ Braithwaite, BJ Andrews, and Scott SE Bodley. “Seeing It Their Way: Evidence for Rapid and Involuntary Computation of What Other People See.” Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception and Performance 36.5 (2010): 1255-66. Print.
Schacter, Daniel, and Scott Slotnick. “The Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory Distortion.” Harvard University, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

One thought on “Chapter 10: Body Language & Deception

  1. sariegel says:

    Michael, this topic is fascinating, and you did a thorough job of researching it within a week. The study done in which people from various cultures could recognize universal facial gestures of joy, disgust, and other signature emotions could partly be explained by mirror neurons. Sociologists and psychologists often explain tendencies toward empathy using mirror neurons. They are part of the reason one person tends to respond to a facial gesture with a similar facial gesture of their own. This could definitely play a biological role in universal recognition of certain key facial expressions.

    In addition, a lot of your research concerning the need of a liar to subvert gestures that could reveal the truth reminded me of the show Lie to Me. This TV series focuses on so-called micro-gestures that reveal the intentions of even skilled liars. Your research made me wonder if this is really a true phenomenon. If so, could this be a new path of research within the science of detecting deception?

    What you found concerning brain activity when people are lying compared to when someone is telling the truth is extremely interesting. The evidence that it takes more thought to lie without the benefit of sensory information that is held within true memories shows what I think most people have experienced. I do wonder if it makes a difference whether the lie contains some or mostly truth. Would those false memories contain a greater amount of sensory information? Can people come to actually believe the false memories they’ve created? Also, what are the implications for technology utilized in lie deception with this new brain imaging?


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