Show Menu

Human Face and How It Reveals Deception Cheat Sheet (DRAFT) by [deleted]

Facial expressions and deception

This is a draft cheat sheet. It is a work in progress and is not finished yet.


The first rule in deception detection is to watch the face.
Our faces reveal multitudes about what we are thinking, feeling, intending. A slack jaw hints that we’ve been surprised, flared nostrils suggest hostility. Drooping eyelids indicate sadness or perhaps just … exhaus­tion. This is to say nothing of the powerful messages commun­icated by the face in the embarr­assed downward glance, the flirta­tious “look away,” or the piercing stare.

These well-known and instantly recogn­izable facial expres­sions are but a few of the literally thousands of expres­sions and movements that resear­chers have recorded and mapped over the years while observing the face.

Because our facial expres­sions are reliable indicators of our true emotional state, they are a liespo­tter’s best friend. While not every lift of the eyebrows or tightening of the lips will yield an infallible “truth” or “lie” verdict, trained liespo­tters can glean much from careful study of the face. Master the basics of liespo­tting the Body and liespo­tting the Words, and you’ll soon discover a world of inform­ation about coworkers, clients, friends and strangers that previously was hiding in plain sight.

1. 10,000 unique facial expres­sions

Humans are capable of making 10,000 unique facial expres­sions! That’s an amazing number of combin­ations consid­ering we have just 43 muscles in our face. The good news is you don’t have to recognize all 10,000 to be a good—or even a great—­lie­spo­tter. The facial expres­sions worth knowing about can be grouped into seven basic emotions: fear, happiness, sadness, anger, contempt, disgust and surprise).

2. People across the globe express emotions

People across the globe express emotions with the same basic facial expres­sions. Through his ground­bre­aking research in the 1960s in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, Paul Ekman disproved earlier theories that human expres­sions were learned, and instead showed that our facial expres­sions are innate and universal.

3. Genuine facial expres­sions always symmet­rical

Genuine facial expres­sions are almost always symmet­rical. From frowns to smiles, we typically reveal true feelings evenly on both sides of the face. Just like a picture hanging perfectly plumb on a wall, one’s face looks its most natural when balanced. Six of the seven core emotions are displayed genuinely with symmet­rical expres­sions on the face. What this means is that if a colleague shows signs of surprise on just one side of her face, chances are she already knew what you just told her.

4. We regularly flash micro-­exp­res­sions

We regularly flash micro-­exp­res­sions that last less than 1/25th of a second. Not all of our facial expres­sions, even the genuine ones, are easy to read. Some signs of emotion flash by quickly, in just a split-­second, before we consci­ously or subcon­sci­ously neutralize them. These “micro­-ex­pre­ssions” are noticeable to the trained eye, and can reveal hidden feelings and intent­ions.

5. Involu­ntary movements around the eyes

It’s the involu­ntary movements around the eyes that distin­guish a genuine smile from a fake one. When the rock group the Eagles sang “You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes,” they were probably talking about the insincere smile of a former lover. Genuine, sincere smiles involve two main parts: upward­-turned corners of the mouth, and narrowing of the eyelids to form “crow’s feet” at the corners of the eyes. Humans can consci­ously and fairly easily manipulate the muscles around the mouth to form the bottom half of a smile, but it’s nearly impossible for us to fake the muscle movements of the top half, the area around the eyes. So if your lover’s smile doesn’t engage the eyes—or, if it flashes only on one side of the face—there might be trouble in paradise.

6. Even best liars can’t control facial muscles

Even the best liars can’t control their facial muscles well enough to hide all their emotions. Skilled liars know how to keep a poker face. Thanks to lots of practice and an ability to compar­tme­ntalize the complex emotions that surround deception, good liars can convin­cingly fake expres­sions of fear, anger, sadnes­s—w­hatever the situation calls for. But even the best liars aren’t perfect: The fear of getting found out may overtake them. They might flash a look of contempt at an incomp­etent invest­igator. They might even show a hint of delight at getting away with their deception. Liespo­tters who are trained to elicit and notice these “leaks” can crack the case.

7. Most common way to hide emotions is smiling

The most common way we try to hide our emotions is with a smile. Even though faking them is difficult, we flash artificial smiles all the time as a way to mask other emotions we are feeling. We might quickly squelch an oncoming sad expression with a forced smile as a way of avoiding an embarr­assing emotional display.

8. True sadness is revealed by chin muscles

While true happiness is revealed by the eyes, true sadness is revealed in the muscles of the chin. Only one in ten people can pull down the corners of their lips without also moving their chin muscles. This extra chin movement is the artificial part of a frown, and thus the giveway. If you see the chin muscles engage, chances are you’re seeing an insincere display of sadness.

9. Liars do make eye contact

The most enduring myth about decept­ion­—that liars don’t like to make eye contact—is false. The reality is a truth-­teller is just as likely to break eye contact as someone who is lying. In fact, liars tend to exhibit more eye contact, and for longer stretches, because they believe this will help to “sell” their story. Unfort­una­tely, the myth that “liars look away” persists to this day: 72% of people in a large survey identified this action as a sign of lying. Who knows how many juries have convicted the wrong guy because a defendant who was nervous or embarr­assed didn’t keep eye contact?

10. Truthful; emotional & physical gestures sync

When we are being truthful, our facial expres­sions are naturally expressed in synch with our physical gestures. With deception, as with comedy, timing is everyt­hing. Want to fake your rage by slamming your fists on the table? Better sync it just right with the angry expression on your face. Otherwise it will appear unnatural and deceptive. Genuine emotional displays are almost always simult­aneous.