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Spotting a Liar

Bill Radke

Millie Jefferson

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TSA Officer
(Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Bill Radke: Nick Morgan, welcome to Weekend America.

Nick Morgan: Thank you, Bill.

Radke: There are a lot of popular conceptions about how to spot a liar: are they talking too fast; do they avert their eyes; did their hand go up to their mouth? How accurate are these popular ideas?

Morgan: Most of the standard things we think about, like not making eye contact or false smile, actually can be indications of lying. But most of us, as we grow up and become adults, we get pretty practiced at things like little white lies and perhaps even bigger lies. So we learn to squelch those things. Most of us are pretty good at avoiding the obvious dumb things like twitching eyes, or eyes darting all over the room that signal a lie. So what you have to look for are suppressed emotions, but there are plenty of people in this world that can you look you right in the eye and tell you a lie. So, those kinds of cliche indications of lying aren't terribly reliable.

Radke: How do the experts look for signs of nerves or deception?

Morgan: Basically, people try to maintain, and I'm assuming terrorists do the same, normal-looking facial expressions and a normal stance and walk. What you are looking for are little micro expressions, little expressions that come and go in the blink of an eye. You can be trained to see them, but mostly for the rest of us, if we're not trained we don't pick them up.

Radke: What are some of the most telling micro expressions?

Morgan: Here's where it starts to get more complicated. What the micro expressions might reveal are the underlying emotion, so it depends on what that underlying emotion is. For example, if you meet someone who gives you an insincere smile, and you are trained in reading micro expressions, then you might detect a sneer for a split-second under that smile. So it really depends on what the terrorist or the person who intends harm is feeling. I mean, for example, you might just be nervous about flying, and you might be trying to suppress that feeling of nervousness for all types of reasons. All we can really do is train people to recognize that there is an underlying emotion being suppressed to the best of this person's ability.

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