Season 2, Episode 14 “React To Contact”

Brain Scanning

There are a few problems with the use of brain scanning (fMRI) in this episode. The scientific evidence for a pattern of brain activity when exposed to an angry face has not been consistent. Even if we were to assume the evidence is better than it is, I disagree with what Lightman says about it. He tells Jeff it is OK to respond to anger expressions in battle but not at home. The issue instead should be what Jeff does, how he acts, when he sees an angry expression.

In the show Jeff is told he showed the same pattern of brain activity to a neutral expression as he did to the angry expression. But the scientific evidence for brain activity in response to neutral expressions is weak, only a few studies with a small number of subjects, and is not specific to PTSD but also observed with social phobic’s and autistic individuals. An expert, Professor Richard Davidson, told me that responses to neutral expressions don’t tell us much more than the person cares about the face.

A further problem is that the face claimed to be neutral is not, but shows a slightly contemptuous smirk.

Virtual Reality

The use of virtual reality to have a person with PTSD re-experience the traumatic event is a new very inventive and promising approach. I am very glad to see this work being done and the public finding out about it.

Real Life

Captain Renshaw tells Foster and Torres he is familiar with Dr. Lightman’s work, read his book at West Point and learned how to read faces. This would not be the first time the show uses an event from my own life and work. It might be a coincidence but I probably told the writers or the creator of the show that I spent three days at West Point in November of 2009.

I was impressed with the cadets and the instructors, and was glad they found my work on micro facial expressions to be interesting. Renshaw says he can’t tell them how many soldiers he helped save, because of what he learned about my work. That also is based on a real event, which I remember telling the ‘Lie To Me’ people about, when I was told that my training tool Micro Expressions, was being used in Afghanistan by our soldiers, and that spotting concealed emotions was saving lives.

Gestural Slip

Foster observes that Becky nodded her head ‘yes’ when Torres asked if something is going on between her and Ronnie, another soldier who is living above their apartment. I call these gestural slips, the equivalent of slips of the tongue. They leak true feelings, involuntarily, and usually they are quite small – much smaller than the head bobbing shown by Becky — only a fragment of the full gesture. The very next instant Becky is told that sucking in her cheek is a sign she is trying to wipe away an obvious emotion – this is not supported by my research or research that I know of by others.

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