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Can You Really Tell If A Kid Is Lying

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    The talk, entitled attempts to dispel some common misconceptions about children and lying, and also showcases new technology for recognizing emotions through video. Lee’s talk can be broken down into three main points. His first argument is that a child’s first forays into the world of deception should be celebrated, not seen as a sign of bad character. The second point made is that it is harder than most people might think to tell if a child is telling a lie. Finally, Lee explains his research into technology that allows a computer to recognize a person’s emotional state from video data of their face, and how this software can be used to detect dishonesty. The presentation is relevant today because of the possible impact this new technology could have on our world. This paper aims to identify and analyze Lee’s ethos, his rhetorical strategies, and his delivery techniques along with some possible improvements to the speech.

    Kang Lee has a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology and currently works as a professor and researcher at the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study, an institution of the University of Toronto (Lee, Curriculum Vitae). The Jackman Institute is an internationally recognized institution, which contains a teacher education program, a research center, and even its own elementary school (OISE). Lee has been working in academia for nearly three decades (Lee, K., Curriculum Vitae). At the time of this presentation, he had been doing research on the topics at hand for around five years (Lee, TED2016). These credentials give Lee a level of legitimacy and credibility that should satisfy anyone looking to question the ethos of his TED Talk.

    The logos of Lee’s talk can be examined in three parts, corresponding to each main point of his presentation. His first argument is that parents should not be worried when their child begins to lie. Instead, they should celebrate the behavior as a developmental milestone. He explains that good lying requires theory of mind: the understanding that other people, rather than sharing knowledge, have their own minds with separate information about a given scenario. He goes on to say that lying also requires a degree of self control, and that a lack of self control and theory of mind can indicate towards certain learning disabilities. It would follow that if a child can tell a convincing lie, they are less likely to have such developmental issues, and therefore the parents of that child should be glad.

    Lee’s second main point is that it is more difficult that most people think to detect a child’s lie. He has the audience play a game in which they are shown videos of two children, and asks them to guess which one is lying. After a show of hands, Lee reveals that most of the audience members were wrong in spotting the liar of the pair, saying, “Looks like many of you are terrible detectors of children’s lies.”  He further exemplifies his point by showing a series of bar graphs, each pertaining to how good certain types of adults are at ferreting out lying children. Each section of the populace, be it college students, social workers, police officers, or even the children’s own parents, gets around 50% correct. This proves that people can’t really do much better than a simple coin toss at detecting a child’s lie. This poses the question, what can do better?

    The third idea of Lee’s talk has to do with technology he is researching that promises to be effective at spotting a lie. He explains that a change in emotions causes a corresponding change in blood flow under the skin of our faces (Lee, 9:11). He then outlines how video footage from a normal camera can be run through software that can detect these changes in blood flow with a technique he calls “transdermal optical imaging” and detect liars with an 85% success rate (Lee, 9:56). If this is true, it is an impressive technology; one that will certainly change how people combat deception in the future.

    If the logic of this talk is sound, then what about presentation? There are a number of things to praise about Lee’s delivery. Throughout his speech he makes good use of hand gestures and eye contact, which keeps the audience interested in what he is saying. He also uses humor to keep listeners engaged. For instance, there is the story he begins at 38 seconds, which could be described as an attention getting device. There are also three moments in his talk in which he uses visual aids in conjunction with literary devices to make his points. When making his first point, he uses a cooking analogy along with a slide showing baking ingredients labeled with the “ingredients” to make a good lie. This analogy helps the audience understand lying in a different way. In his second point, he shows a bar chart of different types of people’s ability to detect the lies of children, while repeating the phrase “No, they cannot.” over and over. This repetition is a literary device used to drive the point home that people are not good lie detectors.

    In his final point, he makes a clever Pinocchio metaphor in order to show how facial blood flow can indicate lying. This connects the content of the talk to something the listener already knows, and makes it easier for an audience member to take the idea out of the conference hall and relate it to other people. In my opinion, there aren’t many things to improve about this presentation. Perhaps he could have used more oral citations, even though much of the research used for this talk was his own. This could have helped his credibility a bit, and helped listeners to continue researching the topic after the talk was over. He also stayed fairly stationary throughout the speech. I’m not entirely sure if there is some issue with video recording that might make moving around more difficult at TED, but a three-point walk could have helped Lee keep the audience’s attention and clearly delineate his main points.

    All things considered, this is a great example of an effective and engaging speech. Lee is a very credible source of information and an intelligent speaker. His arguments are sound, and they are backed up by years of his own research into developmental psychology. He uses humor, visual aids, body language, and literary devices to great effect, and there aren’t many negative things to say about his delivery. This is surely a presentation to be proud of.

    Works Cited

    1. Lee, Kang. Curriculum Vitae. 5 June 2012,
    2. www.oise.utoronto.ca/Curriculum_Vitae/Kang_Lee_CV.pdf
    3. Lee, Kang. “Can you really tell if a kid is lying?” TED, 2016,
    4. www.ted.com/talks/kang_lee_can_you_really_tell_if_a_kid_is_lying
    5. OISE. The Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study. University of Toronto, www.oise.utoronto.ca/jics/

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