Thursday, October 16, 2014

Professor cannot really detect lies

Many people claim to be able to read faces, expressions, and body language in order to determine what others are thinking. This is so common that it is arguably an essential human trait to have such beliefs. But is such mindreading reliable?

Here is some criticism of a leading mindreading proponent:
Paul Ekman has spent much of his long career studying emotions as expressed on the face. ...

Ekman is renowned for his ability to read faces for signs of what people are thinking and feeling. In his best seller Blink, Malcolm Gladwell writes that "much of our understanding of mind-reading" is owed to Ekman and his collaborators. He relates how Ekman, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of California at San Francisco, could tell by their faces alone when figures as varied as Bill Clinton and Kim Philby, the infamous British spy, were lying — Clinton in real time, Philby on historical video. Lie to Me, a television show featuring a human lie detector modeled on Ekman, ran from 2009 to 2011 on Fox. His work on lying is one reason the American Psychological Association deemed Ekman one of the 100 most influential psychologists of the 20th century. ...

But some scholars say the idea that anyone could reach 90-percent lie-detection accuracy by observing behavioral cues visible to the naked eye is pure fantasy. Testifying before Congress in 2011, Maria Hartwig, an associate professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, of the City University of New York, took on Ekman directly. (He also testified.) "No such finding has ever been reported in the peer-reviewed literature," she said.
Billions of dollars have been spent on this. The results are pretty weak.

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