TSA personnel in the SPOT program (Screening Passengers with Observational Techniques) have come under repeated, unjustified criticism. Their failure to catch people pretending to be bad guys is totally irrelevant to whether they will actually catch the real bad guys. Lets get back to the real world. Money smugglers, weapons smugglers, and much more rarely, terrorists try to get through airport security and not get SPOTted. My research and the research of many other scientists found that when there’s a lot to lose (death or imprisonment) emotions are generated which are very hard to conceal and often leak out in what I call micro-expressions. The SPOT personnel are trained to identify these and many other signs of emotional overload. When there is not only the threat of dire punishment for failure but great reward promised for success whether it be money or 72 virgins it puts a lot of pressure on people’s ability to think, producing cognitive overload, and subtle changes in speech. The SPOT people are trained to detect the subtle signs of emotional and cognitive overload. Of course they didn’t catch the play-actors. They had nothing to lose and nothing to gain if their “bombs” were detected. There was no cognitive or emotional overload. I am all for testing it, but lets not do it in such a shoddy, half-baked, invalid fashion. That only wastes government money and smears a valid, needed layer of airport security. In a never publicly released study by the American Institute of Research, people identified by the TSA SPOTters were fifty times more likely to be wanted felons or smugglers than those selected at random. The evidence is in, the system is working, let’s be grateful for this layer of security.
by Paul Ekman, Ph.D. as featured on Forbes.
Myth #1 – Everyone lies.
Not so. Not about serious matters, not about lies which if caught could result in the end of a relationship, employment, freedom, large sums of money or life itself. Those are what I call high stake lies; they are the lies that the police and the FBI and insecure spouses are trying to catch. They are the lies of the criminal, the terrorist, the philanderer, the embezzler, and what the cops call ‘bad guys’.
Myth #2 – No one lies.
Hardly. Nearly everyone tells low stake lies. Politeness, for example, or praising the host for a dull dinner and conversation, flattery, and so forth. No one really expects to be told the truth in those situations.
Myth #3 – Women can spot lies better than men.
No they can’t; most people are terrible lie catchers, fooled by high stake lies again and again. Often they want to believe the liar. Do you want to find out your lover is unfaithful, your children are using hard drugs, the person you recommended for the job is embezzling? These are hard truths to accept, so the target of the lie often cooperates in being misled because the truth is too painful.
Myth #4 – Psychopaths are perfect liars.
Psychopaths are no more skillful at lying than anyone else, but they are so charming we want to believe them, and we do.
Myth #5 – Looking up and to the left is a sign of lying.
The research shows that which way you look before answering a question is unrelated to whether you are lying.
Myth #6 – Micro facial expressions are proof of lying.
Fleeting facial expressions do reveal an emotion that is being concealed, and that is a kind of lie, but innocents under suspicion may conceal their fear, or anger about being suspected. You need to find out why they are concealing their emotions in order to judge whether it is sign they are guilty of the offense you are investigating.
Myth #7 – Scientists have discovered a silver bullet, which works on everyone, to betray a lie.
We don’t have Pinocchio’s nose. Nothing exists which, if absent, means the person is truthful and if present is proof of lying. The polygraph, the so-called lie detector, is just a little bit better than chance. Yet it does have its use in a criminal investigation—if only one of the suspects fails the test, he or she is the first one to investigate, bearing in mind that this suspect may be the most nervous or worried about not being believed, though innocent.
Myth #8 -There is no way to spot lying from how people behave.
There are what I like to call ‘hot spots’ which indicate you are not getting the full story. If you really do want to catch a liar there are nearly thirty different hot spots to pay attention to. Micro facial expressions and gestural slips are the two most important ones, but there are many more.
For example, a slight shrug, usually of one shoulder, coinciding with a verbal statement of confidence is an example of a ‘hot spot’ revealed in a gestural slip. Something is awry. Another is a slight head shake no, only very slight, when saying ‘yes.’
The most popular questions we receive at the Paul Ekman Group are questions relating to which courses and universities are best equipped to promote a career in becoming an expert in facial expressions and emotion. The answer to this question depends on what level of education you are seeking, and what topic interests you. To help you on your journey, we’ve put together a series of short answers from Dr. Paul Ekman.
If you are in high school and are interested in emotion:
Apply to a college or university at which there is an expert on emotion and/or facial expression. The Psychology Department at UC Berkeley has four faculty members who work on emotion, one of whom studies facial expression. The University of Wisconsin has a program on emotion and compassion, with emphasis on neuroscience substrates. If you are really ambitious, here is our list of over 250 major contributors to the field of emotion.
If you are an undergraduate, interested in emotion and/or facial expressions:
I assume you are not already at a college where there is an emphasis on emotion, so you’re going to have to do a lot of reading. If facial expression is your major interest, check the work of Professor Dacher Keltner, UC Berkeley. If it’s the physiology that drives or underlies emotion, try Professor Robert Levenson, UC Berkeley and Professor Richard Davidson, University of Wisconsin.
If you are seeking a graduate school to obtain a Ph.D.:
We recommend the same two universities above, UC Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin. But there are many other choices; emotion is a popular topic these days!
If you are high school student or undergraduate interested in deception:
Unfortunately, there isn’t much to recommend. Mark Frank in the Communications department at University of Buffalo, and Steve Porter at University of British Columbia, Okenagan Campus, both do research on the behavioral clues relevant to lying. Porter has challenged some of my work, but I respect his work. Frank is continuing many of the studies and approach I initiated.
If you are not currently a student:
PEG has established an international network of Licensed Delivery Centers (LDCs) through Paul Ekman International which deliver courses in Emotional Skills and Competencies (ESaC) and Evaluating Truthfulness and Credibility (ETaC). These cater to a wide range of professionals in their public courses and corporate programs. Please contact Paul Ekman International for further information, dates, and locations near you.
We wish you much success in your studies! For more information and helpful links, please visit our FAQ page.
To have your questions answered by Dr. Paul Ekman, submit them by using the hashtag #AskEkman on Twitter.
Many readers have asked whether Snowden was lying in his recent NBC-TV interview, knowing I have worked for the government and corporations spotting lies by how someone behaves. When I attempt to evaluate truthfulness I need to be the one asking the questions, able to ask follow up questions, allowed as many hours as I need, and the person I am interviewing must not have had time to prepare or be coached. Even if these requirements were to be met, I maintain a strict policy: I never evaluate anyone involved in litigation. In our judicial system it is the responsibility of the jury not an expert to determine truthfulness, difficult as that often is when only yes/no questions can be asked, and there is plenty of time for answers to be prepared. So, under these circumstances, I simply cannot comment on Snowden’s veracity. Still, some of Snowden’s claims merit consideration.
Snowden claims longer and more serious employment than was previously revealed by the government, and many attempts to be a whistle-blower, which, he says, were met with resistance by the NSA. The next day after the NBCTV interview the NSA denied these claims, as did Senator Diane Feinstein, head of the Senate committee that oversees intelligence capabilities. We don’t know who to believe.
Snowden claims he would not be granted a fair, open trial with access to all the charges and witnesses against him if he were to return to the United States. That is probably true, because a public trial, or even a closed trial in which all the information against him were to be revealed, might help our enemies if they were to find out. This leaves Snowden in limbo, the resolution of which has not been suggested by anyone.
Snowden also said that our mobile phones can be turned on by the intelligence agencies of the industrialized world, without our knowledge or consent, to listen to what we are saying. No one has denied this claim! When I was a Fulbright lecturer at Leningrad State University in 1979, people whose homes I visited would immediately put their telephones in the bathroom, convinced that otherwise the KGB would hear what we said. Do we need to take the same precaution against the NSA?
No one is claiming Snowden forged the NSA documents he stole, which revealed previously unknown threats to privacy. I would like to see an impartial judicial authority, perhaps an international one, review those revelations, charged with suggesting regulations of whose privacy can be invaded without notice or consent. They might also consider how to resolve the question of whether there is any way for Snowden to get a fair trial, and if not how should the issue of whether he should be punished be resolved.
We need public discussion of the tradeoffs involved if and when privacy is invaded, to be certain the public knows what is being done, if not in every specific instance, then in general. If what I am suggesting is not feasible there must be some way to change where this matter presently stands – in a state of confusion about charges and countercharges.
For more on Privacy Invasion, read “Who Should Know How You Are Feeling?” by Paul Ekman featured on his blog, Face It!
Where you go on the Internet, where you travel on city streets, that and more is all up for grabs
Google? NSA? Walmart? It soon may be possible for them to track your emotions in addition to your whereabouts without your knowledge or consent. No regulations from the government to prevent massive surveillance are on the horizon. Already companies are selling software that identifies your name just by looking at your face. The New York Times Business section on Sunday May 18th ran a front page article about the threat of privacy invasion now that software programs identify not only who you are by using hidden cameras to scan your face but then also link to your Facebook posts and other sources of information about you which you didn’t know you were providing.
The next step in privacy invasion
The Times article didn’t mention the next step in privacy invasion, just around the corner – new computer programs that can link your identity to how you are feeling at the moment. What was your emotional reaction when you read the latest news about … Edward Snowden, Kim Kardashian, or President Obama? How did you feel about the latest packaging of Tide, or Trojans? Which TV ad for which politician got the biggest emotional kick from you?
Automated computer recognition of moment-to-moment emotions, even attempts to hide emotions, is nearly here. Crude or incomplete versions are already in use, and better ones will soon be available. I know about all of this having developed the first comprehensive offline tool for measuring facial expressions, and my participation in a company that is developing automated emotion recognition based on my work.
People wearing Google Glass may know not only who you are but also how you are feeling
Despite Google’s attempt to prevent this use of their product, something similar will become available from a copycat manufacturer that reveals the same information. The real threat to privacy comes from the surveillance cameras that are nearly everywhere, when they are able to know our most personal feelings about whatever we are looking at, or the emotions that we are feeling as we remember something from our past, recent or distant. These automated “emotion sensors” won’t know what triggered our emotions, just what emotions we are feeling.
The clever use of this invasive technology will attempt to provoke us by triggering engineered emotional events, without prior consent for having our emotions triggered, or having our emotions read, or having our emotions linked to our identity and everything that is already stored about us (what we buy, where we go, who we live with, and who knows what else).
Can our privacy be rescued from invasion?
Can our identity be hidden, the emotions shown on our face not read?
Joseph J. Atick, one of the pioneers of identity recognition, was quoted in the N.Y. Times as saying that companies using face recognition to identify us should post notices they are doing so; they should seek permission from a consumer before identifying them, and use that information only for the purposes the consumer has consented to. Those are very modest protections, in my judgment, but still opposed by some of the companies selling the recognition software.
More protection is needed when it comes to reading our emotions
Our consent has to be obtained by more than a public notice that it is being done, and more than clicking on a website’s fine print. A specific, explicit consent to have our emotions monitored by a particular company for a specific purpose, that is time limited, probably to one- or two-hour period, should be obtained. Reading children’s emotions should require parental consent for each occasion it is done. And when a government agency such as the NSA reads our emotions, some regulation, better than ones currently in place, need to be established to protect our privacy.
I am a face scientist, not an attorney, data wonk or legislator. I hope this blog will alert all those responsible for the protection of the public to the urgent need for establishing privacy guidelines.
Brian Williams of NBC News talks with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the global impact and debate sparked by his revelations. Read more about this exclusive here.
Why do we care when we see the Nigerian schoolgirls who are the prisoners of Boko Haram?
We DO watch. Most of us don’t change channels. Why?
There is nothing which ordinarily might catch our eyes: no one is badly injured, or beautifully dressed, or posing in a sexy way. And no one is asking us to do something: give money; write a letter, or anything else. Usually when we are shown suffering somewhere else in the world, like the Japanese Tsunami disaster, we are asked to donate to those in distress. With the schoolgirls, we can only feel compassion for them; there is nothing we can do to help them.
While we watch the Nigerian story many of us imagine the despair, the anger, and frustration the parents of those poor girls must be feeling. Even if we aren’t parents ourselves, we feel a concern for those desperate mothers and fathers. When I became a parent I felt that my heart had been opened; I became concerned about the welfare and suffering of all children, not just my own.
When we see those captured schoolgirls on the screen we feel what I call “global compassion”. Despite our cultural and linguistic differences, we are able to feel the pain of their situation. What we do share is a sense of common humanity; they are fellow human beings and they and their parents are suffering.
In the history of human existence the capacity to witness the suffering of totally unknown and faraway people is but a blip, a moment in our time on this planet made possible by technology. Compassion was shaped as a human characteristic for family members — the Dalai Lama and Charles Darwin both thought the mother’s compassion for her child is the seed of compassion. We don’t have to learn it; it is given, to parents.
Familial and Familiars Compassion
When I lived and worked in an isolated preliterate culture in New Guinea fifty-seven years ago they were still using stone implements. It was not possible to witness the suffering of total strangers. Instead compassion was felt for members of their own family, fellow villagers, or related tribes. I called this “familiars compassion ”. Although the research has not and cannot now be done, I suspect that everyone in that culture felt both familial and “familiars” compassion, and never had an opportunity to experience compassion for strangers. For there were none.
Compassion in Today’s World
Today, even though we can observe the distress of others far away and unlike us, not everyone feels “global compassion”. Some do, but generally, when the victim appears different from us in every way, fewer of us feel moved to take kindhearted action.
Perhaps the Nigerian schoolgirls are an exception, overcoming the usual obstacles to compassion because their plight touches on our own hardwired parental concern. The pull is unavoidable. Or maybe it is just the novelty that grabs us; have we ever before seen so many young girls kidnapped?
More about the nature of compassion can be found in my new ebook Moving Toward Global Compassion. Additionally, new videos of my discussions on compassion with the Dalai Lama will appear on my website soon. Sign up for my newsletter to be notified when the first “webisode” becomes available.
Lisa Feldman-Barrett’s recent contribution (New York Times, February 28, 2014) seeks to undermine the science showing universality in the interpretation of facial expressions. In her eyes, recent evidence “challenges[ing] the theory, attributed to Charles Darwin, that facial movements might be evolved behaviors for expressing emotion.” Such a disagreement really belongs in exchanges of findings and theory in a scientific journal, evaluated by colleagues as evidence accumulates, not the public press. This is not the first time that Feldman-Barrett publicized her views in the press. We didn’t respond then, but feel compelled to do so now so that the public is not misled, and is apprised of the broader, Darwin-inspired science of emotional expression many scientists are working on today.
First, let’s get the science right. Darwin never claimed in his great book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) that all facial expressions are universal, only a specific set of expressions that he had observed and studied. Nearly one-hundred years later Silvan Tomkins helped Ekman and Carrol Izard refine and add to Darwin’s list. In the late sixties, Izard and Ekman in separate studies each showed photographs from Tomkins’ own collection, to people in various literate cultures, Western and Non-Western. They found strong cross cultural agreement in the labeling of those expressions. Ekman closed the loophole that observing mass media might account for cross cultural agreement by studying people in a Stone Age culture in New Guinea who had seen few if any outsiders and no media portrayals of emotion. These preliterate people also recognized the same emotions when shown the Darwin-Tomkins set. The capacity for humans in radically different cultures to label facial expressions with terms from a list of emotion terms has replicated nearly 200 hundred times.
Feldman Barrett is right to ask whether individuals in radically different cultures provide similar interpretations of facial expressions if allowed to describe the expressions on their own terms, rather than a list of emotion terms. Haidt and Keltner did such a study comparing the free responses to the Darwin-Tomkins set of expressions and some other expressions, with people in rural India and the U.S. Once again the findings of universality were clear cut, and evidence of universality in the expression of embarrassment was also found. The evidence on the judgment of the Darwin-Tomkins facial expressions is robust; so we suppose is Feldman-Barrett’s evidence for the expressions not covered in the Darwin-Tomkins set. She has missed that point, not understanding the difference between unselected and theoretically selected facial expressions.
Feldman-Barrett also ignores two other very powerful data sets that don’t involve showing portrayals of facial expressions to people. Instead what people actually do, spontaneous facial expressions, is measured in numerous, different emotional contexts. Ekman and Friesen published what might be the first such study comparing the spontaneous facial expressions shown by Japanese and American subjects in a private and public setting, finding universal facial expressions – the Darwin-Tomkins set—in private, and different expressions in public. Since then over a hundred studies have been published measuring spontaneous facial expressions, enough to justify two volumes reprinting the articles of dozens of scientists by Oxford University Press.
Another large body of research has established different patterns of physiology – in bodily changes generated by Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) activity and in brain activity – coinciding with the appearance of the Darwin-Tomkins set of facial expressions. Separate, well-replicated studies, have also shown that voluntarily generating the Darwin-Tomkins set of facial expressions produced distinct changes in ANS and brain activity! Still other studies have related the Darwin-Tomkins set of expressions to distinct responses, including cortisol, oxytocin, dopamine, and the cytokine response that is part of the immune system. This work, ignored in Feldman-Barrett’s critiques, suggests that facial expressions not only are informative about individuals’ feelings, but patterns of neurophysiological activation in their bodies. Darwin emphasized the importance of some universal facial expressions in establishing the unity of mankind, challenging the racist assertions of his time that Europeans had descended from a more advanced progenitor that Africans. Those findings and the conclusion that all human beings have a shared set of facial expressions remains unchallenged.
Are there universal facial expressions?