Dodging Glances

Author: Lori Brown



Truth. Lies. Videotape. How can one catch a liar?  How can you spot the truth?  These are questions we would all LOVE to have the answer to.  Imagine the power you would hold if you could!  What sort of nonverbal cues can be identified as an indicator of deception? That is exactly what 5 researchers set out to accomplish with their 2012 article, Windows to the Soul? Deliberate Eye Contact as a Cue to Deceit.  

Researchers Samantha Mann, Aldert Vrij, Sharon Leal, Pa¨r Anders Granhag,Lara Warmelink, and Dave Forrester conducted an experiment to take a closer look at how eye contact and gaze aversion relates to truth telling and deception. These researchers challenged the common belief that people avert eye contact when lying and hypothesized that liars made the same amount of eye contact that truth tellers did, but the liars held the eye contact longer, and sometimes unnaturally.   To test this hypothesis the researchers interviewed a sample of over 300 people passing through a major international airport.  These people were asked simple questions regarding their flight destination and travel plans.  Some were instructed to tell the truth and some were told to lie.   The interviews were videotaped and the results were analyzed.  Four different individuals rated the amount of eye contact and gaze aversion and an average was calculated to account for individual subjectiveness. The researchers took into account the different culture norms as many of the subjects were from different ethnicities and made appropriate adjustments.  The results supported the researcher’s initial hypothesis that gaze aversion is no different in liars and truth tellers but liars are exposed as they use more deliberate eye contact and hold longer gazes.

Research analyzing nonverbal behavior to determine truth from falsehoods has been found dating to over a century ago when researchers began studying the physiognomic perspective essentially a person’s outward appearance. (Burgoon, Guerrero, and Floyd, 2010, pg 408)  Little conclusive evidence has been solidified for nonverbal indicators of deceit in the past century but new theories have surfaced.  One being the motivation impairment effect (MIE) essential stating, “…the harder people try, the more they will fail nonverbally…. The idea is when people are motivated to deceive, they will attempt to manage their demeanor and will succeed at the verbal level but over control nonverbal performances, resulting in greater nonverbal leakage that makes their lies detectable.” (Burgoon, Guerrero, and Floyd, 2010, pg 418)  The experiment preformed in the airport is supportive of the motivation impairment effect.  The liars were intentionally seeking deliberate eye contact and in doing so over controlled their nonverbal behavior and held their gazes longer than the truth tellers.

Experts in the nonverbal communication field agree there are no fool proof non-verbal signs that someone is lying. (Burgoon, Guerrero, and Floyd, 2010, pg 420)  As time passes and technology develops there are new hypothesis and theories surfacing that might shed some light on centuries old quest.  As we are able to gather new information and educate ourselves on what to watch for in our interactions with others our accuracy might improve.  Next time somebody holds hold eye contact a little too long, you better think twice!


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