Lie detection is a serious thing. It’s not some frivolous little party trick that you can use to wow people. Let’s face it, when you accuse someone of lying, it isn’t exactly going to make you well liked or popular. But it’s much more serious than a popularity contest isn’t it? When you say someone is lying, it’s a declaration and a challenge to someone’s integrity. And depending on the situation, the consequences of succeeding in your campaign to dishonour someone is that the person’s future is irreversibly affected. So it makes sense that when you decide to declare someone a liar, you better be sure that your thinking process and the source that contributed to your thinking process is sound. Because can you really be okay with condemning another person based on a myth?
When ‘Pop’ creates ‘Crash’
I’ll be very frank about pop psychology. It’s very attractive. I realise how sometimes even life changing discoveries can be very dry or hard to buy into. Adding some ‘pop’ can makes a bit easier to inform the public to fund further research and development. However, that comes with a price. The danger comes when it is misrepresenting a hypothesis or hypotheses as if it is something that has been unanimously confirmed. It’s more dangerous when that misrepresentation is further trained to professionals and then inevitably backfires.
While you can argue that professionals should know better, they really don’t. And the shocking and sad result is that there is a lot of lie detection methods still being used today which are outdated, unproven, dangerous bunk that creates a self-confirming bias the more it is used. There’s a lot of generalisations and distortion that goes on from simple studies. Here’s a famous one that has been getting a bit of recognition as of late.
‘The Pinocchio Effect’
Catchy title, right? The claim is that when a person lies, they experience an increase in temperature around the nose and inner corner of the eye. The 2012 study was conducted using thermographic imaging at the University of Granada, in Spain and the intended application of this study was to observe what happens to people as they talk or perform certain tasks to using thermographic imaging. So it wasn’t even specifically studying if people lie? Now it makes you wonder how reliable the study actually was…
In fact you should be wondering! The test wasn’t even really a test designed for lie detection per se, but a general study for how emotions appear via thermographic imaging. After imaging only 60 people, including what they found about Flamenco dancers and passion, there’s nothing more about lie detection. This preliminary study that doesn’t articulate how their methodology for conducting lie detection. And since 2012, there hasn’t been anything published on this to support or clarify the early claims. This is not to say that there isn’t any merit. However, there is nothing to even confirm that this discovery elsewhere in the world. Until there is more evidence to support the study, it’s just one observation which hardly proves anything.
“A bit of knowledge, is a dangerous thing.”
The study above however, caught the attention of many after a few decided to ‘spin’ the small findings and put it to the media which reported it from the only way they know how. Rephrasing as it suits the limited copy they must abide by, and to make it as exciting and attention grabbing as possible to sell news. Well, here’s the problem. Some ‘experts’ won’t accept that the science must be proven. There’s an incentive for them to give clients a system of prediction, whether its solid or not. The damage becomes worse when this distortion of a study is passed on to others who trust these experts blindly. So now, besides claiming to know someone is lying because they think certain movements unequivocally means a ‘lie’, others who may have additional powers to terminate and/or prosecute do the same based on the same misunderstood study.
Proof & Counter Proof
This is a popular one and just one case where a study is misrepresented as fact. One study isn’t proof of any fact. It’s just a study. It’s been studied by a very small group and has never been counter studied, let alone confirmed or peer reviewed. So before something is claimed as the gospel truth, it’s important that these studies are verified and counter studied. If you are a scientist who discovered something new, you would be very interested if your study is genuine and universally applicable to others, not just a few people in a few cases…unless you’re more interested in fame than accuracy.
When Dr. Ekman was working to study and prove the universally of emotions, he also had to work and prove how it was not. The reason for this is something I hope those of you reading will keep in mind and think about. Counter proof is necessary to validate discoveries. We need to understand how something is and also how something is not. Too often, we want to believe something is, simply because we have only one reason or way to think about a question. The continuing work that scientists and researchers do is important to validate and disqualify claims. The consequences of making unsubstantiated claims when someone’s life if at stake is downright unethical.