The science behind the show
Dr. Ekman and his research inspired the award-winning television series Lie to Me. Dr. Ekman also served as Scientific Advisor to the show. He analyzed and critiqued each episode’s script and taught the cast and crew about the science of deception detection.
You too can learn from the expert. Start now >
Dr. Ekman’s Episode Critiques
Dr. Ekman served a critical role in the development of ‘Lie to Me’. He critiqued each episode for scientific validity. Join him as he differentiates hard science from pure entertainment. Tap on each photo to read Dr. Ekman’s critique.
Dr. Ekman and Lie to Me
The main character, Dr. Cal Lightman is loosely based off of Dr. Ekman. Many of the episodes of Lie to Me feature references from Dr. Ekman’s own experiences. For example, the pilot episode shows Dr. Lightman lecturing to several FBI agents. Dr. Ekman lectured to the FBI in a variety of settings throughout his career.
In the scene, two agents discuss how Cal reportedly traveled to the African jungle to study facial expressions in a primitive tribe. This reference is based on Dr. Ekman’s own travels. In 1967 and 1968, Dr. Ekman traveled to Papua New Guinea to study facial expressions in an isolated tribe.
Lightman shows the FBI agents a tape of his interview with a suspect accused of trying to firebomb a church. Lightman focuses the agents’ attention on close-ups of the suspect’s face. He points out various micro expressions of emotions the suspect is trying to conceal. One of the agents asks if micro expressions vary depending on the person. Lightman responds by juxtaposing the suspect’s micro expression of scorn with a still of Kato Kaelin exhibiting the same expression . This scene highlights Dr. Ekman’s scientific findings that micro expressions are universal.
While much of Dr. Ekman’s research informs Lightman’s character, the personal aspects of Lightman’s character are not based on Dr. Ekman. For instance, Lightman is British, divorced, and has a strained relationship with his one child. Dr. Ekman is American, has been happily married for over thirty years, and has a good relationship with his two children.