Propaganda 105: How to Spot a Liar

by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

“If any man is able to convince me and show me that I do not think or act right, I will gladly change; for I seek the truth by which no man was ever injured. But he is injured who abides in his error and ignorance.” – Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, VI, 21.

Anyone who has read my work here or known me for any length of time has heard me use this quote before. It is more than just a pithy quote from one of the great Stoic minds of antiquity, it is a summation of one of my personal ethics. Earlier this week, Professor Turley posted an item about former President Bill Clinton entitled “Clinton: We Don’t Need A President Who Will Not Tell You The Truth“. The gist of the article was that a President who lied under oath as Clinton did most certainly didn’t need to be critical of other politicians lying as it was simple hypocrisy even if the point former President Clinton made was valid. This brings us to a prime and necessary component of the propaganda scenario, the liar.  Lying is a commonality in our species.  Everyone lies about something some time.  “No, that dress doesn’t make you look fat, honey.”  “I was ambushed by baboons on the way to work this morning.”  “I can’t go out tonight because I have to stay home and wax my dog.” Or the classic . . .

These are not the lies that are of primary importance in propaganda. White lies, while not necessarily ethically the best thing in the world, are a social lubricant that helps keep society cohesive. If everyone told the truth about everything all the time, the homicide and suicide rates would probably sky-rocket. We are going to focus on the truly bad actors. The liars in propaganda who are looking to get you to do something they want that is usually not in your best interests and/or harmful to others. Since many dangerous liars are sociopaths or psychopaths, the question becomes how do you spot a liar, a sociopath or a psychopath?  First we start with how to spot a generic liar before considering how to spot socio- and psychopaths at a later date.

We have discussed previously the language behind lies extensively in discussing the use of logical fallacies in speech to give untruths the veneer of truth. This is a great skill set for detecting lies in written materials and to a degree in the spoken word but the tool set is not all inclusive for dealing with the spoken.  What about in person or through visual media where you can see the speaker?  You need a different skill set to supplement the other so to that end, I bring you a TED presentation by Pamela Meyer.  Some background on Mrs. Meyer:

Pamela Meyer is founder and CEO of Calibrate, a leading deception detection training company based in Washington DC. Before writing the bestselling book , Liespotting, she spent years with a team of researchers surveying all of the research findings on deception, and underwent extensive training in facial micro-expression identification, interrogation skills and statement analysis. Prior to that she was an Internet and media executive, as founder of Simpatico Networks, a leading social media company. She is a Certified Fraud Examiner, has an MBA from Harvard, a Masters in Public Policy.” (Huffington Post).

The talk she presented at TED only glanced off the topic of verbal lies, but what she offered on body language is very important as are many of the ancillary points she makes about the value of detecting lies in the search for the truth – a thread underlying the Propaganda Series (pardon the pun).

Meyer’s list of tells in this speech is probably not as comprehensive as what is offered in her book Liespotting. The following list is a bit more inclusive than that in the speech.

Verbal cues:

  • Verbal cues such as changing to a noticeably higher or lower pitch, rambling, selective wording, avoidance of answering questions or attempting to change the subject, stammering, distancing language, loaded words, and the use of qualifiers (although much like Freud’s advice about cigars, sometimes a qualifier is just a qualifier).  Studies have also shown that liars use less contractions.
  • Unusual response time – shorter or longer. Planned (and rehearsed) lies and the liars who tell them tend to start their answers more quickly than truth-tellers. If taken by surprise, however, a liar takes longer to respond as on the fly fabrication takes time.

Physical cues:

  • A fake smile. Real smiles crinkle the corners of the eyes and change the entire face while faked smiles involve the mouth only.
  • Under or over production of saliva.
  • Pupil dilation. This nonverbal signal is almost impossible to fake. Larger pupil size that most people experience when telling a lie can be attributed to an increased amount of tension and concentration although some drugs or medical conditions can cause pupil irregularity.
  • Change in blink rate – A liar’s blink rate decreases before and during the lie and then it increases rapidly after the lie.
  • Fidgeting foot movements. ‘Nuff said.
  • Face touching. A person’s nose may not grow when he tells a lie, but watch closely and you’ll notice that when someone is about to lie or make an outrageous statement, he’ll often unconsciously rub his nose. (This is most likely because a rush of adrenaline opens the capillaries and makes his nose itch.) Mouth covering is another common gesture of people who are being untruthful, as is covering the eyes.
  • Unusual changes in gestures – Either unusual stillness or an increase in placatory gestures.
  • Microexpressions can be difficult to catch, but if you ever spot a fleeting expression that contradicts a verbal statement, believe what you see and not what you hear. Psychology Today has an excellent article on distinguishing microexpressions from other body language.
  • The quick-check glance – the classic of liars immediately looking down and away and then back at you again in a brief glimpse to see if you bought the lie.

Blended cues:

  • Incongruence not only in words but in gestures – Using logic and evidence as a guide you can spot both explicit and implicit incongruous statements. That is not the only kind of incongruous behavior though.  When a speaker believes what they say, gestures and expressions are in alignment with her words, e.g. you nod up and down when you say “yes”. When gestures contradict words – such as a side-to-side head shake while saying “yes’, it’s a sign of deceit or at least an inner conflict between what that person is thinking and saying.

All of these skills, detection of false logics and loaded language, the art of reading body language and tone of voice, all of these skills have something in common.  They are all a sort of pattern recognition. Just so when we later consider a more holistic application of pattern recognition in recognizing both sociopathic and psychopathic speakers. these are guidelines. People are people and one or two this these behaviors may be caused by different things such as medical conditions, medications and/or other stressors.  For example, I once had to take a lie detector test and do an interview where I worked because a bunch of hard drives had been stolen.  I didn’t take them.  I wasn’t worried about that. I was, however, very tense because of an ongoing fight with my then girlfriend over something totally unrelated to work.  The examiner told me at the end of the interview, “You’re obviously under some kind of stress, but I don’t think you’re our hard drive thief.” So keep in mind that unless you have a preponderance of pattern evidence, your suspected liar may not always be one. Another important thing to keep in mind is all of this pattern recognition goes right out the window when dealing with a pathological liar, but we’ll address that topic with socio- and psychopaths.

Armed with these skills, how many liars do you think you can spot in the next week?  Either at work or in the news?

Remember the Stoic’s advice, seek the truth.  That is always a key in combating propaganda.  It also doesn’t harm the Aristotelian effort to lead an examined life and it is a civic duty to keep government honest and operating off of the real instead of the illusory.

________________

Source(s): TED, Huffington Post, Psychology Today

~submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

The Propaganda Series;

Propaganda 104 Supplemental: The Streisand Effect and the Political Question

Propaganda 104 Supplemental: The Sound of Silence

Propaganda 104: Magica Verba Est Scientia Et Ars Es

Propaganda 103: The Word Changes, The Word Remains The Same

Propaganda 102 Supplemental: Holly Would “Zero Dark Thirty”

Propaganda 102: Holly Would and the Power of Images

Propaganda 101 Supplemental: Child’s Play

Propaganda 101 Supplemental: Build It And They Will Come (Around)

Propaganda 101: What You Need to Know and Why or . . .

Related articles of interest;

Mythology and the New Feudalism by Mike Spindell

How about Some Government Propaganda for the People Paid for by the People Being Propagandized? by Elaine Magliaro

 

105 thoughts on “Propaganda 105: How to Spot a Liar”

  1. Yeah, what’s up with “ending up like Nate Silver?” Ending up the nationally recognized premier expert on political statistics two elections in a row? The inventor of a statistical machine that is actually reliable?

    Like David Plouffe, Silver could earn literally millions of dollars as a consultant in the next campaign; this one proves his methodology is no fluke. Heck, he could probably earn millions working for the Fortune 500 as a strategic consultant.

    Honestly, if I were one of these billionaires (on either side) willing to spend a hundred million to influence the election, the first ten million I would spend would be right now, to hire Nate Silver as my principal investigative consultant. Here is your office, hire a staff, and figure out how to spend this money.

    Nate Silver (and David Plouffe) brought Money Ball to politics; Romney’s loss (and the various Fox News and Republican melt-downs) is the end-of-movie wake-up call for anybody doing anything different.

  2. Interesting blog there, pete. Thanks for the referral.

    And let’s see there, Dredd . . . ending up like Nate Silver. Hmmm. You say that like it’s a bad thing. “David Brooks called me a wizard. And not in good way which made it all that more satisfying.” lol Thanks, dude.

  3. pete9999 1, November 12, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    dredd

    try this site for a military opinion of the terror/oil wars

    ================================
    I read the post Boring David which had this:

    Immaculate honesty is the lubricant which best oils the wheels of any relationship.

    I had to think “that statement is so at odds with American life, and especially American Government discourse.”

    I also had to wonder what army that Ranger Against War came from Pete9999.

    Anyway, thanks for the link.

  4. Dear Gene,

    Please be careful with all this propaganda revelation stuff dood … or you could end up like Nate Silver bro:

  5. Gene H 1, November 12, 2012 at 12:46 am

    It’s 250,000 plus years of evolution that creates the Alpha reflex among non-Alphas. That is why it is important the logic and evidence be king. Proper causal analysis and proper analysis of propaganda works to negate that effect. Having good facts and good logic negate bluster to a substantive degree.
    =================================
    I can’t see why the minor portion of time (.0000 … 1) is seen as more of an impact on the Alpha reflex than the major portion of time (99999999999999.9999 ….) in evolutionary terms:

    The Earth is said to have formed  “around 4.54 billion … years ago” (History of Earth).

    Therefore The Big Bang happened about 9.21 billion years before the Earth formed (13.75 – 4.54 = 9.21).

    Biological organisms formed on the Earth about a billion years later, which would be ~10.21 billion years after The Big Bang.

    Humans, homo sapiens,  are said to have evolved about 200,000 years ago, which would be ~13.7498 billion years after The Big Bang.

    The abiotic epoch which preceded the biotic epoch involved a vast amount of “time” as we know it, populating vast areas of space with the atoms that make up chemicals, the subject of the scientific discipline Chemistry:

    Dr Clarke said: “There are a lot of fundamental questions about the origins of life and many people think they are questions about biology. But for life to have evolved, you have to have a moment when non-living things become living – everything up to that point is chemistry.”

    “Our cells, and the cells of all organisms, are composed of molecular machines. These machines are built of component parts, each of which contributes a partial function or structural element to the machine. How such sophisticated, multi-component machines could evolve has been somewhat mysterious, and highly controversial.” Professor Lithgow said.

    Many cellular processes are carried out by molecular ‘machines’ — assemblies of multiple differentiated proteins that physically interact to execute biological functions … Our experiments show that increased complexity in an essential molecular machine evolved because of simple, high-probability evolutionary processes, without the apparent evolution of novel functions. They point to a plausible mechanism for the evolution of complexity in other multi-paralogue protein complexes.

    The most complex molecular machines are found within cells.

    Writing in the journal PLoS Pathogens, the team from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences show how they studied the molecular machine known as the ‘type II bacterial secretion system’, which is responsible for delivering potent toxins from bacteria such as enterotoxigenic E. coli and Vibrio cholerae into an infected individual.

    Professor Richard Pickersgill, who led the research, said: “Bacterial secretion systems deliver disease causing toxins into host tissue. If we can understand how these machines work, then we can work out how it they might be stopped.”

    (Do Molecular Machines Deliver Toxins of Power?). The gist of this is that the era of the evolution of machines is just another way of saying the epoch of abiotic evolution.

    (Putting A Face On Machine Mutation – 3). Do evolutionists indicate they are lying by such “body language” of aversion?

    It seems that those points you mention, exhaustively quoting the lady lie detector, would indicate as much.

  6. Gene H. 1, November 12, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Other than propaganda when it is well crafted appeals to a need in the audience, I’m not sure I see the connection of “Somebody to Love” to the subject, Dredd.
    =======================================
    “When the truth is found to be lies” indicates that the one masquerades as the other.

    The big lies do big damage, the little lies do the little damage, until they grow up to be big lies.

    But then it may be too late once again:

    Our generals actually bear much of the blame for the mistakes in the wars. They especially failed to understand the conflicts they were fighting — and then failed to adjust their strategies to the situations they faced so that they might fight more effectively.

    Even now, as our wars wind down, the errors of our generals continue to escape public investigation, or even much internal review.

    (Pressing The Pentagon). Big lies.

    The little lie about medals in the US v Alvarez case (my first comment supra) got the attention of congress, the big lies have not.

    Wanting to make little lies a crime but “propaganda when it is well crafted” a hero’s tale is a fools errand.

    The antidote to damage by these fools is “good good lovin'”, because love is the only medicine that can help sometimes, magic at other times, and who knows what else it is until they discover what it is that is the “air beneath their wings.”

    Propaganda is a deadly disease.

  7. Other than propaganda when it is well crafted appeals to a need in the audience, I’m not sure I see the connection of “Somebody to Love” to the subject, Dredd.

  8. In U.S. v Alvarez it was determined that lying is a constitutional right for citizens in the U.S.eh?

    However, the law does not afford that right to the government, whose propaganda is frowned upon.

  9. Tony,

    I think your example of the existence of God is and interesting example. It’s a question that ends in a nullity because of lack of evidence – one man’s lack of evidence is another man’s statement of faith – and circular reasoning, thus is crippled from both an evidentiary and a logical perspective. People trapped by this kind of thinking are more often than not trapped in magical thinking as a general rule. However I do take your point. That being said, we need to recognize while some questions have no provable answer, most do and almost all have a solution that is workable if imperfect. Questions like the existence of God are a nullity to rule by evidence and reason. It’s not a question science or any frame of reference based in this universe can ever answer by the nature of the question. Ergo, the need for secular government becomes manifest – we can only address (resolve) Earthly problems and this needs to be the focus of governance. Leave the ontological and theological questions to priests and philosophers. Beyond excursions into epistemological thought, there is no use for that in governance but to cloud the provable factual and logically definable issues with belief and superstition. It’s a hard enough job as it is, why make it harder by inserting arguments about the unprovable and motivations based on the irrational?

    On the statement: “There is not a better tool set for the job, but I think sometimes there is an alternative approach to applying those tools: When logic does not convince somebody, we can (sometimes) still use logic in our head to figure out what their rule base is, and develop the argument for “the right answer” using their axioms”. The law and argumentation have that function already. You always build an argument to an audience based on that audience’s nature. It’s simply good argumentation practice. This is a key element to persuasion and since argumentation is persuasive speech, the two are inextricably linked.

  10. @Gene: if you have a better tool set for the job I’d sure like to hear about them.

    I was answering the question “what to do when…” and my answer is basically that with some people there is no route to success in the argument, because the real problem is that two sides are each committed to irreconcilable fundamental beliefs. For rational or irrational (emotional) reasons.

    Just as one example, no argument from any human will ever convince me of the existence of a God, and there are people in my family for which (I believe) the opposite is true: No argument from any human will ever convince them that there is NO God. I think my argument is from rationality and their argument is from emotion, they think I have been tricked, but in the end we are never going to agree! So for me I think it is important to recognize that impasse and move on to some other common ground; like we both love a crunchy apple pie crust.

    There is not a better tool set for the job, but I think sometimes there is an alternative approach to applying those tools: When logic does not convince somebody, we can (sometimes) still use logic in our head to figure out what their rule base is, and develop the argument for “the right answer” using their axioms; i.e. to bypass the flaw in their thinking that we cannot correct and reach agreement anyway.

    Metaphorically speaking, if the “7” key on their calculator is broken, we can still compute correct answers by replacing 7 with (8-1), (14/2), etc. It is more work but we can get there.

  11. “The first fly in the ointment for the “evidence and logic” scheme is always the presumption of common ground reference points from which one can reason, and by “common ground” I mean something that both you and your opponent will stipulate is a true statement.”

    This is why there are laws, rules of evidence and civil procedure.

    “The second fly in the ointment for the “evidence and logic” scheme is the presumption of common RULES of reason and logic. That is easy enough when the logic involves arithmetic, but it is often impossible when the logic involves human behavior, emotions, or motives that are far less quantifiable than simple facts or numerical values.”

    id. And law uses fuzzy logic and/or socially accepted norms to address these kinds of points as they tend to change over time.

    The problems you point to Tony are real problems but they center on communications breakdowns or simple obstinacy. Some people will always be dedicated to a wrong or a bad idea as you point out. If they weren’t, there would be no theocrats in the world. Evidentiary standards and logic are tools and not everyone has good tools or knows how to use them properly, but being that they are key to interrogating the truth of reality in both science and law, if you have a better tool set for the job I’d sure like to hear about them.

    Minds can be changed. Reality is what it is.

  12. @Nick Spinelli: a red pen! What did you do in the service?

    I was a office grunt in uniform running errands for and cleaning up after officers. The red pen was used by them in marking up and putting notes on reports they read; just because it was more visible, on review, than a black or blue pen.

    1. Had a situation that only an enterprising PFC could sort out…Tricked the S-4 into giving me boxes of markers in each of five colors + blue ball point. Got the Bn Cdr to pick a color, and went on down S-1 to S-4, + Commo with the others, giving them a “staff color”. That way, you knew who was commenting about the intel annex from the S-2, or OpOrder from the S-3, etc.

      My first board exercise, Pre-ReForGer, 1979. Ran out of acetate unit type/size stickers. Substituted with Gummi bears and paper clips. Infantry – Gummi with paper clip at port arms; Artillery, Gummy – clip through head; Armor – clip through chest. Engineers? Gummi with a paper clip up it’s ass…

  13. @bugdrown: Yes, facts are great but what you do when a plurality of the population chooses to ignore them (e.g., birthers, climate change skeptics)?

    Move ahead without those people, or face the fact that we can be overwhelmed by ignorance and superstition that can literally kill us. The fact is that some people are so emotionally captured by ideas that they love they would literally rather die than give them up. They are “all in” on those ideas.

    You typically do not have to do much exploration of a person’s “reasoning” to find out is isn’t reasoning, it is based upon a fundamental false premise they refuse to surrender. I have spoken to a climate change denier whose fundamental premise was that God would not do that to us. Another that thinks it is all a scheme by “scientists” to get money for making stuff up.

    Birthers will not be convinced, ever. Nobody will ever convince them that any evidence of Obama’s American birth is not a forgery; and frankly why should it? Our Intelligence agencies can forge any document they want and make it undetectable. Particularly something the birthers would not be allowed to physically handle or run experiments upon, just visually examine.

    The first fly in the ointment for the “evidence and logic” scheme is always the presumption of common ground reference points from which one can reason, and by “common ground” I mean something that both you and your opponent will stipulate is a true statement.

    The second fly in the ointment for the “evidence and logic” scheme is the presumption of common RULES of reason and logic. That is easy enough when the logic involves arithmetic, but it is often impossible when the logic involves human behavior, emotions, or motives that are far less quantifiable than simple facts or numerical values.

    For an example, consider a jury determining whether a man is guilty of a serious crime. What any individual considers “beyond a reasonable doubt” can vary widely; because not all people “reason” in the same way about motives, or whether an alibi is plausible or not, or whether a statement was truthful or not. The defendant says, “I would not hurt her, I loved her.” For some jurors that has weight, for others it does not. And it is not necessarily the gullible that believe that; a juror may be an expert lie spotter, a retired cop or FBI agent or high stakes negotiator, that detected no signs of deception in the defendant; but his faith in his own expertise may not be convincing to the other jurors that are distracted by a compelling motive, like a large amount of money.

    In the human mind rationality is a fairly recent evolutionary add-on to the brain, and it remains a tool of the emotional brain. Emotions will trump rationality, and there are tons of evidence for that. Whether you believe in that evidence or not!

    In order to engage in reason, debaters first have to find the ground rules of what they both are emotionally committed to believing. Trouble ensues when we take for granted the foundational beliefs.

    What one does, in that situation, is try to find the fundamental belief that was taken for granted but is rejected by your opponent. If it can be found, then the way forward is to change their mind about that point.

    But the exploration can be fruitless; some people purposely evade revealing that point, because they know it is weak or indefensible (but they are emotionally committed to it).

    Even if you find it, you may not be able to convince them they are in error. People believe in MANY things that I do not believe in at all, and vice versa.

    Some conclusions rest on a collection of beliefs that have to be shared in their entirety for two people to agree upon something. If that is not the case, and you cannot change their belief system, and you cannot argue to the same conclusion using THEIR belief system, then you are just doomed to disagree, and suffer any consequences of that disagreement. One of the consequences is to act anyway with them opposing; or vice versa, or perhaps nobody acts at all, you just both continue to believe you are right and have proven your point. Which of course you each have, in your own system, and of course you each failed to prove your point in the other person’s system.

  14. Yes, facts are great but what you do when a plurality of the population chooses to ignore them (e.g., birthers, climate change skeptics)? What can you do when your logic is labeled as spin and an audience yells bullshit in the face of facts? It’s hard to effect cognitive dissonance in those people. Impossible even. Worse, when those in power give lip service like calling something an ongoing or unsettled debate but we’ll look into it. Then nothing. Or they cherry pick research results or manipulate research to come up with “facts” that bolster their argument. Read Merchants of Doubt for examples. Trust but verify may be the best we can do.

  15. Mike,

    “Can we then conclude that from a propaganda sense, accomplished liars are aided by many people’s perceptions of bullies being tough?”

    I don’t see a way around that. It’s 250,000 plus years of evolution that creates the Alpha reflex among non-Alphas. That is why it is important the logic and evidence be king. Proper causal analysis and proper analysis of propaganda works to negate that effect. Having good facts and good logic negate bluster to a substantive degree.

    In a way, learning to combat propaganda isn’t just about the truth – although it is and primarily should always be about finding the truth. It is also about freedom, including freedom from those who would bluster their way into power as they are little more than tyrants. That is the beauty of Marcus Aurelius’ maxim: it invites challenge instead of simple unquestioning capitulation and it invites not just challenge of the world around you, but challenges to yourself. It’s usually a bad sign when someone is challenged that they can’t rely upon logic, evidence and reason to make their case. Governance must be a practice based in fact and reason if it is to be successful and stable in the long term. Irrational governance based in wishful thinking puts the Akins and the Mullahs in charge. The survival of our species is to precious to be left to those who themselves are governed by magical thinking and emotions. In your work here on the authoritarian mindset, you’ve modelled other behavior that caters to bullies and does so irrationally. Critical thinking and knowing how to triage out propaganda from fact are essential survival skills for our species. A certain amount of bully is a charismatic draw. It’s a posture of strength, but that’s what it is without substance; just a posture. But if you can sort out propaganda and lies and bad logic in general, at least you can make sure you pick a leader with a good solid platform to stand upon without the often debilitating effects of spin.

    Evidence and logic are king. They are not the best tools because they are king. They are king because they are the best tools. This is such a true and useful maxim that it not only applies to law but to science as well.

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