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|Clinician's Digest - Page 3|
Can Therapists Spot Liars?
Each week on the Fox TV series Lie to Me, a lie-detection expert and his team use their observational skills to exonerate or nail accused criminals, terrorists, adulterers, and other liars. The series is loosely based on the work of psychologist Paul Ekman, the show's technical advisor, who began studying the meanings of facial expressions and body movements a half-century ago. Ekman's discovery that almost imperceptible facial expressions reveal lies has had such a wide-ranging influence that the American Psychological Association named him one of the 20th century's most influential psychologists.
In the 1990s, Ekman and his associate Maureen O'Sullivan (psychologist Holly Foster in the show) tested 1,200 therapists on their lie-detection abilities at a workshop Ekman was giving. In this preliminary testing, therapists did very well: 50 of them could identify lies in one test with 90-percent accuracy. However, O'Sullivan's subsequent research on expert lie detectors required that the therapists complete two additional lie-detection tests and obtain scores of at least 80 percent on one of them to achieve Truth Wizard certification. That's when the therapist s began dropping fast. Only 20 of the 1,200 got 80 percent or more on one of the additional tests and only one therapist got that score on all three tests to become a Truth Wizard
To date, O'Sullivan has identified 50 Truth Wizards, only some of whom are therapists. Most are lawyers, arbitrators, and law enforcement officers who regularly interrogate others. What sets them apart from other lie-sensitive souls? "Most wizards are highly motivated to know the truth and are in professions that give them feedback about their accuracy," says O'Sullivan. Many came from difficult or unusual early childhoods, when the stakes were high for learning to read people.
Why aren't more therapists wizards? One reason is that wizards have a multidimensional lie-detection radar. On an emotional plane, they exercise an auditory and visual sensitivity, picking up on incongruities between people's words, voices, faces, and body language. Many therapists are good at this because such incongruities can indicate conflict. But lies don't always produce conflict, and wizards also operate on a logical plane, spotting discrepancies within narratives and between a narrative and subtle physical cues. For example, someone might repeat a particular small gesture whenever there's an inconsistent narrative detail.
O'Sullivan found that therapists were particularly good at detecting lies or incongruities about felt emotion, and but less proficient in detecting lies about crimes. Police exhibited the opposite pattern: they were successful in detecting lies about crime and not as successful with lies related to emotions.