Detecting Deception: An IELTS Reading Test for Identifying Liars

2023-07-04 00:19:23 - Grace Browns Grace Browns has been a lifestyle, fashion, and beauty writer for over 5 years, and she currently serves as a senior editor at


Unveiling the Art of Identifying Deception

Although deceit may evoke disdain, it is an innate behavior in every living organism. Birds, for instance, simulate injury to mislead predators away from their vulnerable young. Similarly, spider crabs camouflage themselves with kelp and other debris, presenting themselves as someone they are not, allowing them to evade their adversaries. Successful deceivers, be it in nature or humans, are rewarded by nature, granting them the chance to procreate and survive. Hence, it is hardly surprising that individuals, like in the case of psychologist Gerald Johnson from the University of South California's research, are lied to around 200 times a day, approximately every 5 minutes. People often resort to deception to protect themselves or obtain something unattainable through other means.


However, possessing the ability to detect lies is just as crucial as being adept at concealing them. An individual capable of swiftly recognizing deceit is less likely to fall victim to deceitful business partners or be deceived by a cunning spouse. Fortunately, nature offers plenty of cues to expose deceivers in their intricate webs, as long as one knows where to look. By closely scrutinizing facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, virtually anyone can identify the tell-tale signs of lying. Even computer experts are developing programs, similar to those utilized by lie detectors, aiming to uncover the truth by analyzing the same physical cues detectable by the human eye and ear. Paul Ekman, a psychology professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who has dedicated the past 15 years to studying the clandestine craft of deception, asserts, "With adequate training, many individuals can learn to consistently detect lies."

In order for successful liars to comprehend which lies are most effective, they must accurately assess the emotional state of others. Ekman's research demonstrates that this emotional intelligence is equally essential for proficient lie detectors. The emotional state that warrants attention is stress, the internal strife experienced by most liars due to the discrepancy between their lies and the truth.

Even state-of-the-art lie detectors do not directly identify lies; instead, they focus on detecting the physical indicators of emotions, which may or may not align with what the test subject is saying. For instance, polygraphs measure respiration, heart rate, and skin conductivity, all of which typically rise when a person is anxious, as is often the case when lying. Nervous individuals tend to perspire, and the salts in sweat conduct electricity. Consequently, a sudden surge in skin conductivity indicates nervousness, potentially hinting that someone is being untruthful or concealing information. Nevertheless, it could also be attributed to the temperature being too high in a television studio, underscoring why polygraph tests are inadmissible in courts. Ekman emphasizes, "Skilled lie detectors do not rely on a single factor," rather they interpret combinations of verbal and non-verbal cues that suggest potential deception.

The face bears numerous clues. Given that the facial muscles are directly linked to the brain regions associated with emotions, one's countenance can act as a window to the soul. Neurological studies even propose that genuine emotions follow distinct pathways in the brain compared to insincere emotions. For instance, if a stroke patient is paralyzed on one side of their face and is asked to smile intentionally, only the mobile side of their mouth will elevate. However, if the same person is told a humorous joke, their face will break into an authentic and spontaneous smile. Few individuals, notably actors and politicians, have mastered conscious control of all their facial expressions. Lies are often exposed when the true feelings of the liar briefly seep through their mask of deception. Ekman affirms, "We do not think before we feel." Consequently, expressions tend to manifest on the face before we consciously experience the corresponding emotion.

Sadness is considered one of the most challenging emotions to counterfeit or conceal. When a person truly feels sadness, the forehead becomes wrinkled with grief and the inner corners of the eyebrows are pulled upward. Less than 15% of individuals tested by Ekman were able to voluntarily replicate this eyebrow movement. In contrast, the lowering of the eyebrows associated with an angry expression can be easily reproduced by almost everyone. According to Ekman, if someone claims they are sad but their inner eyebrow corners do not go up, it is likely that their sadness is not genuine.

On the other hand, the smile is one of the simplest facial expressions to fake. Only two muscles, known as the zygomaticus major muscles, are required to create a grin. These muscles extend from the cheekbones to the corners of the lips. However, there is a catch. A genuine smile not only affects the corners of the lips but also involves the orbicularis oculi muscle, which surrounds the eye and produces the distinctive "crow's feet" associated with genuine laughter. A counterfeit smile can be revealed if the corners of the lips are raised, the eyes crinkle, but the inner corners of the eyebrows are not lowered. This particular eyebrow movement, controlled by the orbicularis oculi, is difficult to fake. The absence of lowered eyebrows is one reason why a fake smile often appears strained and unnatural.

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