Duping Delight

December, 2009

duping delight

Duping Delight

The Thrill of Lying

The Navy warrant officer John Anthony Walker, Jr. was convicted as a spy for the Soviet Union in 1987, and is serving a life sentence. The New York Times said he had been the most damaging spy in history, having helped the Soviets decipher over 200,000 encrypted naval messages. It wasn’t the polygraph that caught him, nor surveillance by U.S. counter-espionage officers. His wife Barbara turned him into the FBI. He was bragging about all the money he was making, but Barbara was his ex-wife and Walker was behind in alimony payments.

What motivated this smart, devious fellow to be so foolish? Probably what I call duping delight, the near irresistible thrill some people feel in taking a risk and getting away with it. Sometimes it includes contempt for the target who is being so ruthlessly and successfully exploited. It is hard to contain duping delight; those who feel it want to share their accomplishments with others, seeking admiration for their exploits.

Successful Liars

When Hitler so successfully lied to Chamberlain concealing that he had already mobilized the German army to attack Poland, he asked for a time-out from their meeting. With his generals who had been witnessing his most successful lies, Hitler went into an anteroom, where he reportedly jumped up and down with joy, and then having reduced his duping delight, he returned to the meeting.

The presence of others witnessing the successful liar typically intensifies the delight experienced and increases the chances that some of the excitement, pleasure, and contempt will leak, thus betraying the liar. Not everyone is likely to feel duping delight; some people are terrified of being caught. More manipulative individuals are vulnerable to this emotion; the third emotion that most often betrays a lie is fear–guilt about lying.

Catching a Liar

Duping delight is an especially useful emotion when detected by the lie catcher because it is not often felt by an innocent person under suspicion. As I explained in a former newsletter, such an innocent person may be afraid of being disbelieved, complicating the interpretation of fear as conclusive evidence of lying about a misdeed. And people may show guilt about some other aspect of the situation, not relevant to the misdeed the interviewer is investigating.  Recall in a former newsletter that the sergeant who did not murder his neighbor’s wife but was guilty about having been sexually aroused when he discovered her nude body.

Duping delight is not always a certain sign, for it to can occur for reasons other than pride in having misled someone. I consulted with the police on a case in which a fourteen-year-old boy was accused of murdering his former girlfriend of twelve. He was dressed in the outfit of a member of the counter-culture, and such individuals are likely to feel superior to the police, or a television presenter, making no attempt to conceal their contempt, and pleasure in toying with anyone who is falsely accusing them of a crime.

Paul Ekman is a well-known psychologist and co-discoverer of micro expressions. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine in 2009. He has worked with many government agencies, domestic and abroad. Dr. Ekman has compiled over 50 years of his research to create comprehensive training tools to read the hidden emotions of those around you.

The Neglected Clue: Mini’s

Hidden Facial Messages

Hidden Facial Messages

Hidden Facial Messages

November, 2009

Subtle Expressions

It was the last day of the Irangate Congressional hearings. Lt. Colonel Oliver North, impressively uniformed, very much in command of the situation, listened attentively as Congressman Lee Hamilton praised North’s many years of dedicated service to the country. Then without warning Hamilton said “but you almost brought a President down”. North did not reply in words, instead he displayed a very subtle lower lip raise, a very tiny pout. The possibility that his covert supply of weapons to the Contras might have damaged President Reagan hurt North. This subtle expression was important because it told those who recognized it that North was not a psychopath, for they don’t care about hurting others.

POUTS: Early in infancy right before a full force cry the lower lip often is pushed up in a prominent pout. Intervention then can often abort the crying episode. But in most adults, especially males, and a Marine officer, all that remains of the cry that leaks out is the subtle, miniature pout.

I have wondered why these subtle expressions have not gotten the attention that micro facial expressions receive. They also can reveal an emotion a person is trying to conceal. But the media – the TV show Lie to Me, and the press – have focused on micros not these minimal, subtle expressions.

In my book TELLING LIES, I only mention them in closing chapters, and didn’t emphasize them as much as current research suggests they deserve. Perhaps also ‘subtle expression’ is too long a moniker, not as snappy as micros. That is why I am adopting the term ‘mini’ to refer to them. Recent research by a team of English scientists showed that training to recognize minis (with the Subtle Expression Training Tool) improved the ability to identify lies, a little better than training to recognize micros!

In our workshop on Hidden Facial Messages we train people to recognize minis, micros and the clues that a facial expression is false.

Minis can be shown in any part of the face — forehead, eyebrows, eyelids, nose, cheeks, lips, or chin. Sometimes they cut across a number of regions, they can even register across the entire face, but that is less frequent than being restricted to one or two facial regions. Although minis can be as brief as a micro, typically they last longer on the face.

Mini Expression Triggers

Minis are triggered when:

  1. A person’s deliberate attempt to conceal a strongly felt emotion is not completely successful, so that it leaks out in a mini.
  2. The emotion being felt is very slight, and will quickly pass.
  3. An emotion that is going to grow stronger first begins, revealed in a mini before the person showing it is aware of becoming emotional.

We don’t yet know if there are any differences in the minis’ appearance as a result of what triggered it. I suspect there is not, just as there is no difference in the appearance of a micro resulting from suppression or repression. To accurately interpret minis the observer has to determine what triggered it. Usually that is obvious by the context in which it occurs and the answers to further questions asked of the person who showed the mini.

Learn to Identify Minis

Learning to identify minis can help establish rapport, allowing people who recognize minis to better calibrate their own behavior. It is useful to the health care provider, the teacher, the salesperson, negotiator and the interrogator. And because it can also betray a concealed emotion recognizing minis is important to anyone who needs to know more than what the other person wishes to reveal.

In my book EMOTIONS REVEALED, and in the workshop Hidden Facial Messages, I explain how to skillfully use the information obtained from minis (and micros) in the workplace, in family life and friendships.

Most people do not recognize minis without training with Subtle Expressions. It takes about an hour for most people to develop the skill to spot minis.

Subtle Expressions has two parts. In the Learning section the minis for each of the seven universal emotions are displayed one at a time; for example, there are six different minis that register sadness. Each one is shown twice and then held on the screen. In the practice section minis of all seven emotions are shown in a randomized order and the learner has to judge which of the seven emotions each mini displays. We suggest a slow exposure speed the first time through. At the end of the practice the number correctly judged is displayed. If it is above 85% correct, the exposure speed should be shortened, and the practice repeated. Each time the practice is used the minis are shown in a different randomized order.

Paul Ekman is a well-known psychologist and co-discoverer of micro expressions. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine in 2009. He has worked with many government agencies, domestic and abroad. Dr. Ekman has compiled over 50 years of his research to create comprehensive training tools to read the hidden emotions of those around you.

Why Lies Fail – Part 2

Why Do Lies Fail?

October, 2009

feeling guilty

Feeling Guilty

Feeling Guilty

Why do lies fail? I asked people “If you could be absolutely certain that your lover would never find out, would you have a one-night stand with a very attractive person?” About half said “no”. They didn’t differ from those who said “yes” (that they would cheat) in whether they were married or single, if married, how long they had been married, and if in a committed relationship, how long they had known their lover. Men as often as women said they wouldn’t cheat. When I asked these non-cheaters “why not”, they said they would feel too guilty.

Not every cheater realizes ahead of time how guilty he or she might feel afterwards. Guilt about breaking the other person’s trust, compounded by lying about it, is the second emotion that can betray a lie. (Fear about being caught was discussed in Newsletter 3.) Guilt changes the sound of the voice. The facial expression of guilt is not different from sadness, but eye contact is avoided and the head may be angled down or turned away.

The changes in behavior are involuntary, hard to suppress, just as they are in fear; but guilt and fear don’t look or sound alike. Strong feelings of either emotion may also interfere with the ability to speak smoothly or coherently, which can betray a liar.

Some people readily feel guilt, as if they are looking for an opportunity to take responsibility for a misdeed. Police need to be cautious about such people who may confess to crimes they didn’t commit with little prodding to do so. And some people are quite resistant to feeling this emotion, rarely taking responsibility for causing harm to others – ‘it was his fault’ or ‘she wouldn’t have gotten hurt if she hadn’t wanted to take the risk’. The most extreme case is the psychopath who feels no guilt about harming others.

Guilt may become so unbearable that it motivates a confession. Guilty people often feel relieved at having gotten their offense off their chest, hoping for forgiveness. They may not anticipate that sometimes a betrayed person may have a very hard time trusting them again.

Feeling Ashamed

People who feel ashamed don’t want to confess, certain that if their shameful act was discovered the person who found out would be repulsed. It is not just a misdeed; people feel ashamed about who and what they are. They are often the targets of their own loathing. They do not believe they can ever be forgiven for what they have done, or accepted for whom they are if their true nature was ever to be discovered.

I believe that most people fail to consider how difficult it is to maintain the lies that become necessary to conceal some misdeed. They don’t:

  • Anticipate exactly when, nor how often they might come under suspicion;
  • What they will need to say as a cover;
  • The problem of remembering what they said, in order to keep their story straight the next time they are queried;
  • The guilt they may feel;
  • The disruptive impact of the fear of being caught;
  • And, the severe penalty a loss of trust imposes.

Guilt is most likely when the liar shares values and respects the target of the lie. It is much harder to lie or cheat someone who has acted fairly. But if the wages are too low, the spouse cold and inconsiderate, the parent too strict – the liar may feel entitled to cheat, and feel no guilt about doing so. No guilt is felt when lying is authorized by a higher authority as it is for the spy, the undercover vice police officer, or the terrorist.

Emotions Don’t Tell Us Their Trigger

The lie catcher must be cautious not to interpret signs of guilt as proof of a misdeed. Even when people try to conceal guilt feelings that does not mean the person is guilty of the misdeed under investigation. They could be feeling guilty about something else. Always remember emotions don’t tell us what triggered them.

Sometimes there is no consensus about whether the truth must be told: A woman about her age? A man or woman about how many sexual partners they have had in the last year? Is all fair in love and war? The seducer who falsely proclaims undying love may believe the target must know that it is a ‘line’. If there is no widely accepted consensus about whether truthfulness is required, or if the liar is convinced the target really doesn’t want to know, or knows but doesn’t object, guilt wont be felt.

In the next Newsletter learn about the third emotion that most often betrays the criminal, spy, terrorist or rebellious adolescent.

Paul Ekman is a well-known psychologist and co-discoverer of micro expressions. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine in 2009. He has worked with many government agencies, domestic and abroad. Dr. Ekman has compiled over 50 years of his research to create comprehensive training tools to read the hidden emotions of those around you.

Why Lies Fail – Part 1

Why do lies fail?

September 2009

Why Lies Fair

Why Lies Fail

When asking why lies fail, it’s important to remember this:

Not all do.

  • “Can’t talk now, just on the way out the door”.
  • “I love your new dress.”
  • “What a great evening, thanks so much.”
  • “Sorry, couldn’t get a babysitter.

Which lies fail?

Instead of asking why lies fail or succeed, instead turn your attention to the type and circumstances of the lie.

Such lies of every day life usually go undetected because the target wants to be misled. It would be rude if the truth were to be told:

  • “I don’t want to talk to you now, or ever.”
  • “The dress is totally inappropriate for someone your age, and the color is wrong to boot.”
  • “The food was dull and the company worse.”
  • “I don’t want to get stuck wasting another evening.”

And, it would also be rude if the target challenged whether the truth was being told.

Trivial lies

Another reason such trivial lies succeed is because nothing is at stake, the liar doesn’t expect to be questioned, doesn’t fear being caught. If by accident the target later found out that the truth had not been told, what had been said was an excuse or flattery, no harm done.

Research shows that it is easy to tell such trivial lies precisely because nothing much is at stake, so there will be no clues to deceit in demeanor. Of course many lies – trivial or serious — are detected not from what the liar said or how he or she said it, but from other sources unrelated to the liar’s demeanor. A witness observes a violation of the lie, or some physical evidence (lipstick on the shirt collar), for example.

Serious lies

It is only when a lot is at stake, when not only a valued reward would be lost but also punishment will be delivered if the lie is uncovered, that there is a chance that the liar’s demeanor will betray the lie.

“No, I am not the least bit angry; I really appreciate your criticism.”

“If you lie, I will catch you…”

In one of my research studies I gave the participants the opportunity to take money that wasn’t theirs and lie about it, or not take the money and truthfully proclaim their innocence.

When I began my interrogation I held up my book Telling Lies, saying, “I wrote this book. If you lie, I will catch you but if you tell the truth I will know it.” I was trying to increase the fear of being caught in those who were about to lie and decrease the fear of being mistakenly judged a liar, reassuring those about to be truthful.

Show no fear

Since the signs of fear look exactly the same for a liar afraid of being caught and a truthful person afraid of being disbelieved, signs of that emotion are useless unless there is reason to believe that only the liar will be afraid.

Fear increases the more that can be gained if the lie goes undetected. Fear increases with the severity of the punishment for being caught is severe. The truthful person afraid of being mistakenly identified as a liar also will be more afraid when the threatened punishment for that mistaken judgment is severe.

Remembering the Scott Peterson Case

Past success in telling a particular lie – multiple arrests but no convictions, many affairs never suspected, drug use not noticed by parents – generates confidence, just as a target known to be suspicious increases fear. Liars who have the opportunity to rehearse will be less afraid of being caught.

Scott Peterson showed many examples of fear in his initial police interrogation. His wife Laci, eight months pregnant, was reported missing on December 24, 2002. After he changed his story about where he was when she disappeared, and his massage therapist girlfriend came forward revealing that he had told her two weeks before Laci’s disappearance that his wife was “lost,” the police became suspicious. A retired law enforcement officer and I reviewed a videotape of his first interrogation at the request of the local police. We did not then know the girlfriend’s story.

Peterson showed many micro expressions and some not-so-micro expressions of fear; still, we had to consider whether it might be an innocent husbands fear of being disbelieved. There were so many other forms of leakage that we were convinced he was the murderer. Peterson was sentenced to death. His case is on appeal to the Supreme Court of California. He maintains his innocence.

Emotion’s role in believability

Lies about a strong emotion felt right at the moment are the hardest to tell successfully. It doesn’t matter which emotion is denied: anger, fear, disgust, contempt, excitement, enjoyment, sadness or surprise. Each of these emotions generates involuntary changes in facial expressions, voice, gaze and posture. Most people cannot deliberately inhibit or cover every manifestation of an emotion when it is felt strongly. The emotional load – the burden of trying to conceal any sign of the emotion that is churning away – interferes also with the ability to speak coherently and convincingly, so that the words spoken may also betray the lie.

Many lies are not about emotions felt at the moment; rather they conceal a past action, plans for a future action, thoughts, attitudes, or values. If the discovery of the lie could result in punishment, then the liar will have emotions about engaging in the lies. These feelings about lying will generate involuntary changes in demeanor that can betray the lie.


Paul Ekman is a well-known psychologist and co-discoverer of micro expressions. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine in 2009. He has worked with many government agencies, domestic and abroad. Dr. Ekman has compiled over 50 years of his research to create comprehensive training tools to read the hidden emotions of those around you.

Why People Lie

Reasons for Lying

why people lie

Why People Lie

March, 2009

Avoiding Punishment

“I thought I was only going 55 miles an hour officer” claims the driver speeding at 70 mph. “My wristwatch stopped so I had no idea that I got home 2 hours after my curfew”, says the teenager. Avoiding punishment is the most frequent reason people tell serious lies, regardless of their age, whether it be to avoid the speeding ticket or being grounded. In serious lies there is a threat of significant damage if the lie is discovered: loss of freedom, money, job, relationship, reputation, or even life itself.

It is only in such serious lies, in which the liar would be punished if detected, that lies are detectable from demeanor – facial expression, body movements, gaze, voice, or words. The threat imposes an emotional load, generating involuntary changes that can betray the lie. The lies of everyday life where it doesn’t matter if they are detected – no punishment or rewards — that lies are easily told flawlessly.

Concealing Reward or Benefit

In serious lies the falsehood is usually told to conceal the reward or benefit the liar obtained by breaking a rule or explicit expectation. The curfew violator was able to stay longer at the party; the speeding driver is rushing because he pushed the snooze button when the alarm went off. The husband who claims the ringer on the telephone in his office must have been turned off when he was ‘working’ late – in a hotel room with his girlfriend – will pay no price if his lie succeeds. In each of these examples, the rule breaker decides before breaking a rule that he or she will if questioned lie to cover the cheating. Sometimes the reward could have been achieved – a high mark on an exam — without cheating but not as easily, it would have taken more effort (hours of study in this example).

Protecting Someone from Harm

Protecting someone else from harm is the next most important reason why people tell serious lies. You don’t want your friend, you fellow worker, your sibling, your spouse – anyone who you care about — to get punished, even if you don’t agree with what the person you are protecting did that put him or her in danger. It is not certain whether society approves of these lies. When policemen refuse to testify against a fellow officer they know has broken the law, we respect their motives but many people believe they should be truthful. Yet the terms we use – rat, fink, snitch – are derogatory. Anonymous call-in lines exist so those who volunteer information can avoid any loss of reputation or danger by informing. Do we have different standards for people who take the initiative to inform as compared to those who inform when directly asked to reveal information? I will reconsider this issue in a later newsletter when I write about children’s lies and why we don’t want them to tattle.


To protect yourself from being harmed even when you have not broken any rule is still another motive. The child home alone who tells the stranger knocking on the door “my father is taking a nap come back later”, has committed no misdeed that he or she is concealing; it is a self-protection lie.

Some lies are told to win admiration from others. Boasting about something untrue is an obvious instance. It is common in children, some adolescents, and even adults. If discovered it harms the reputation of the boaster, but not much more than that. Claiming falsely to have earned money for previous investors moves into the criminal realm.

Maintaining Privacy

To maintain privacy, without asserting that right, is another reason why people may lie. A daughter answering her mother’s question “who were you talking to on the phone just now”, by naming a girlfriend, not the boy who is asking her out on a date, is an example. It is only when there is a strong trusting relationship, that a child would feel brave enough to say “that’s private”, announcing the right to have a secret. Another topic I will return to in my newsletter about trust.

The Thrill of it All!

Some people lie for the sheer thrill of getting away with it, testing their unsuspected power. Many children will at some point lie to their parents simply to see if they can do it. Some people do this all the time enjoying the power they obtain in controlling the information available to the target.

Avoiding Embarrassment

Avoiding embarrassment is still another motive for some serious and many trivial lies. The child who claims the wet seat resulted from spilling a glass of water, not from wetting her pants is an example, if the child did not fear punishment for her failure, just embarrassment.

Avoiding embarrassment is relevant to many less serious lies that come under the rubric of lies-of-everyday-life. Very often people lie to get out of an awkward social situation. They may not know how to do it – “can’t get a babysitter” offered to avoid another dull evening and food. “Sorry I am on my way out the door”, an excuse given by people who do not feel brave enough to be truthful even to a totally unknown telephone solicitor.

Being Polite

Then there are the deceptions that are required by politeness — “thanks so much for the lovely party” or “that color really looks good on you”. I don’t consider these to be lies, anymore than bluffing in poker is a lie, acting in a play is lying, or the asking price not being the selling price. In all of these instances the target does not expect to be told the truth, there is notification. But the impostor is a liar, as is the con man, because they are taking advantage of our expectation that we will be told the truth. More about this will be in my newsletter about the different techniques for lying.


Paul Ekman is a well-known psychologist and co-discoverer of micro expressions. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine in 2009. He has worked with many government agencies, domestic and abroad. Dr. Ekman has compiled over 50 years of his research to create comprehensive training tools to read the hidden emotions of those around you.