Final Paper: Can an individual honestly lie?

This research topic submitted by Julie Makowski ( ) on 5/5/98 .

Can an Individual Honestly Lie?

WCP 222
Spring 1998
Julie Makowski


Lying is something we as humans do everyday and everyday our lie detection abilities are tested. This study is designed to test the assumption that facial leakage exists in deception and to determine whether or not humans are good lie
detectors. It hypothesizes that facial leakage does exist in deception, yet humans do not catch these cues and are therefore, poor lie detectors. The results from this study do not support these hypotheses, although they do bring into light possible f
tors that could have affected the data surrounding the study.


Is it possible for humans to lie without revealment? We do it (lie) on a daily basis, but are there specific cues of concealment that go unnoticed? It is my belief that there are facial cues that can reveal concealment and that we, as humans, just
merely fail to recognize them. Also, how do we as humans rate as lie detectors? Do we catch the cues of deceit, or are we just playing games of chance when detecting lies?

I would expect to find that cues of concealment are given by facial expression based on biological data. The sole facial nerve, the seventh cranial nerve, is connected to both very old, and newer parts of the brain (Ekman, 225). Thus, some
facial expression is voluntary, while other is not. Furthermore, there is the documented phenomenon, facial leakage. Facial leakage is the traces of felt facial expressions that a person is attempting to conceal (Ekman, 225).

In 1872, Charles Darwin said that human facial expressions have evolved from the expressions of other animals and they are therefore universal (Ekman, 223). Yet, others disagree. Many believe that facial expression, like language is a
product of culture (Ekman, 223). It is also widely believed by evolutionists that facial expression can provide accurate information (Ekman, 223).

However, some psychologists would argue that expression by any manner, is controllable. Take for instance, the self-presentation theory, which introduces the idea of both the inner and outer self's emergence (Robinson, 76). People desire a
likable and pleasant personality, thus they present this to others (Robinson, 76). This theory also encompasses dominant, dependent, competent and other various characteristics (Robinson, 76).

Although, it is also noted that too many people are happy with the way they perceive things to be (Robinson, 82). The ever-popular metaphor, "rose-colored glasses, depicts this notion explicitly. While wearing a pair of "rose-colored glasses, the world appears perfect-like, and one is happy. People grow to like this perception all too much. Thus, although people may (unconsciously) present certain characteristics to others, the "rose-colored glasses" theory is all too prevalent at times.

Perhaps this is why it is noted that humans make poor lie detectors (Miller, 69). Another phenomenon that could explain poor detection ability could be the excellence of the deceiver. When people are highly motivated to deceive others, they will usually succeed in misleading those others who observe their faces about whether they are having positive or negative feelings (Ekman, 225).

Furthermore, evolutionists believe that deception is a perennial instrument of survival (Myslobodsky, 1). In studying the role of deception in our human ancestry, sociobiologists and ethologists are turning from using prehistoric time human
ancestors (Barnes, 147). Instead, they are using evidence from contemporary animals, particularly, non-human primate species to inference our past (Barnes, 147).

Robert Mitchell has proposed a typology, in which he illustrates four levels of deception (Barnes, 148). The lowest observes plants and butterflies that deceive by appearance (Barnes, 148). The second examines how some birds will deceive
with actions by feigning injury (Barnes, 148). At the next level, animals are learning to deceive (Barnes, 148). Dogs will fake an injured leg, because his human master with treat him sympathetically (Barnes, 148). The fourth and final level presents
lanned deception, which is designed to deal with novel circumstances (Barnes, 149). Present at this level are chimpanzees, baboons, and innumerable humans (Barnes, 149).

It is at the fourth level in which Machiavellian skill is needed (Barnes, 149). Machiavellian skill is the ability to take account in deciding how to act, of likely responses of others (Barnes, 151). Along with Machiavellian skill, its relative theor
s, and the ability to indulge in fantasy, lying becomes a feasible option (Barnes, 152).

For these reasons, I would expect to find that individuals would be able to lie without detection. But not for lack of cues would deceivers be discovered, rather the lack of good detection skills and abilities.


To support my thesis I developed and conducted a psychological study. First I sought out ten volunteer subjects to take part in this study, five males and five females. In a closed room, I videotaped these ten subjects individually, focusing on their faces. Each subject made two statements about themselves; one true, one false.

Prior to the taping I briefed them all together, instructing them to make the two statements. These statements were to be of substantial context, yet not too lengthy. They were to say them in this order: true, then false. Their object was to
convey truth in both of these statements, taking a pause in between each statement.

After compiling the videotape, I had three outside observers view the tape. They were instructed to view the tape and take note of any "facial leakage." They were not told of the order of the statements, nor were they asked to judge which statement was true or false. The observers were merely to observe the facial features of the subjects and to note differences between each statement.

Once I collected all the data, I tabulated all the results. There were two main categories of data: eye leakage, which includes diversion and blinking and smile leakage, which includes smiling and pursed lips. I also added another category: other, this included, head nodding, raised eyebrow, and wrinkling of forehead. After creating a table to display this information, I was ready to compute my statistics.

To test for the presence of facial leakage during lying and truth telling, I examined the relationship between true/false statements and overall leakage. I also looked at gender as a factor in the ability to lie without detection. Then I examined
both eye leakage, and smile leakage to see if one trait was revealed more often. In testing for observer efficiency I examined each individual observer along with their assessments of facial leakage in both true and false combined.


The results show that there is a significant connection between facial leakage and true/false statements, in fact, the P-Value was 0. (see Table 1). These results carried over too, when breaking them down into gender specific categories (see Table 2). In both instances, the observed frequencies were identical, thus offering no correlation. The probability for the subjects to give off facial leakage during true and false statements were equal.

Yet when analyzing the eye and smile leakage with the true/false statements, the P-Value was high, (.7906 and .3711), thus I would need more data to properly analyze this factor (see Table 3).

When looking at the frequency of the observers to detect facial leakage in either statement, the P-Value was low (.0034). Compared to the expected values, observer number one was closely related to the expected value (see Table 4). Yet upon evaluating the correlation between facial leakage and true/false statements by each observer, only observer one with a P-Value of 0, had enough evidence to properly analyze (see Table 5). Observer two and three each had P-Values of .5312 and .6392

***I apologize, due to the fact that my tables could were not attached the this document, they could not be transfered onto this site. Sorry :)


Looking back at the results from Table 1, these statistics do not support my hypothesis that facial leakage exists. For while there was leakage detected by the observers, it was detected in both the true and false statements. What is even more interesting is the frequency of detection was equal in both cases of true and false statements; thus showing that facial leakage is not necessarily the best indicator of lying. I also found it interesting that there was no gender differences in leakage.

Based on the statistics relating to the observers, I could not find strong evidence to support that observers are necessarily able to detect lying. While the observers did detect facial leakage, there was not enough evidence to connect the detection to the true/false statements.

One weakness of this study that I would change occurred in the actual study. I believe the subject matter of the statements was too broad. This vagueness may have thrown the subjects' leakage slightly. Another factor that may have been accountable for the leakage is the actual knowledge of the study. Perhaps if I had lied about the nature of the study, the results may have been more reliable. As for the subject matter of the statements, I would narrow this down, giving more guidelines as to what the subjects should say such as, like/dislikes.

Also I believe it would have been beneficial to have twice as many subjects and alternate the order of the statements. Then when having the observers view and report on the tape I would have them state whether they thought the subject was
lying or telling the truth for each statement. This could add further data to establish whether the observers could actually detect lying and facial leakage.

Upon improvement I believe this study could support my hypothesis that facial leakage does occur during deception. I also believe that, with the addition of the question of whether or not the subjects are lying, my hypothesis of whether or not
the subjects can be detected when lying could be examined. For now this answer will just have to suffice: yes, an individual can honestly lie.


Barnes, J. A. A Pack of Lies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Ekman, Paul, and Wallace V. Friesen. "Nonverbal Behavior." Ethology and Nonverbal Communication in Mental Health. Ed. Samuel A. Corson and Elizabeth O'Leary Corson. New York: Pergamon Press Ltd., 1980. 221-231.

Miller, Gerald R., and James B. Stiff. Deceptive Communication. California: Sage Publications Inc., 1993.

Myslobodsky, Michael S., ed. The Mythomanias - The Nature of Deception and Self-Deception. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc., 1997.

Robinson, W. Peter. Deceit, Delusion, and Detection. 6 vols. California: Sage Publishing, 1996.

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