Monday, April 18, 2005

Detecting Liars

A few weeks ago at UFO Updates, the question of whether or not Robert Sarbacher was being truthful in the 1980s when answering questions from various ufologists (Friedman, Clark, Maccabee, Steinman) was raised.

Jerry Clark suggested that people who hesitate, or have trouble remembering some details, are less likely to be liars, because that behaviour indicates that they simply cannot remember, and are trying to be truthful. Jerry wrote, "If Sarbacher was lying to me, he was certainly an odd liar. He must have answered a good half of my questions with 'I don't know.' My experience with liars has told me that they always know everything."

For Jerry's comments, see:

I countered with what any lawyer, judge, police officer, etc. knows - that, as a general rule, the opposite is true. These are people who make a living, to some degree or another, trying to determine whether or not a person is telling the truth; presumably, they have a bit more training, and experience at it, than Jerry does - just as Jerry has a greater knowledge of ufological history than most police detectives, or trial lawyers.

For my response, see:

This has great relevance for someone like Bob Lazar, for example, who can remember the details about his Area 51 story, but has consistently had trouble "remembering" when he received his alleged university degrees. Ditto, perhaps, Robert Sarbacher in his responses to UFO researchers in the 1980s, or even in 1950, when he met with Wilbert Smith.

Just recently, at the American Medical Association's 23rd Annual Science Reporters Conference, Dr. Maureen O'Sullivan, a psychology professor at the University of San Francisco, weighed in on the subject of lying and liars, and how to detect them. Dr. O'Sullivan conducts seminars for police officers and others on how to detect lying, and is an expert on the subject.

There are two categories of clues to a lie, thinking clues and emotional ones, she explained.

"Basic emotions are hard to conceal completely," O'Sullivan said. People may be afraid of being caught or happy that they are putting something over on another person, so some inappropriate emotion may flicker across their face.

O'Sullivan calls these "microexpressions" - changes that last less than a second. The people who are best at catching liars are able to notice them.

The thinking clues occur because it's harder to lie than tell the truth, she said [emphasis added - PAK]. To lie, people have to make something up. This can lead to hesitations in speech, slips of the tongue, lack of detail in what they are saying.

A group known as "superliars" is aware of those problems, she added, but may overcompensate by talking too fast.

"Anxiety by itself is not a sign of deception," she added, "there are other things you have to look for ... things that are inconsistent with what they're saying."

Look for shrugs: "is someone telling you something very positive and shrugs in the middle," she said. Watch body posture, hand gestures, eye flutters.

So, who is good at detecting these various clues and sorting out the liars?

O'Sullivan said FBI and CIA agents were only about average in lie-detecting ability, but a strong performing group was Secret Service agents who guard politicians and spend a lot of their time scanning crowds for nonverbal clues.

Interestingly, police officers tend to be above average in cases involving crimes but not in emotional situations, she said, while therapists were just the opposite.

Of course, the best way to detect a liar is to examine what they say against other, objective evidence (documents, accounts from other people, previous statements) to see if there are inconsistencies or other obvious problems with the information that they proffer as the truth. Lazar and Sarbacher both have these problems, as I have pointed out elsewhere. Ufologists who support Sarbacher, for example, have never explained why, if he was telling Wilbert Smith the truth in 1950, he would have stated that the "facts" reported in Behind the Flying Saucers were "substantially correct," when they were nothing of the sort, as most of these same ufologists have themselves pointed out over the years.

However, it is also important to look at how people say things, so long as you know what the signs are that one can normally look for to try and determine if a person is being truthful. This part of the equation is far from foolproof, but it is something that ufologists need to understand, and to keep in mind when interviewing people who claim to have some sort of knowledge relevant to the UFO phenomenon.

Paul Kimball


RRRGroup said...

And also, this Paul (about which you an I had an exchange during the 4/16 SDI program):

A person who while relating a tale constantly resorts to "Okay?" after every other questionable insert of theirs?

This to see whether or not the listener is buying the story.

For me, it's a gigantic red flag, and I tune-out as soon as one of those "Okay?" things shows up.

Rich Reynolds

Paul Kimball said...