Close up shot of womans face

Controlling emotions

The face is the best clue for deception

4 minute read
Close up shot of womans face

It is widely accepted in the scientific community that humans have seven universal emotions that are shown on our faces regardless of our age, gender, profession and background.

These emotions are sadness, anger, surprise, disgust, fear, contempt and happiness, and they can each be identified with particular movements on the face.

This was the theme of Lead Behavioural Investigator and Mind Hush Group Founder Sharon Box’s presentation at AIM WA.

Ms Box spoke on the science of human behaviour and why reading emotions and detecting deception is critical in business.

“You have 43 muscles in your face and you can make about 10,000 facial expressions,” she said.

“Everyone is amazing, we all have different talents, skills and knowledge. We might be business owners or consultants, we might work in finance, marketing or information technology.

“Whatever we do, we’re an asset, but we’re also a risk because we have emotions.

“Emotions drive our behaviour, our feelings and how we act.”

Ms Box emphasised that emotions were important because they told us something was happening to our wellbeing, but we can always learn to manage them a bit better.

“When we have emotional incontinence, we leak emotions that can be negative and destructive,” she said.

“When we can manage our emotions with more control, we are more productive, happier, likeable and we get things done – we are a better team player.”

Macro versus micro expressions

The seven universal emotions we show on our face are called macro-expressions – our natural expressions – and they usually tie into what we are feeling and what we are doing.

On the other hand, when something is at stake and we feel something we do not want to show, we might leak a micro-expression.

“We can’t stop a micro expression because we are not usually aware they are happening.”

“They show what you are really feeling at the time,” Ms Box said.

In business, the three emotions to keep an eye out for are disgust, anger and contempt – these can be identified by particular mouth and eyebrow movements.

Ms Box, a former Ekman Associate, quoted US psychologist Dr Paul Ekman, a pioneer in the study of emotions, to define deception.

“Deception is an act in which someone makes a deliberate choice to mislead another person without giving prior notification of that intention,” Ms Box said.

The two main types of lies are falsification and concealment. Falsification involves conveying information to somebody as if it were true, while concealment is omitting and leaving out information that is true.

Ms Box said there was a difference between telling white lies, which were a social lubrication for society, and being deceitful, where there are consequences.

Although the majority of us think we can tell if someone is lying, we can only tell 54 per cent of the time without any specialised training – barely better than chance.

Various communication channels are used to gather information and data to determine the veracity (truthfulness) of information and whether deception may be at play. These include facial expressions, body language, the voice, how we speak and the words we use, as well as the physical changes that occur within our body.

When trying to determine deception, it's useful to look for emblematic slips (a term coined by Dr Ekman), a type of gesture or movement which often happen subconsciously and reveals information a person is attempting to conceal.

“Look for contradiction - where what someone says doesn’t match their body – for example, they say ‘yes’ but shake their head,” Ms Box said.

“A one-sided shoulder shrug reveals the person doesn’t have confidence in what they are saying.

“Another emblematic display, where a person uses part of their body to replace words, such revealing the middle finger in an upwards position on the face, is emotional leakage.

“The person really wants to say what they feel but they can’t, so it comes out in this movement.”

Understanding behaviour

Knowing someone’s baseline behaviour is important before jumping to conclusions and accusing someone of being deceitful, according to Ms Box.

“It takes about 10-15 minutes of conversation to start to get a baseline on somebody,” she said. "But it varies from person to person and the context of the situation.

“We look for clusters of behaviour and there are many deceptive behaviour and indicators we can look for.”

“You need to be careful with baseline behaviour and take into account the story being conveyed, the context and what’s happening,” Ms Box said.

“Maybe their behaviour is natural for the situation.”

Being emotionally intelligent allows us to be aware of what triggers our own emotions and how we can manage them better.

It can also help us recognise emotions triggered in other people.

“We all have a gut feeling when we first meet somebody, and that’s important, but we have to support that with evidence by collecting all the clues we see,” Ms Box said.

“If we really want to get to the heart of somebody’s feelings, intentions and the truth of information, we need to analyse the various communication channels in context.

“Look at the seven universal emotions and see if there is any leakage of the micro-expressions."

The face is often the best clue we have for deception, according to Ms Box.