Eyes don’t lie

In the Fox Network television series Lie to me that ran from 2009 to 2011, Dr Cal Lightman (played by Tim Roth) and his team assist everyone from government agencies to private concerns to determine who is telling the truth and who is lying. The good doctor and his crew use applied psychology to analyse microexpressions that apparently reveal what people are really thinking. This, and other shows like The Mentalist, are picking up on the pop psychology idea that body language betrays genuine thought where words can be deceptive. A new study though has suggested that things might not be as simple as this theory would have us believe.

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and other applied psychological perspectives suggest that you can tell from a person’s behaviour whether or not they are lying. It has been said for instance, that a person who is lying often looks up and to the left as you look at them. By contrast a person who is telling the truth is thought to look to the right.

The difference arises from the fact that looking up and to the left is an involuntary response when engaged in constructing imaginary thoughts while looking to the right happens reflexively when you recall memories. The new research however, suggests that this might not be the case.

The researchers conducted two experiments. In the first they filmed subjects while they either lied or told the truth. In the second experiment another group of people watched those recordings and were asked if they could detect lies based on the people’s eye movements.

The first experiment showed no relationship between lying and eye movements and the second showed that even after telling people about the theories of eye movement and lying, they could still not detect accurately when people were lying.

To follow on from this the researchers (from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Hertfordshire) conducted real-world studies where they examined videos of press conferences in which the people speaking were known to be lying or telling the truth. Again no correlation between eye movement and truth telling was found.

The researchers concluded that although behaviour does certainly change when lying, the theorised changes in eye movement are not one of those changes. Mind you, they were looking up and to the left when they said that.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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