Paul Ekman TELLING LIES Psychology Telling Lies PAUL EKMAN “This admirable book offers both a wealth of detailed, practical information about lying and lie detection and a penetrating analysis of the ethical implications of these behaviors. It is strongly recommended to physicians, lawyers, diplomats and all those who must concern themselves with detection of deceit. —Jerome D. Frank The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine In this new expanded edition of the author’s pathfinding inquiry into the world of liars and lie catching, Paul Ekman, a world-renowned expert in emotions research and nonverbal communication, brings, in two new chapters, his much-publicized findings on how to detect lies to the real world.
In new Chapter 9, “Lie Catching in the 1990s,” the author reveals that most of those to whom we have attributed an ability to detect lies—judges, trial lawyers, police officers, polygraphers, drug enforcement agents, and others—perform no better on lie-detecting tests than ordinary citizens, that is, no better than chance. In addition, he cites the case of Lt. Col. Oliver North and Vice Admiral John Poindexter during the Iran/contra scandal congressional hearings, to demonstrate his judicious use of behavioral clues to detect lies.
In Chapter 10, “Lies in Public Life,” he incorporates many more real-world case studies—from lying at the presidential level (Richard Nixon and Watergate, and Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War) to self-deception in the space shuttle Challenger disaster and the 1991 Senate judiciary hearings on alleged sexual harassment of Anita Hill by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas—to delineate further his lie-detecting methods as well as to comment on the place of lies in public life. Paul Ekman is professor of psychology at the University of California, San Francisco. Cover design bv Andrew M.
Newman Graphic Design Telling Lies ALSO BY PAUL EKMAN Emotion in the Human Face (with W. V. Friesen & P. Ellsworth) Darwin and Facial Expression (editor) Unmasking the face (with W. V. Friesen) Facial Action Coding System (with W. V. Friesen) Face of Man Handbook of Methods in Nonverbal Behavior Research (co-editor, with Klaus Scherer) Approaches to Emotion (co-editor, with Klaus Scherer) Why Kids Lie (with Mary Ann Mason & Tom Ekman) PAUL EKMAN Telling Lies Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage W W – N O R T O N & COMPANY -New York-London Copyright © 1992, 1985 by Paul Ekman.
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. First published as a Norton paperback 1991. Excerpts from Marry Me, by John Updike, are reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1971, 1973, 1976, by John Updike. Photographs on pages 295, 297, 310, 316, 318 courtesy of AP/Wide World Photos. The text of this book is composed in Janson, with display type set in Caslon. Composition by The Haddon Craftsmen, Inc. Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Ekman, Paul. Telling Lies. Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Truthfulness and falsehood. Psychology.
I. Title. BJ1421. E36 1985 153. 6 84-7994 ISBN 0-393-30872-3 W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, N. Y. 10110 W. W. Norton & Company Ltd 10 Coptic Street, London WClA 1PU 4567890 In Memory of Erving Goffman, Extraordinary Friend and Colleague and for my wife, Mary Ann Mason, Critic and Confidante When the situation seems to be exactly what it appears to be, the closest likely alternative is that the situation has been completely faked; whenfakery seems extremely evident, the next most probable possibility is that nothing fake is present. —Erving Goffman, Strategic Interaction
The relevant framework is not one of morality but of survival. At every level, from brute camouflage to poetic vision, the linguistic capacity to conceal, misinform, leave ambiguous, hypothesize, invent is indispensable to the equilibrium of human consciousness and to the development of man in society. . . .—George Steiner, After Babel If falsehood, like truth, had only one face, we would be in better shape. For we would take as certain the opposite of what the liar said. But the reverse of truth has a hundred thousand shapes and a limitless field. —Montaigne, Essays Contents
Acknowledgments ONE • Introduction TWO • Lying, Leakage, and Clues to Deceit THREE FOUR 11 15 25 43 • Why Lies Fail • Detecting Deceit From Words, Voice, or Body 80 123 162 190 240 FIVE • Facial Clues to Deceit SIX • Dangers and Precautions SEVEN • T h e Polygraph as Lie Catcher EIGHT • Lie Checking NINE • Lie Catching in the 1990s TEN • Lies in Public Life 279 299 10 Epilogue Appendix Reference Notes Index Contents 325 331 341 351 Acknowledgments I to the Clinical Research Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health for supporting my research on nonverbal communication from 1963 through 1981 (MH11976).
The Research Scientist Award Program of the National Institute of Mental Health has supported both the development of my research program over most of the past twenty years and the writing of this book (MH 06092). I wish to thank the Harry F. Guggenheim Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for supporting some of the research described in chapters 4 and 5. Wallace V. Friesen, with whom I have worked for more than twenty years, is equally responsible for the research findings that I report in those chapters; many of the ideas developed in the book came up first in our two decades of dialogue.
I thank Silvan S. Tomkins, friend, colleague, and teacher, for encouraging me to write this book, and for his comments and suggestions about the manuscript. I benefited from the criticisms of a number of friends who read the manuscript from their different vantage points: Robert Blau, a physician; Stanley Caspar, a trial lawyer; Jo Carson, a novelist; Ross Mullaney, a retired FBI agent; Robert Pickus, a political thinker; Robert Ornstein, a psychologist; and Bill Williams, a management consultant. My wife, AM GRATEFUL 12 Acknowledgments
Mary Ann Mason, my first reader, was patient and constructively critical. I discussed many of the ideas in the book with Erving Goffman, who had been interested in deceit from quite a different angle and enjoyed our contrasting but not contradictory views. I was to have had the benefit of his comments on the manuscript, but he died quite unexpectedly just before I was to send it. The reader and I lose by the unfortunate fact that our dialogue could only occur in my mind. Telling Lies ONE Introduction I T IS September 15, 1938, and one of the most infamous and deadly of deceits is about to begin.
Adolf Hitler, the chancellor of Germany, and Neville Chamberlain, the prime minister of Great Britain, meet for the first time. The world watches, aware that this may be the last hope of avoiding another world war. (Just six months earlier Hitler’s troops had marched into Austria, annexing it to Germany. England and France had protested but done nothing further. ) On September 12, three days before he is to meet Chamberlain, Hitler demands to have part of Czechoslovakia annexed to Germany and incites rioting in that country.
Hitler has already secretly mobilized the German Army to attack Czechoslovakia, but his army won’t be ready until the end of September. If he can keep the Czechs from mobilizing their army for a few more weeks, Hitler will have the advantage of a surprise attack. Stalling for time, Hitler conceals his war plans from Chamberlain, giving his word that peace can be preserved if the Czechs will meet his demands. Chamberlain is fooled; he tries to persuade the Czechs not to mobilize their army while there is still a chance to negotiate with Hitler.
After his meeting with Hitler, Chamberlain writes to his sister, “. . . in spite of the hardness and ruthlessness I thought I saw in his face, I got the impression that here 16 Telling Lies was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word. . . .” ] Defending his policies against those who doubt Hitler’s word, Chamberlain five days later in a speech to Parliament explains that his personal contact with Hitler allows him to say that Hitler “means what he says. “2 When I began to study lies fifteen years ago I had no idea my work would have any relevance to such a lie.
I thought it would be useful only for those working with mental patients. My study of lies began when the therapists I was teaching about my findings—that facial expressions are universal while gestures are specific to each culture— asked whether these nonverbal behaviors could reveal that a patient was lying. 3 Usually that is not an issue, but it becomes one when patients admitted to the hospital because of suicide attempts say they are feeling much better. Every doctor dreads being fooled by a patient who commits suicide once freed from the hospital’s restraint.
Their practical concern raised a very fundamental question about human communication: can people, even when they are very upset, control the messages they give off, or will their nonverbal behavior leak what is concealed by their words? I searched my films of interviews with psychiatric patients for an instance of lying. I had made these films for another purpose—to isolate expressions and gestures that might help in diagnosing the severity and type of mental disorders. Now that I was focusing upon deceit, I thought I saw signs of lying in a number of films. The problem was how to be certain.
In only one case was there no doubt— because of what happened after the interview. Mary was a forty-two-year-old housewife. The last of her three suicide attempts was quite serious. It was only an accident that someone found her before an overdose of sleeping pills killed her. Her history was not much different from that of many other women who suffer a midlife depression. The children had grown up and didn’t need Introduction 17 her. Her husband seemed preoccupied with his work. Mary felt useless. By the time she had entered the hospital she no longer could handle the house, could not sleep well, and sat by herself crying much of the time.
In her first three weeks in the hospital she received medication and group therapy. She seemed to respond very well: her manner brightened, and she no longer talked of committing suicide. In one of the interviews we filmed, Mary told the doctor how much better she felt and asked for a weekend pass. Before receiving the pass, she confessed that she had been lying to get it. She still desperately wanted to kill herself. After three more months in the hospital Mary had genuinely improved, although there was a relapse a year later. She has been out of the hospital and apparently well for many years.
The filmed interview with Mary fooled most of the young and even many of the experienced psychiatrists and psychologists to whom I showed it. 4 We studied it for hundreds of hours, going over it again and again, inspecting each gesture and expression in slow-motion to uncover any possible clues to deceit. In a moment’s pause before replying to her doctor’s question about her plans for the future, we saw in slow-motion a fleeting facial expression of despair, so quick that we had missed seeing it the first few times we examined the film.
Once we had the idea that concealed feelings might be evident in these very brief micro expressions, we searched and found many more, typically covered in an instant by a smile. We also found a micro gesture. When telling the doctor how well she was handling her problems Mary sometimes showed a fragment of a shrug—not the whole thing, just a part of it. She would shrug with just one hand, rotating it a bit. Or, her hands would be quiet but there would be a momentary lift of one shoulder. We thought we saw other nonverbal clues to deceit, but 18 Telling Lies e could not be certain whether we were discovering or imagining them. Perfectly innocent behavior seems suspicious if you know someone has lied. Only objective measurement, uninfluenced by knowledge of whether a person was lying or telling the truth, could test what we found. And, many people had to be studied for us to be certain that the clues to deceit we found are not idiosyncratic. It would be simpler for the person trying to spot a lie, the lie catcher, if behaviors that betray one person’s deceit are also evident when another persons lies; but the signs of deceit might be peculiar to each person.
We designed an experiment modeled after Mary’s lie, in which the people we studied would be strongly motivated to conceal intense negative emotions felt at the very moment of the lie. While watching a very upsetting film, which showed bloody surgical scenes, our research subjects had to conceal their true feelings of distress, pain, and revulsion and convince an interviewer, who could not see the film, that they were enjoying a film of beautiful flowers. (Our findings are described in chapters 4 and 5).
Not more than a year went by—when we were still at the beginning stages of our lying experiments—before people interested in quite different lies sought me out. Could my findings or methods be used to catch Americans suspected of being spies? Over the years, as our findings on behavioral clues to deceit between patient and doctor were published in scientific journals, the inquiries increased. How about training those who guard cabinet officers so they could spot a terrorist bent on assassination from his gait or gestures? Can we show the FBI how to train police officers to spot better whether a suspect is lying?
I was no longer surprised when asked if I could help summit negotiators spot their opponents’ lies, or if I could tell from the photographs of Patricia Hearst taken while she participated in a bank hold-up if she was a willing or unwilling Introduction 19 robber. In the last five years the interest has become international. I have been approached by representatives of two countries friendly to the United States; and, when I lectured in the Soviet Union, by officials who said they were from an “electrical institute” responsible for interrogations.
I was not pleased with this interest, afraid my findings would be misused, accepted uncritically, used too eagerly. I felt that nonverbal clues to deceit would not often be evident in most criminal, political, or diplomatic deceits. It was only a hunch. When asked, I couldn’t explain why. To do so I had to learn why people ever do make mistakes when they lie. Not all lies fail. Some are performed flawlessly. Behavioral clues to deceit—a facial expression held too long, a missing gesture, a momentary turn in the voice— don’t have to happen.
There need be no telltale signs that betray the liar. Yet I knew that there can be clues to deceit. The most determined liars may be betrayed by their own behavior. Knowing when lies will succeed and when they will fail, how to spot clues to deceit and when it isn’t worth trying, meant understanding how lies, liars, and lie catchers differ. Hitler’s lie to Chamberlain and Mary’s to her doctor both involved deadly serious deceits, in which the stakes were life itself. Both people concealed future plans, and both put on emotions they didn’t feel as a central part of their lie.
But the differences between their lies are enormous. Hitler is an example of what I later describe as a natural performer. Apart from his inherent skill, Hitler was also much more practiced in deceit than Mary. Hitler also had the advantage of deceiving someone who wanted to be misled. Chamberlain was a willing victim who wanted to believe Hitler’s lie that he did not plan war if only the borders of Czechoslovakia were redrawn to meet his demands. Otherwise Chamberlain would have 20 Telling Lies had to admit that his policy of appeasement had failed and in fact weakened his country.
On a related matter, the political scientist Roberta Wohlstetter made this point in her analysis of cheating in arms races. Discussing Germany’s violations of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1936, she said: “. . . the cheater and the side cheated . . . have a stake in allowing the error to persist. They both need to preserve the illusion that the agreement has not been violated. The British fear of an arms race, manipulated so skillfully by Hitler, led to a Naval Agreement, in which the British (without consulting the French or the Italians) tacitly revised the Versailles Treaty; and London’s fear of an arms race prevented it from ecognizing or acknowledging violations of the new agreement. ” 5 In many deceits the victim overlooks the liar’s mistakes, giving ambiguous behavior the best reading, collusively helping to maintain the lie, to avoid the terrible consequences of uncovering the lie. By overlooking the signs of his wife’s affairs a husband may at least postpone the humiliation of being exposed as a cuckold and the possibility of divorce. Even if he admits her infidelity to himself he may cooperate in not uncovering her lies to avoid having to acknowledge it to her or to avoid a showdown.
As long as nothing is said he can still have the hope, no matter how small, that he may have misjudged her, that she may not be having an affair. Not every victim is so willing. At times, there is nothing to be gained by ignoring or cooperating with a lie. Some lie catchers gain only by exposing a lie and if they do so lose nothing. The police interrogator only loses if he is taken in, as does the bank loan officer, and both do their job well only by uncovering the liar and recognizing the truthful. Often, the victim gains and loses by being misled or by uncovering the lie; but the two may not be evenly balanced.
Mary’s doctor had only a small stake in believing her lie. Introduction 21 If she was no longer depressed he could take some credit for effecting her recovery. But if she was not truly recovered he suffered no great loss. Unlike Chamberlain, the doctor’s entire career was not at stake; he had not publicly committed himself, despite challenge, to a judgment that could be proven w r o n g if he uncovered her lie. He had much more to lose by being taken in than he could gain if she was being truthful. In 1938 it was too late for Chamberlain.
If Hitler were u n t r u s t w o r t h y , if there was no way to stop his aggression short of war, then Chamberlain’s career was over, and the war he thought he could prevent would begin. Quite apart from Chamberlain’s motives to believe Hitler, the lie was likely to succeed because no strong emotions had to be concealed. Most often lies fail because some sign of an emotion being concealed leaks. T h e stronger the emotions involved in the lie, and the greater the n u m b e r of different emotions, the more likely it is that the lie will be betrayed by some form of behavioral leakage.
Hitler certainly would not have felt guilt, an emotion that is doubly problematic for the liar—not only may signs of it leak, but the torment of guilt may motivate the liar to make mistakes so as to be caught. Hitler would not feel guilty about lying to the representative of the country that had in his lifetime imposed a humiliating military defeat on G e r m a n y . Unlike Mary, Hitler did not share important social values with his victim; he did not respect or admire him. Mary had to conceal strong emotions for her lie to succeed. She had to suppress the despair and anguish motivating her suicide wish.
And, Mary had every reason to feel guilty about lying to her doctors: she liked them, admired them, and knew they only wanted to help her. For all these reasons and more it usually will be far easier to spot behavioral clues to deceit in a suicidal patient or a lying spouse than in a diplomat or a double agent. But 22 Telling Lies not every diplomat, criminal, or intelligence agent is a perfect liar. Mistakes are sometimes made. The analyses I have made allow one to estimate the chances of being able to spot clues to deceit or being misled.
My message to those interested in catching political or criminal lies is not to ignore behavioral clues but to be more cautious, more aware of the limitations and the opportunities. While there is some evidence about the behavioral clues to deceit, it is not yet firmly established. My analyses of how and why people lie and when lies fail fit the evidence from experiments on lying and from historical and fictional accounts. But there has not yet been time to see how these theories will weather the test of further experiment and critical argument.
I decided not to wait until all the answers are in to write this book, because those trying to catch liars are not waiting. Where the stakes for a mistake are the highest, attempts already are being made to spot nonverbal clues to deceit. “Experts” unfamiliar with all the evidence and arguments are offering their services as lie spotters in jury selection and employment interviews. Some policemen and professional polygraphers using the “lie detector” are taught about the nonverbal clues to deceit. About half the information in the training materials I have seen is wrong.
Customs officials attend a special course in spotting the nonverbal clues of smuggling. I am told that my work is being used in this training, but repeated inquiries to see the training materials have only brought repeated promises of “we’ll get right back to you. ” It is also impossible to know what the intelligence agencies are doing, for their work is secret. I know they are interested, for the Defense Department six years ago invited me to explain to them what I thought were the opportunities and the hazards.
Since then I have heard rumors that work is proceeding, and I have picked up the names of some of the people who may be involved. My letters to them have Introduction 23 gone unanswered, or the answer given is that I can’t be told anything. I worry about “experts” who go unchallenged by public scrutiny and the carping critics of the scientific community. This book will make clear to them and those for whom they work my view of both the hazards and the opportunities. My purpose in writing this book is not to address only those concerned with deadly deceits.
I have come to believe that examining how and when people lie and tell the truth can help in understanding many human relationships. There are few that do not involve deceit or at least the possibility of it. Parents lie to their children about sex to spare them knowledge they think their children are not ready for, just as their children, when they become adolescents, will conceal sexual adventures because the parents won’t understand. Lies occur between friends (even your best friend won’t tell you), teacher and student, doctor and patient, husband and wife, witness and jury, lawyer and client, salesperson and customer.
Lying is such a central characteristic of life that better understanding of it is relevant to almost all human affairs. Some might shudder at that statement, because they view lying as reprehensible. I do not share that view. It is too simple to hold that no one in any relationship must ever lie; nor would I prescribe that every lie be unmasked. Advice columnist Ann Landers has a point when she advises her readers that truth can be used as a bludgeon, cruelly inflicting pain. Lies can be cruel too, but all lies aren’t. Some lies, many fewer than liars will claim, are altruistic.
Some social relationships are enjoyed because of the myths they preserve. But no liar should presume too easily that a victim desires to be misled. And no lie catcher should too easily presume the right to expose every lie. Some lies are harmless, even humane. Unmasking certain lies may humiliate the victim or a third party. But all of this must be consid- 24 Telling Lies ered in more detail, and after many other issues have been discussed. The place to begin is with a definition of lying, a description of the two basic forms of lying, and the two kinds of clues to deceit.
TWO Lying, Leakage, and Clues to Deceit RESIGNING as president, Richard Nixon denied lying but acknowledged that he, like other politicians, had dissembled. It is necessary to win and retain public office, he said. “You can’t say what you think about this individual or that individual because you may have to use him. . . . you can’t indicate your opinions about world leaders because you may have to deal with them in the future. ” 1 Nixon is not alone in avoiding the term lie when not telling the truth can be justified. As the Oxford English Dictionary tells us: “in modern use, the word [lie] is normally a violent expression of moral reprobation, which in polite conversation tends to be avoided, IGHT YEARS AFTER E “Attitudes may be changing. Jody Powell, former President Carter’s press secretary, justifies certain lies: “From the first day the first reporter asked the first tough question of a government official, there has been a debate about whether government has the right to lie. It does. In certain circumstances, government not only has the right but a positive obligation to lie.
In four years in the White House I faced such circumstances twice. ” He goes on to describe an incident in which he lied to spare “great pain and embarrassment for a number of perfectly innocent people. ” The other lie he acknowledged was in covering the military plans to rescue the American hostages from Iran (Jody Powell, The Other Side of the Story, New York: William Morrow & Co. , Inc. , 1984). 26 Telling Lies the synonyms falsehood and untruth being often substituted as relatively euphemistic. 2 It is easy to call an untruthful person a liar if he is disliked, but very hard to use that term, despite his untruthfulness, if he is liked or admired. Many years before Watergate, Nixon epitomized the liar to his Democratic opponents—”would you buy a used car from this man? “—while his abilities to conceal and disguise were praised by his Republican admirers as evidence of political savvy. These issues, however, are irrelevant to my definition of lying or deceit. (I use the words interchangeably. ) Many people—for example, those who provide false information unwittingly—are untruthful without lying.
A woman who has the paranoid delusion that she is Mary Magdalene is not a liar, although her claim is untrue. Giving a client bad investment advice is not lying unless the advisor knew when giving the advice that it was untrue. Someone whose appearance conveys a false impression is not necessarily lying. A praying mantis camouflaged to resemble a leaf is not lying, any more than a man whose high forehead suggested more intelligence than he possessed would be lying. * A liar can choose not to lie. Misleading the victim is deliberate; the liar intends to misinform the victim.
The lie may or may not be justified, in the opinion of the liar or the community. The liar may be a good or a bad person, liked or disliked. But the person who lies could choose to lie or “It is interesting to guess about the basis of such stereotypes. The high forehead presumably refers, incorrectly, to a large brain. The stereotype that a thin-lipped person is cruel is based on the accurate clue that lips do narrow in anger. The error is in utilizing a sign of a temporary emotional state as the basis for judging a personality trait.
Such a judgment implies that thin-lipped people look that way because they are narrowing their lips in anger continuously; but thin lips can also be a permanent, inherited facial feature. The stereotype that a thick-lipped person is sensual in a similar way misconstrues the accurate clue that lips thicken, engorged with blood during sexual arousal, into an inaccurate judgment about a permanent trait; but again, thick lips can be a pemanent facial feature. ‘ Lying, Leakage, and Clues to Deceit 27 to be truthful, and knows the difference between the two. Pathological liars who know they are being untruthful but cannot control their behavior do not meet my requirement. Nor would people who do not even know they are lying, those said to be victims of self-deceit. * A liar may come over time to believe in her own lie. If that happens she would no longer be a liar, and her untruths, for reasons I explain in the next chapter, should be much harder to detect. An incident in Mussolini’s life shows that belief in one’s own lie may not always be so beneficial: “. . . in 1938 the composition of [Italian] army divisions had been reduced from three regiments to two.
This appealed to Mussolini because it enabled him to say that fascism had sixty divisions instead of barely half as many, but the change caused enormous disorganisation just when the war was about to begin; and because he forgot what he had done, several years later he tragically miscalculated the true strength of his forces. It seems to have deceived few other people except himself. “5 It is not just the liar that must be considered in defining a lie but the liar’s target as well. In a lie the target has not asked to be misled, nor has the liar given any prior notification of an intention to do so.
It would be bizarre to call actors liars. Their audience agrees to be misled, for a time; that is why they are there. Actors do not impersonate, as does the con man, without giving notice that it is a pose put on for a time. A customer would not knowingly follow the advice of a broker who said he would be providing convincing but false information. There would be no lie if the psychiatric patient Mary had told her doctor she would be claiming feelings she did not have, any more than Hitler “While I do not dispute the existence of pathological liars and individuals who are victims of self-deceit, it is difficult to establish.
Certainly the liar’s word cannot be taken as evidence. Once discovered, any liar might make such claims to lessen punishment. 28 Telling Lies could have told Chamberlain not to trust his promises. In my definition of a lie or deceit, then, one person intends to mislead another, doing so deliberately, without prior notification of this purpose, and without having been explicitly asked to do so by the target. * There are two primary ways to lie: to conceal and to falsify. In concealing, the liar withholds some information without actually saying anything untrue. In falsifying, an additional step is taken. Not only does the liar withhold true information, but he presents false information as if it were true. Often it is necessary to combine concealing and falsifying to pull off the deceit, but sometimes a liar can get away just with concealment. Not everyone considers concealment to be lying; some people reserve that word only for the bolder act of falsification. If the doctor does not tell the patient that the illness is terminal, if the husband does not mention that he spent his lunch hour at a motel with his wife’s best friend, if the policeman doesn’t tell the suspect that a “bug” is recording the conversation with his lawyer, no false information has been transmitted, yet each of these examples meets my definition of lying. The targets did not ask to be misled; and the concealers acted deliberately without giving prior notification of their intent to mislead. Information was withheld wittingly, with intent, not by accident.
There are exceptions, times when concealment is not lying because prior notification was given or consent to be misled was obtained. If the husband and wife agree to have an open *My focus is on what Goffman called barefaced lies, ones “for which there can be unquestionable evidence tht the teller knew he lied and willfully did so. ” Goffman did not focus upon these but upon other misrepresentations, in which the distinction between the true and the false is less tenable: “. . . there is hardly a legitimate everyday vocation or relationship whose performers do not engage in concealed practices which are incompatible with fostered impressions. (Both quotes are from The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life [New York: Anchor Books, 1959], pp. 59, 64. Lying, Leakage, and Clues to Deceit 29 marriage in which each will conceal affairs unless directly asked, concealing the assignation at the motel will not be a lie. If the patient asks the doctor not to be told if the news is bad, concealing that information is not a lie. By legal definition, however, a suspect and attorney have the right to private conversation; concealing the violation of that right will always be a lie.
When there is a choice about how to lie, liars usually prefer concealing to falsifying. There are many advantages. For one thing, concealing usually is easier than falsifying. Nothing has to be made up. There is no chance of getting caught without having the whole story worked out in advance. Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said that he didn’t have a good enough memory to be a liar. If a doctor gives a false explanation of a patient’s symptoms in order to conceal that the illness is terminal, the doctor will have to remember his false account in order not to be inconsistent when asked again a few days later.
Concealment may also be preferred because it seems less reprehensible than falsifying. It is passive, not active. Even though the target may be equally harmed, liars may feel less guilt about concealing than falsifying. * The liar can maintain the reassuring thought that the target really knows the truth but does not want to confront it. Such a liar could think, “My husband must know I am playing around, because he never asks me where I spend my afternoons. My discretion is a kindness; I certainly am not lying to him about what I am doing.
I am choosing not to humiliate him, not forcing him to acknowledge my affairs. ” Concealment lies are also much easier to cover afterward if discovered. The liar does not go as far out on a limb. *Eve Sweetser makes the interesting point that the target may feel more outraged by being told a concealment than a falsification lie: “[T]hey can’t complain that they were lied to, and thus feel rather as if their opponent has slid through a legal loophole. “8 30 Telling Lies There are many available excuses—ignorance, the intent to reveal it later, memory failure, and so on.
The person testifying under oath who says “to the best of my recollection” provides an out if later faced with something he has concealed. The claim not to remember what the liar does remember and is deliberately withholding is intermediate between concealment and falsification. It happens when the liar can no longer simply not say anything; a question has been raised, a challenge made. By falsifying only a failure to remember, the liar avoids having to remember a false story; all that needs to be remembered is the untrue claim to a poor memory.
And, if the truth later comes out, the liar can always claim not to have lied about it, that it was just a memory problem. An incident from the the Watergate scandal that led to President Nixon’s resignation illustrates the memory failure strategy. As evidence grows of their involvement in the break-in and cover-up, presidential assistants H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman are forced to resign. Alexander Haig takes Haldeman’s place as the pressure on Nixon mounts. “Haig had been back in the White House for less than a month when, on June 4, 1973, he and Nixon discussed how to respond to serious allegations being made by John W.
Dean, the former White House counsel. According to a tape recording of the Nixon-Haig discussion that became public during the impeachment investigation, Haig advised Nixon to duck questions about the allegations by saying ‘ y o u ) u s t can’t recall. ‘ ” 9 A memory failure is credible only in limited circumstances. The doctor asked if the tests were negative can’t claim not to remember, nor can the policeman if asked by the suspect whether the room is bugged. A memory loss can be claimed only for insignificant matters, or something that happened some time ago.
Even the passage of time may not justify a failure to remember extraordinary events, Lying, Leakage, and Clues to Deceit 31 which anyone would be expected to recall no matter when they happened. A liar loses the choice whether to conceal or falsify once challenged by the victim. If the wife asks her husband why she couldn’t reach him at lunch, the husband has to falsify to maintain his secret affair. One could argue that even the usual dinner table question—”How was your day? “—is a request for information, but it can be dodged.
The husband can mention other matters concealing the assignation unless a directed inquiry forces him to choose between falsifying or telling the truth. Some lies from the outset require falsification; concealment alone will not do. The psychiatric patient Mary not only had to conceal her distress and suicide plans, she also had to falsify feeling better and the wish to spend the weekend with her family. Lying about previous experience to obtain a job can’t be done by concealment alone. Not only must inexperience be concealed, but the relevant job history must be fabricated.
Escaping a boring party without offending the host requires not only concealing the preference to watch TV at home but the falsification of an acceptable excuse, an early-morning appointment, babysitter problems, or the like. Falsification also occurs, even though the lie does not directly require it, to help the liar cover evidence of what is being concealed. This use of falsification to mask what is being concealed is especially necessary when emotions must be concealed. It is easy to conceal an emotion no longer felt, much harder to conceal an emotion felt at the moment, especially if the feeling is strong.
Terror is harder to conceal than worry, just as rage is harder to conceal than annoyance. The stronger the emotion, the more likely it is that some sign of it will leak despite the liar’s best attempt to conceal it. Putting on another emotion, one that is not felt, can help disguise the felt emotion being concealed. • 32 Telling Lies Falsifying an emotion can cover the leakage of a concealed emotion. An incident in John Updike’s novel Marry Me illustrates this and a number of other points I have described. Ruth’s telephone conversation with her lover is overheard by her husband.
Up until this point in the book Ruth has been able to conceal her affair without having to falsify, but now, directly questioned by her husband, she must falsify. While the object of her lie has been to keep her husband ignorant of her affair, this incident also shows how easily emotions can become involved in a lie and how, once involved, emotions add to the burden of what must be concealed. “Jerry [Ruth’s husband] had frightened her by overhearing the tag end of a phone conversation with Dick [her lover]. She had thought he was raking in the back yard. Emerging from the kitchen he asked her, “Who was that? ‘ “She panicked. Oh somebody. Some woman from the Sunday school asking if we were going to enroll Joanna and Charlie. ‘ ” 10 Panic itself is not proof of lying, but it would make Jerry suspicious, if he noticed it, because, he would think, Ruth wouldn’t panic if she had nothing to hide. While perfectly innocent people may become fearful when interrogated, interrogators often don’t take heed of that. Ruth is in a difficult position. Not anticipating the need to falisfy, she did not prepare her line. Caught in that predicament, she panics about being discovered, and since panic is very hard to conceal, this increases the chance Jerry will catch her.
One ploy she might try would be to be truthful about how she feels, since she isn’t likely to be able to hide that, lying instead about what has caused her feelings. She could admit feeling panicked, claiming that she feels that way because she fears Jerry won’t believe her, not because she has anything to hide. This would not be likely to work Lying, Leakage, and Clues to Deceit 33 unless there has been a long history in which Jerry has often disbelieved Ruth, and later events had always proved her to have been innocent, so that mention now of his unreasonable accusations might deflect his pursuit of her.
Ruth probably won’t succeed if she tries to look cool, poker faced, totally unaffected. When hands begin to tremble it is much easier to do something with them—make a fist or fold them—than just let them lie still. When lips are tightening and stretching, and the upper eyelids and brows are being pulled up in fear, it is very hard to keep a still face. Those expressions can be better concealed by adding other muscle movements—gritting the teeth, pressing the lips, lowering the brow, glaring. The best way to conceal strong emotions is with a mask.
Covering the face or part of it with one’s hand or turning away from the person one is talking to usually can’t be done without giving the lie away. The best mask is a false emotion. It not only misleads, but it is the best camouflage. It is terribly hard to keep the face impassive or the hands inactive when an emotion is felt strongly. Looking unemotional, cool, or neutral is the hardest appearance to maintain when emotions are felt. It is much easier to put on a pose, to stop or counter with another set of actions those actions that are expressions of the felt emotion.
A moment later in Updike’s story, Jerry tells Ruth he does not believe her. Presumably her panic would increase, making it even harder to conceal. She could try to use anger, amazement, or surprise to mask her panic. She could angrily challenge Jerry for disbelieving her, for snooping. She could even appear amazed that he doesn’t believe her, surprised that he was listening to her conversations. Not every situation allows the liar to mask the felt emotion. Some lies require the much more difficult task of concealing emotions without falsifying. Ezer Weizman, a former Israeli minister of defense, described such a difficult 4 Telling Lies situation. Talks were held between the Israeli and Egyptian military delegations to initiate negotiations after Anwar Sadat’s dramatic visit to Jerusalem. During a negotiating session, Mohammed el-Gamasy, the head of the Egyptian delegation, tells Weizman he has just learned that the Israelis are erecting another settlement in the Sinai. Weizman knows that this could jeopardize the negotiations, since the issue of whether Israel can even keep any of the already existing settlements is still a matter of dispute. “I was outraged, though I could not vent my anger in public.
Here we were, discussing security arrangements, trying to give the wagon of peace one more little shove forward—and my colleagues in Jerusalem, instead of learning the lesson of the phony settlements, were erecting yet another one at the very hour that negotiations were in progress. ” 11 Weizman could not allow his anger at his colleagues in Jerusalem to show. Concealing his anger would also allow him to conceal that his colleagues in Jerusalem had not consulted with him. He had to conceal a strongly felt emotion without being able to use any other emotion as a mask. It would not do to look happy, afraid, distressed, surprised, or disgusted.
He had to look attentive but impassive, giving no clue that Gamasy’s information was news of any consequence. His book gives no hint of whether he succeeded. Poker is another situation in which masking cannot be used to conceal emotions. When a player becomes excited about the prospect of winning a large pot because of the superb hand he has drawn, he must conceal any sign of his excitement so the other players do not fold. Masking with the sign of any other emotion will be dangerous. If he tries to hide his excitement by looking disappointed or irritated, others will think he drew badly and will expect him to fold, not stay in.
He must look blankly poker faced. If he decides Lying, Leakage, and Clues to Deceit 35 to conceal his disappointment or irritation at a bad draw by bluffing, trying to force the others to fold, he might be able to use a mask. By falsifying happiness or excitement he could hide his disappointment and add to the impression that he has a good hand. It won’t be believable to the other players unless they consider him a novice. An experienced poker player is supposed to have mastered the talent of not showing any emotion about his hand. * (Incidentally, untruths in poker—concealing or bluffing—do not fit my definition of lying.
No one expects poker players to reveal the cards they have drawn. T h e game itself provides prior notification that players will attempt to mislead each other). A n y emotion can be falsified to help conceal any other emotion. T h e smile is the mask most frequently employed. It serves as the opposite of all the negative emotions—fear, anger, distress, disgust, and so on. It is selected often because some variation on happiness is the message required to pull off many deceits. T h e disappointed employee must smile if the boss is to think he isn’t h u r t or angry about being passed over for promotion.
T h e cruel friend should pose as well-meaning as she delivers her cutting criticism with a concerned smile. Another reason why the smile is used so often to mask is because smiling is part of the standard greeting and is required frequently throughout most polite exchanges. If a person feels terrible, it usually should not be shown or acknowledged during a greeting exchange. Instead, the unhappy person is expected to conceal negative feelings, put*In his study of poker players, David Hayano describes another style used by professionals: the “animated players constantly chat throughout the game to make their opponents anxious and nervous. . . Truths are told as lies and lies are told as truths. Coupled with chattery verbal performance [are] animated and exaggerated gestures…. As one such player was described: ‘He’s got more moves than a belly dancer. ‘ ” (“Poker Lies and Tells,” Human Behavior, March 1979, p. 20). 36 Telling Lies ting on a polite smile to accompany the “Just fine, thank you, and how are you? ” reply to the “How are you today? ” The true feelings will probably go undetected, not because the smile is such a good mask but because in polite exchanges people rarely care how the other person actually feels.
All that is expected is a pretense of amiability and pleasantness. Others rarely scrutinize such smiles carefully. People are accustomed to overlooking lies in the context of polite greetings. One could argue that it is wrong to call these lies, because the implicit rules of polite greetings provide notification that true accounts of emotions will not be given. Still another reason for the popularity of the smile as a mask is that it is the easiest of the facial expressions of emotions to make voluntarily. Well before the age of one, infants can deliberately smile.
It is one of the very earliest expressions used by the infant in a deliberate fashion to please others. Throughout life social smiles falsely present feelings not felt but required or useful to show. Mistakes may be made in the timing of these unfelt smiles; they may be too quick or too slow. Mistakes may be evident also in the location of the smiles; they may occur too soon before or too long after the word or phrase they should accompany. But the smiling movements themselves are easy to make, which is not so for the expression of all the other emotions.
The negative emotions are harder for most people to falsify. My research, described in chapter 5, found that most people cannot voluntarily move the particular muscles needed to realistically falsify distress or fear. Anger and disgust are a little easier to display when they are not felt, but mistakes are often made. If the lie requires falsifying a negative emotion rather than a smile, the deceiver may have difficulty. There are exceptions; Hitler evidently was a superb performer, easily able to convincingly falsify Lying, Leakage, and Clues to Deceit 37 negative emotions.
In a meeting with the British ambassador, Hitler appeared to be totally enraged, not capable of discussing matters any further. A German official present at the scene reported: “Hardly had the door shut behind the Ambassador than Hitler slapped himself on the thigh, laughed and said: ‘Chamberlain won’t survive that conversation; his Cabinet will fall this evening. ‘ ” 12 There are a number of other ways to lie, in addition to concealment and falsification. I suggested one way already, in considering what Ruth could do to maintain her deceit despite her panic in the incident quoted from John Updike’s novel Marry Me.
Rather than trying to conceal her panic, which is hard to do, she could acknowledge the feeling but lie about what brought it about. Misidentifying the cause of her emotion, she could claim she is perfectly innocent and is panicked only because she fears he won’t believe her. If the psychiatrist had asked the patient Mary why she seemed a bit nervous, she could similarly acknowledge the emotion but misidentify what caused it—”I’m nervous because I want so much to be able to spend time with my family again. ” Truthful about the felt emotion, the lie misleads about what was the cause of the emotion.
Another, related technique is to tell the truth but with a twist, so the victim does not believe it. It is telling the truth . . . falsely. When Jerry asked who Ruth was talking to on the telephone she could have said: “Oh I was talking to my lover, he calls every hour. Since I go to bed with him three times a day we have to be in constant touch to arrange it! ” Exaggerating the truth would ridicule Jerry, making it difficult for him to pursue his suspicious line. A mocking tone of voice or expression would also do the trick.
Another example of telling the truth falsely was described in Robert Daley’s book, and the film based on it, Prince of the City: The True Story of a Cop Who Knew Too Much. As the subtitle proclaims, reportedly this is a true account, 38 Telling Lies not fiction. Robert Leuci is the cop who became an undercover informant, working for federal prosecutors to obtain evidence of criminal corruption among policemen, attorneys, bail bondsmen, and dope pushers and Mafia members. He obtained most of the evidence on a tape recorder concealed in his clothing.
At one point Leuci is suspected of being an informant. If he is caught wearing a wire his life will be in jeopardy. Leuci speaks to DeStefano, one of the criminals about whom he is obtaining evidence. ” ‘Lets not sit next to the jukebox tonight, because I am not getting any kind of recording. ‘ [Leuci speaking] ” ‘That’s not funny,’ said DeStefano. “Leuci began to brag that he was indeed working for the government, and so was that barmaid across the room, whose transmitter was stuffed in her— “They all laughed, but DeStefano’s laugh was dry. 13 Leuci ridicules DeStefano by brazenly telling the truth —he really can’t make a good recording near the jukebox, and he is working for the government. By admitting it so openly, and by joking about the waitress also wearing a concealed recorder in her crotch or bra, Leuci makes it difficult for DeStefano to pursue his suspicions without seeming foolish. A close relative of telling the truth falsely is a halfconcealment. The truth is told, but only partially. Understatement, or leaving out the crucial item, allows the liar to maintain the deceit while not saying anything untrue.
Shortly after the incident I quoted from Marry Me, Jerry joins Ruth in bed and, snuggling, asks her to tell him who she likes. ” ‘I like you,’ she said, ‘and all the pigeons in that tree, and all the dogs in town except the ones that tip over our garbage cans, and all the cats except the one that got Lulu pregnant. And I like the lifeguards at the beach, and the policemen downtown except the one who bawled me out Lying, Leakage, and Clues to Deceit 39 for my U-turn, and I like some of our awful friends, especially when I’m drunk . . . ‘ ” ‘How do you like Dick Mathias? ‘ [Dick is Ruth’s lover]. ‘I don’t mind him. ‘ ” I 4 Another technique that allows the liar to avoid saying anything untrue is the incorrect-inference dodge. A newspaper columnist gave a humorous account of how to use this dodge to solve the familiar problem of what to say when you don’t like a friend’s work. You are at the opening of your friend’s art exhibition. You think the work is dreadful, but before you can sneak out your friend rushes over and asks you what you think. ” ‘Jerry,’ you say (assuming the artist in question is named Jerry), gazing deep into his eyes as though overcome by emotion, ‘Jerry, Jerry, Jerry. Maintain the clasp; maintain the eye contact. Ten times out of ten Jerry will finally break your grip, mumble a modest phrase or two, and move on. . . . There are variations. There’s the high-tone artcrit third-person-invisible twostep, thus: ‘Jerry. Jer-ry. What can one say? ‘ Or the more deceptively low-key: ‘Jerry. Words fail me. ‘ Or the somewhat more ironic: ‘Jerry. Everyone, everyone, is talking about it. ‘ ” 15 The virtue of this gambit, like the half-concealment and telling the truth falsely, is that the liar is not forced to say anything untrue.
I consider them lies nevertheless, because there is a deliberate attempt to mislead the target without prior notification given to the target. Any of these lies can be betrayed by some aspect of the deceiver’s behavior. There are two kinds of clues to deceit. A mistake may reveal the truth, or it may only suggest that what was said or shown is untrue without revealing the truth. When a liar mistakenly reveals the truth, I call it leakage. When the liar’s behavior suggests he or she is lying without revealing the truth, I call it a deception clue.
If Mary’s doctor notes that she is wringing her hands as she 40 Telling Lies tells him she feels fine, he would have a deception clue, reason to suspect she is lying. He would not know how she really felt—she might be angry at the hospital, disgusted with herself, or fearful about her future—unless he obtained leakage. A facial expression, tone of voice, slip of the tongue, or certain gestures could leak her true feelings. A deception clue answers the question of whether or not the person is lying, although it does not reveal what is being concealed. Only leakage would do that. Often it does not matter.
When the question is whether or not a person is lying, rather than what is being concealed, a deception clue is good enough. Leakage is not needed. What information is being held back can be figured out or is irrelevant. If the employer senses through a deception clue that the applicant is lying, that may be sufficient, and no leakage of what is being concealed may be needed for the decision not to hire a job applicant who lies. But it is not always enough. It may be important to know exactly what has been concealed. Discovering that a trusted employee embezzled may be insufficient.
A deception clue could suggest that the employee lied; it might have led to a confrontation and a confession. Yet even though the matter has been settled, the employee discharged, the prosecution completed, the employer might still seek leakage. He might still want to know how the employee did it, and what he did with the money he embezzled. If Chamberlain had detected any deception clues he would have known Hitler was lying, but in that situation it would also have been useful to obtain leakage of just what his plans for conquest were, how far Hitler intended to go.
Sometimes leakage provides only part of the information the victim wants to know, betraying more than a deception clue but not all that is being concealed. Recall the incident in Marry Me quoted earlier, when Ruth panicked, uncertain how much her husband Jerry had heard of her Lying, Leakage, and Clues to Deceit 41 telephone conversation with her lover. When Jerry asks her about it Ruth could have done something that would have betrayed her panic—a tremble in her lip or raised upper eyelid. Given the context, such a hint of panic would imply that Ruth might be lying.
For why else should she be worried about his question? But such a deception clue would not tell Jerry what she was lying about, nor to whom she was talking. Jerry obtained part of that information from leakage in Ruth’s voice: ” ‘. . . it was your tone of voice. ‘ [Jerry is explaining to Ruth why he does not believe her account of who she was talking to on the telephone. ] ” ‘Really? How? ‘ She wanted to giggle. “He stared off into space as if at an aesthetic problem. He looked tired and young and thin. His haircut was too short. ‘It was different,’ he said. ‘Warmer. It was a woman’s voice. ” ‘I am a woman. ‘ ” ‘Your voice with me,’ he said, ‘is quite girlish. ‘ ” 16 The sound of her voice does not fit talking to the Sunday school but to a lover. It leaks that the deceit is probably about an affair, but it does not tell him the whole story. Jerry does not know if it is an affair about to begin or in the middle; nor does he know who the lover is. But he knows more than he would from just a deception clue that would only suggest that she is lying. I defined lying as a deliberate choice to mislead a target without giving any notification of the intent to do so.
There are two major forms of lying: concealment, leaving out true information; and falsification, or presenting false information as if it were true. Other ways to lie include: misdirecting, acknowledging an emotion but misidentifying what caused it; telling the truth falsely, or admitting the truth but with such exaggeration or humor that the target re- 42 Telling Lies mains uniformed or misled; half-concealment, or admitting only part of what is true, so as to deflect the target’s interest in what remains concealed; and the incorrect-inference dodge, or telling the truth but in a way that implies the opposite of what is said.
There are two kinds of clues to deceit: leakage, when the liar inadvertently reveals the truth; and deception clues, when the liar’s behavior reveals only that what he says is untrue. Both leakage and deception clues are mistakes. They do not always happen. Not all lies fail. The next chapter explains why some do. THREE Why Lies Fail L for many reasons. The victim of deceit may accidentally uncover the evidence, finding hidden documents or a telltale lipstick stain on a handkerchief. Someone else may betray the deceiver.
An envious colleague, an abandoned spouse, a paid informer, all are major sources for the detection of deception. What concerns us, however, are those mistakes made during the act of lying, mistakes the deceiver makes despite himself, lies that fail because of the liar’s behavior. Deception clues or leakage may be shown in a change in the expression on the face, a movement of the body, an inflection to the voice, a swallowing in the throat, a very deep or shallow breath, long pauses between words, a slip of the tongue, a micro facial expression, a gestural slip.
The question is: Why can’t liars prevent these behavioral betrayals? Sometimes they do. Some lies are performed beautifully; nothing in what the liar says or does betrays the lie. Why not always? There are two reasons, one that involves thinking and one that involves feeling. IES FAIL Bad Lines Liars do not always anticipate when they will need to lie. There is not always time to prepare the line to be taken, to rehearse and memorize it. Ruth, in the incident I quoted 44 Telling Lies from Updike’s novel Marry Me, did not anticipate that her husband, Jerry, would overhear her speaking on the telephone to her lover.
The cover story she invents on the spot —that it is the Sunday school calling about their children —betrays her because it does not fit with what her husband overheard her say. Even when there has been ample advance notice, and a false line has been carefully devised, the liar may not be clever enough to anticipate all the questions that may be asked and to have thought through what his answers must be. Even cleverness may not be enough, for unseen changes in circumstances can betray an otherwise effective line. During the Watergate grand jury investigation federal judge John J.
Sirica described such a problem in explaining his reactions to the testimony of Fred Buzhardt, special counsel to President Nixon: “The first problem Fred Buzhardt faced in trying to explain why the tapes were missing was to get his story straight. On the opening day of the hearing, Buzhardt said there was no tape of the president’s April 15 meeting with Dean because a timer . . . had failed. . . . But before long revised his first explanation. [Buzhardt had learned that other evidence might become known that would show that the timers were in fact working. He now said that the April 15 meeting with Dean . . . hadn’t been recorded because both of the available tapes had been filled up during a busy day of meetings. ” 1 Even when a liar is not forced by circumstances to change lines, some liars have trouble recalling the line they have previously committed themselves to, so that new questions cannot be consistently answered quickly. Any of these failures—in anticipating when it will be necessary to lie, in inventing a line adequate to changing circumstances, in remembering the line one has adopted— produce easily spotted clues to deceit.
What the person says is either internally inconsistent or discrepant with other incontrovertible facts, known at the time or later revealed. Why Lies Fail 45 Such obvious clues to deceit are not always as reliable and straightforward as they seem. Too smooth a line may be the sign of a well-rehearsed con man. To make matters worse, some con men, knowing this, purposely make slight mistakes in order not to seem too smooth. James Phelan, an investigative reporter, described a fascinating instance of this trick in his account of the Howard Hughes biography hoax.
No one had seen Hughes for years, which only added to the public’s fascination with this billionaire, who also made movies and who owned an airline and the largest gambling house in Las Vegas. Hughes had not been seen for so long that some doubted he was alive. It was astonishing that a person who was so reclusive would authorize anyone to write his biography. Yet that is what Clifford Irving claimed to have produced. McGraw-Hill paid Irving $750,000 to publish it; Life magazine paid $250,000 to publish three excerpts; and it turned out to be a fake! Clifford Irving was ” . . . great con man, one of the best. Here’s an example. When we cross examined him, trying to break down his story, he never made the mistake of telling his story the same way each time. There would be little discrepancies in it, and when we’d catch him up, he’d freely admit them. The average con man will have his story down letter-perfect, so he can tell it over and over without deviation. An honest man usually makes little mistakes, particularly in relating a long, complex story like Cliff’s. Cliff was smart enough to know this, and gave a superb impersonation of an honest man.
When we’d catch him up on something that looked incriminating, he’d freely say, ‘Gee, that makes it look bad for me, doesn’t it? But that’s the way it happened. ‘ He conveyed the picture of being candid, even to his own detriment—while he was turning lie after lie after lie. “2 There is no protection against such cleverness; the most skillful con men do succeed. Most liars are not so devious. 46 Telling Lies Lack of preparation or a failure to remember the line one has adopted may produce clues to deceit in how a line is spoken, even when there are no inconsistencies in what is said.
The need to think about each word before it is spoken—weighing possibilities, searching for a word or idea—may be obvious in pauses during speech or, more subtly, in a tightening of the lower eyelid or eyebrow and certain changes in gesture (explained in more detail in chapters 4 and 5). Not that carefully considering each word before it is spoken is always a sign of deceit, but in some circumstances it is. When Jerry asks Ruth who she has been talking with on the phone, any signs that she was carefully selecting her words would suggest she was lying.
Lying about Feelings A failure to think ahead, plan fully, and rehearse the false line is only one of the reasons why mistakes that furnish clues to deceit are made when lying. Mistakes are also made because of difficulty in concealing or falsely portraying emotion. Not every lie involves emotions, but those that do cause special problems for the liar. An attempt to conceal an emotion at the moment it is felt could be betrayed in words, but