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Gordon Burghardt: Some people like roses and others tulips. I've always liked snakes.

[snake rattle]

Jad Abumrad: This is Radiolab. I'm Jad Abumrad.

Robert Krulwich: Hey, and I'm Robert Krulwich.

Jad: Our show today is about deception, and we thought, "We're better to start then with snakes." This is where you keep all your snakes?

Gordon: Well, we keep some of them here, we have our [unintelligible 00:00:34] lizards we are working with.

Jad: This is Gordon Burghardt. He works at the University of Tennessee, I paid him a visit recently.

Gordon: I have several rooms here where we keep a variety of different reptiles.

Jad: He's got this one little snake that he likes to show off, small guy, about the size of a pencil, called a hognose snake.

Gordon: These are the hognose snakes. You can see this guy is already starting to go into the display.

Jad: Gordon pops the top off the cage and then does something interesting.

Gordon: What I'll do is pick a puppet of a chicken.

Jad: He puts a chicken puppet on his left hand. Then with this puppet, he begins to kind of attack the snake or mock attack. Like peck near it.

Gordon: To simulate a bird that might be attacking it.

Jad: What happens next is kind of shocking.

Gordon: You can see now how it's hiding its head a little bit. It's coiling its tail.

Jad: First, the snake flips over on it's back.

Gordon: There it goes upside down.

Jad: Then, it vomits blood.

Gordon: Blood will even come out of the mouth.

Jad: Then, it poos itself.

Gordon: I've noticed it's started to defacate a little bit, it's surprising.

Jad: Then it gets really, really-

Gordon: It will finally stop.

Jad: -still.

Gordon: In fact, it will stop breathing. It's all bluff. All a show.

Jad: I was like, "Wait, that is not bluffing" Can I touch him?

Gordon: Sure.

Jad: But as soon as we took a few steps back from the cage, the snake pops it's head up, goes phwoop, unflattens itself and there it was alive again.

Gordon: Then it'll start to breathe and gaze around.

Jad: It was lying, basically.

Robert: That's pretty good.

Jad: Thank you very much.

Robert: Although, you know, as the world turns, it was kind of an ordinary lie, really.

Jad: What?

Robert: It was.

Jad: Sure, when was the last time you pooed yourself for a lie?

Robert: Well, I could lie to you so beautifully, you would be on your back, tongue out-

Jad: No way, because I would catch you.

Robert: No, you wouldn't catch me.

Jad: Yes, I would.

Robert: No, you would not.

Jad: I would totally catch you.

Robert: I'm so sorry to tell you this. That's not happening.

Jad: I would catch you.

Robert: No you wouldn't. That's how I are people who lie.

Jad: And the people who catch them.

Robert: Not.

Jad: To get things started in earnest, let us go to every New Yorker's favorite spot.

[plane sounds]

Ellen: I love that we're at the airport.

Jad: John F. Kennedy Airport. Of course, it's a little place I'd like to go to get away from it all. I ended up there with our producer Ellen Horn. We hadn't actually meant to come but the guy that we had been interviewing-

Paul Ekman: In order for a lie to be portrayed by demeanor-

Jad: This is him.

Paul: -there has to be a high emotional and-

Jad: -right in the middle of the interview, he'd gotten a call.

Paul: Hello? Hello?

Jad: Said he had to run.

Paul: Oh, that's my ride.

Jad: We were like, "Crap. We have more questions over here to do." We decided to jump in the car with him and there we were, in the relaxing presence of men with big guns.

Paul: Right, yes, there's these guys that look like they're in combat uniform for Iraq. They have automatic weapons.

Jad: In any case, this is Paul Ekman.

Paul: Ekman, E-K-M-A-N.

Jad: He's a security expert. That's what he would be called nowadays. Speaking of security, the reason he's here today at JFK Airport is to talk with JetBlue Security, teach them a few things about how they might do their jobs better.

Security: Okay.

Ellen: We have it.

Jad: But.

Security: No reporter in the building, that's how it is.

Paul: How about over in the restaurant?

Security: Not at the airport property.

Jad: Security kicks us out.

Paul: We are leaving their terminal.

Jad: The only place it seems we're allowed to stand- How about right here? -is on the concrete median between two lanes of traffic where Ekman finally pulls out the thing he'd been hoping to show the folks at JetBlue. Here we have your-

Paul: A little-

Jad: -your very stylish little laptop.

Paul: Yes.

Jad: You're just starting it up. It's a simple computer program that he promises in about 40 minutes will teach you to peer into a person's soul.

Paul: We're going to start.

Jad: Click Start, all right.

Paul: I'll click on the Start button here.

Jad: Okay. I'm stepping forward to the computer here. It's loading images, please wait.

Paul: Let me up to the back. Waiting for the pitch. [chuckles]

Jad: Okay. Woah.

Paul: [laughs]

Jad: I need to see that one again. That was so fast. Woah.

Robert: What is that?

Jad: I'll promise I'll tell you, but let me just keep going with this. All right?

Robert: Okay.

Jad: To explain, Paul Ekman studies faces, the human face. He's probably studied the face more than anyone.

Pual: Up until my work that was published in '78, we didn't really know how many expressions the face could make, and there was nothing like a musical notation for the face.

Jad: About 30 years ago, he began by examining his own face very closely to see how many muscles are in there. There are roughly 50. Then he spent the next couple of decades trying to figure out how many ways those muscles can combine to form a facial expression.

Paul: I developed something called the Facial Action Coding System. Basically, a muscular scoring system that you can apply to photographs, film, or real-life behavior. You just did a one-two for me.

Jad: You're numbering, my facial expression?

Paul: One-two is the most common thing in the world. Just raising your eyebrows off is one-two. Five, it's just raising the upper eyelid. Seven is tensing the lower eyelid.

Jad: All-in-all, the human faces capable of 3000 different expressions. That's what he thinks. As we sat in his publisher's office in Midtown, Manhattan, this is about an hour before the airport incident.

Paul: You want an example?

Jad: Yes. He demonstrated a few.

Paul: Okay, if you fabricate anger, it's very unlikely, you'll put in what we call the anger reliable muscle, which most people can't voluntarily move.

Jad: The anger reliable muscle.

Paul: You want to see where it is?

Jad: Yes. I want to see, right. You're tensing your-

Paul: I'm tensing the red margin of my lips.

Jad: You look fierce when you do that instantly. If you want to know, someone's mad, look at their lips. Conversely, if you want to know, they're happy, like genuinely happy and they're not just faking it, he says, "Look at their eyelids."

Paul: The skin in between your eyebrows and your upper eyelid in the genuine spontaneous enjoyment smile, that skin moves slightly down. Hard to detect, but visible if you know what you're looking for.

Jad: You just did it when you said that. Anyways, the reason that we are talking about him here in hour on lying is because, with all the attention that's being paid these days to find lies by using fancy brain scanners, Ekman is kind of on a crusade to remind us that you don't have to do that. You don't have to look in the brain because the brain is actually directly connected to the face in ways that we can't control.

Paul: All these are activated involuntarily when an emotion occurs without your choice.

Jad: There are the things happening on my face, on her face, on any face-

Paul: You don't need to know about it. I'm seeing them. My God, the naked face.

Jad: This brings me to my new favorite word, leakage.

Robert: Leakage?

Jad: Leakage, yes. It is a word you will hear again and again when you talk to anyone in the field of lie catching. Take, for example, Barry McManus.

Barry McManus: Barry L. McManus, M-C-M-A-N-U-S.

Jad: He's a longtime CIA interrogator.

Barry: Physiological leakage could be anywhere from sweat gland activity. When someone knows that they're misleading you and they break out in a sweat, that's because of the autonomic nervous system that you have no control over.

Steve Silverman: Basically, telling the truth is easy.

Jad: That is the crux of it, according to Steve Silverman, a reporter for Wired magazine.

Steve: The truth is kind of sitting there in your brain. Your brain knows it. You say it, no problem, but your brain has to work harder to generate the lie.

Barry: There is an effort. With that, there's always leakage

Steve: Even an instantaneous moment.

Barry: Sometimes you even hear it where a person's breathing pattern will change or the size that people do. At what particular time did they do? If you're not trained to look at it, most people ignore it, but-

Jad: If you've been trained and you know what to look for, according to Barry McManus-

Barry: -it will strike you right in the face.

Jad: Speaking of faces.

Paul: We are usually talking about--

Jad: -the particular brand of facial leakage that Paul Ekman specializes in. It has to do with something that he calls-

Paul: A micro facial expression, a very fast facial expression, about 25th of a second.

Jad: Just as an example, let's just imagine, Robert, that you're smiling. Okay?

Robert: Yes.

Jad: But on the inside, as those of us who know you can attest, maybe you got some rage.

Robert: A little bit.

Jad: Yes, just a little bit, but on the outside, you're smiling. Now, a micro-expression is when for the tiniest, tiniest moment, a little bit of that inner rage slips out onto your face. These are just a little, like just fleeting expressions on your face?

Paul: Yes. They're usually pretty extreme, but they're very fast.

Jad: It happens constantly, he says, but so fast that most of us don't see it at all.

Paul: Most of us don't. When I say most, I mean about 95% of us miss them, but once you learn that you don't miss that.

Jad: Once you don't miss them, oops, there's one, according to Ekman, you wake up to the startling possibility that-

Paul: Lies are everywhere.

Jad: It's enough to make a man obsessed.

Paul: When my daughter was born 27 years ago, I decided that I would take on as a life test to see whether I could leave my life without lying.

Jad: To see whether you could lead your life without lying?

Paul: Yes.

Jad: That sounds impossible.

Paul: It's very tough, but I'm always looking to see whether there's a way I can solve the problem. Makes it more interesting. It's just telling a lie is really dumb.

Jad: You could argue that telling lies is just what we do.

Paul: No, we don't just do that. Most of the time we lie out of laziness or timidity. I got put in a terrible situation by a friend who had invited me to a dinner party, and the company was dull and the food was worse. I sure didn't want to go again. He invites me again about two months later and I said, "I'm sorry, I can't make it." I'm being polite. It's not true, I could have made it. He said, "Oh, we enjoyed having you so much. Tell me a date when you could make it?' Now how am I going to get out of that in a polite way?

Jad: How do you stay true to your-

Paul: Unprepared, I said to him, "The truth of the matter is, at this point in my life, I'm very busy and there are friends I've had for decades that I don't get enough time to see, and I really can't pursue new friendships."

Jad: But that sort of show, it takes a lot of work not to lie, and for what, for what purpose?

Paul: One, you feel like a Zen hero.

Jad: [laughs]

Paul: God, I did it again, I could stay truthful, I didn't take the easy path.

Jad: When Paul Ekman began to walk the path of the honest man, he was faced with a question that has plagued other honest men for centuries, which is, what exactly is a lie? How do you define it exactly? There are different kinds, clearly, and some are definitely more okay than others, where do you draw the line? Eventually, he settled on two criteria.

Paul: A lie is a deliberate choice-

Jad: A deliberate choice.

Paul: -to mislead a target without any notification. According to that definition, an actor is not a liar. Although a good actor, I saw a good actor last night in a play, and I was for time misled. I even had tears because he had misled me, but I was notified.

Jad: Right. Criteria number two was canceled out.

Paul: That's just not a lie, it's deception.

Jad: In a similar way, bluffing at poker, it's not lying because bluffing is in the rules, it's understood, that's part of the game so, therefore, you are "notified."

Paul: It depends, maybe the rules are-- With my wife, we're entering our 28th year, my wife taught me that what I'm supposed to say when she comes in with a new dress, I'm not supposed to say, "Gee, that's not a flattering cut," or, "The color is wrong," or, "That's for someone 20 years younger." All of which might be true. I'm supposed to say, "It's smashing." Okay, I've agreed to those rules, and the rules I've agreed to, is that I will not tell her the truth. Since we've agreed about that, I'm not lying.

Jad: Is this like the poker game where you're allowed to bluff?

Paul: I'm required to.

Jad: You're giving yourself a loophole, though.

Paul: Oh, no, because she's notified. She knows she can't count on me.

Jad: [laughs] That sounds very lawyerly to me. Just then, his phone rings.

Paul: Hello. Hello, hello. Oh, that's my ride. Do you want to ride out to JFK with me?

Ellen: Yes, absolutely.

Jad: You know how this goes. We pile in the car, go to the airport, get kicked out.

Security: No reporter in a building.

Jad: There we were on the medium, the center strip at JFK, coldest winter day, and Paul Ekman finally pulled the thing out of his bags, new technology that he thinks is going to help our chances of catching liars at the airport. Basically, it is a computer game. It's loading images, please wait. You're shown a face on a screen, the face is fixed in an expression like a smile, let's say, and then.

Paul: We're waiting for the pitch. [chuckles]

Jad: Okay, pow. Another different expression flashes for a moment. Whoa, that was so fast, so fast. Then on the screen, you're asked, what was that micro-expression?

Paul: What was it?

Jad: A surprise?

Paul: You got it right. Well done.

Jad: I was right?

Paul: Yes. Let's try another one. Are you ready?

Jad: Okay. I need to see that one again.

Paul: No, we cannot do that.

Jad: Actually, no. Angry. It was angry.

Paul: All right. Let's go and try anger.

Jad: I was right?

Paul: Two in a row.

Jad: I started out pretty strong.

Paul: Okay, here we go. Are you going to get three in a row?

Jad: But then, it was all downhill. Oh, I didn't even begin to catch that. Contempt? Wrong. In the end, after several minutes of this, I ended up getting more wrong than right, which put my micro-expression identifying powers at less than chance. I could have flipped a coin, and I would have done better.

Robert: But what if you weren't good at it? What if you were able to identify the particular expressions, what would you know?

Jad: I guess all I really know is that they were concealing something, some emotion.

Robert: That's it.

Jad: That's it. In fact, on the way over in the car, Ekman said it point-blank, "If you are looking for some sure-fire dead giveaway sign of lying, it's just not there."

Paul: Because we don't have a Pinocchio's nose.

Pinocchio: Oh, look. My nose.

Paul: We don't have something that only occurs when people are lying.

Jad: Really? So there is not, say, muscle number A19 that if it twitches in a certain way is a bulletproof hallmark of lying?

Paul: Nope, it doesn't exist. That's Pinocchio's nose.

Jad: Is there something close to it on our faces?

Paul: No, there are signs of unusual cognitive load or emotional load. That can occur for a lot of reasons and you got to find out the reasons.

Jad: You're never going to be able to have an idiot behind the machine in other words?

Paul: No.

Jad: Radiolab will return in a moment.

Automated voice: Message one. [beep]

Gordon Burghardt: This is Gordon Burghardt. Support for NPR comes from NPR stations and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, supporting educational, cultural, and environmental initiatives to make our world more livable, on the web at grdodge.org. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, exploring how technology is changing kids and learning at digitallearning.macfound.org, and School Foundations, connecting social entrepreneurs around the world with an online community called Social Edge. Learn more at socialedge.org. This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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