Research Proposal: Detecting Deception From Nonverbal Cues

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Detecting Deception

The Detection of Deliberate Concealment of Intentions and Deception

Psychology professor Paul Ekman pioneered the use of facial expression recognition for the purpose of detecting deliberate deception. According to a large volume of work by Ekman dating back to 1974 (Ekman, 2001; 2003) as well as collaborative work in conjunction with O'Sullivan and Frank (1999; 1991), human facial expressions are reliable indicators of deliberate deceptive behavior. The potential value of practical security applications of Ekman's principles and techniques in the contemporary climate of global terrorism and counterterrorism efforts is difficult to overestimate, particularly in light of contemporaneous evidence by Ekman, O'Sullivan, & Frank (1991), DePaulo, Lindsay, & Malone, et al. (2003), and numerous others reported in scientific literature (Stanovich, 2007) conclusively establishing the universality of human facial expressions and cues to deliberate deception and concealment of emotions and intent across all human cultures.

Within the law enforcement community, behavioral and verbal cues have already provided tremendous usefulness in the area of the dynamic investigatory interview

(Sandoval, 2008), written statements (Adams, 2002), and the comprehensive forensic analysis of both written and recorded statements (Adams. 2002; Granhag & Stromwoll,

2005; Sandoval, 2008). Since the inception of the Global War on Terror that was initiated by U.S. And international counterterrorism authorities in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, both domestic and international law enforcement and counterterrorism agencies have incorporated the techniques developed by Ekman and others to increase the efficiency and probability of identifying unintentional and subconscious human behaviors consistent with the deliberate concealment of intentions and deception in furtherance of terrorist acts.

To date, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Central Intelligence Agency

(CIA), various components of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and state and local law enforcement authorities have included specific training in the detection of deception techniques developed by Ekman since 1974 (Ekman, 2003). In the future, it is likely that the same techniques will be further developed through their incorporation into sophisticated video surveillance technologies to enable their faster, more efficient, and automatic implementation, particularly in vulnerable venues associated with large volumes of public traffic such as airports and high-value targets of both domestic and international terrorism.

Fundamental Human Emotions and Facial Expression

The pioneering work of Ekman since 1974 demonstrated the degree to which seven specific human emotions that are universally associated with clearly recognizable facial signals: anger, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, and happiness (Ekman,

2003; Ekman & O'Sullivan, 1999; Ekman & Frank, 1991). Numerous contemporaneous and subsequent studies have confirmed the specific mechanism responsible for this phenomenon in the involuntary patterns of movement of 43 different human facial

muscles corresponding to the emotional state of the individual (Stanovich, 2007).

According to psychologists and anthropologists, human beings naturally evolved both universal facial expressions as well as the ability to deliberately conceal their emotions, especially fear (Ekman, 2003; Stanovich, 2007), through natural selection.

Furthermore, a minority of individuals are naturally much better than others at concealing their true emotions and reactions to external circumstances (Mann, Vrij, & Bull, 2002);

likewise, a minority of individuals are much better at recognizing deception through the observation of facial features although in most cases, they are not at all consciously aware of how they do so (Park, Levine, & McCornack, et al., 2002).

Detection of Deliberate Deception Through Observation

In that regard, Ekman introduced the fundamental concept of practical training of law enforcement and security professionals in distinguishing genuine facial expressions consistent with the true expression of inner emotional state and the absence of any deliberate attempt to conceal or misrepresent emotions or intentions from the manipulated or falsified expression of outward facial cues (Ekman, 2003; Ekman & O'Sullivan, 1999; Ekman & Frank, 1991). According to Ekman and others (DePaulo,

Lindsay, & Malone, et al., 2003; Mann, Vrij, & Bull, 2002; Park, Levine, & McCornack, et al., 2002; Vrij, Edward, & Bull, 2001), facial expressions deliberately designed merely to mimic the facial expressions commonly associated with the emotions (most typically of happiness) are clearly differentiable from genuine expressions corresponding to inner emotional states by virtue of characteristic differences in muscular contractions and in the different patterns of muscular invocation.

In principle, the facial mannerisms consistent with deliberate concealment of emotional state and intention are merely one component part of the full spectrum of evolutionary adaptations in the realm of deceptive behavior that also include elements of body language and vocal intonation designed to achieve the same purpose (Park, Levine, & McCornack, et al., 2002; Stanovich, 2007). Observations of both body language and numerous elements of speech patterns also betray true sentiments and intentions among humans as well as among myriad other nonhuman animal species. The range of deceptive displays include feigned displays of boredom such as through yawning to conceal fear in primates and many other mammalian species and artificial displays of maximum physical size, such as by exaggeratedly erect posture and expansion of the chest compartment to communicate imposing physical stature and to conceal intimidation

(Stanovich, 2007).

The primary difference between facial expressions and other physical and behavioral manifestations of concealed emotions and deceptive intent in humans is that facial expressions are uniquely susceptible to the involuntary indications of their duplicitous nature through specific, objectively observable characteristic differences between genuine facial expressions and those that are deliberately contrived for the express purpose of deception (Ekman, 1991; 2003).

Transmission of Subconscious Intent Through Involuntary Micro-Expressions

Ekman's studies disclosed that fake human smiles typically use fewer facial muscles and rely primarily on the zygomatic major muscle, whereas genuine human smiles invoke the zygomatic major muscles in conjunction with orbicularis oculi and the pars lateralis. The practical significance of these distinctions arises from the combined observations that: (1) very few individuals are capable of deliberately manipulating the latter muscle groups; (2) the difference in muscular contractions attributable to those differences are readily observable in human expressions; and most importantly, that (3)

specific training in the recognition of such characteristic patterns and differences enables trained individuals such as law enforcement officers and security personnel to dramatically increase their rate of recognition and ability to identify and distinguish genuine facial expressions from deliberately deceptive facial expressions.

While it is possible for most individuals to deliberately conceal their true emotions and intentions to some degree, careful analysis of their facial expressions reveals that even relatively accomplished liars exhibit characteristic clues to their true thoughts in very subtle muscular contractions that betray their efforts at concealment.

Ekman (1991) coined the term micro-expressions to describe these minute involuntary muscular contractions that typically occur in less than one-quarter of a second and are, therefore, substantially imperceptible to most observers (Ekman, 1991; 2003; 2006).

Practical Application of Deliberate Deception Through Observation Techniques

In particular, researchers (DePaulo, Lindsay, & Malone, et al., 2003; Mann, Vrij, & Bull, 2002; Park, Levine, & McCornack, et al., 2002) have demonstrated the ability to detect deliberate concealment of emotional states and deception of intention by virtue of the observable objective differences in facial expressions, especially in smiles, as between genuine smiles (i.e. devoid of deliberate deception attempts) and forced smiles

(i.e. intentionally created for the purpose of deception or concealment of contradictory emotions). Ekman and others (Frank & Feeley, 2003; Leach, a., Talwar, V., & Lee, et al., 2004) have successfully demonstrated, both that trained police officers and untrained university students are similarly susceptible to deliberate concealment and deception but that with specific training in the recognition of micro-expressions, that reveal true emotions through extremely short-lived involuntary muscular contractions involved in facial expressions.

The immediate practical applications of the work of Ekman and others in the realm of human facial expressions and the ability to teach methods of increasing the ability to detect deliberate concealment of emotions and deception have profound implications. In principle, Ekman demonstrated that individuals can be very effectively trained in the techniques of recognizing characteristic signs of deception in facial

expressions (Ekman 2003) and that such training typically is capable of being accomplished in a matter of only a few hours. Already, such techniques have been extensively incorporated into the protection of high-value targets, such as by the U.S.

Secret Service (USSS) agency domestically, and by various Israeli security services, such as those responsible for screening airline passengers through dynamic interviews (Safir,


Limitations and Areas of Future Research and Practical Applications

The principal limitation in the use of facial recognition techniques in law

enforcement and counterterrorism is that a small minority of individuals are capable of more effective manipulation of their external manifestations of internal emotional state and intention (Ekman, 2003; Mann, Vrij, & Bull, 2002). The specific concern in the realm of counterterrorism is that as the law enforcement and counterterrorism community incorporates the techniques introduced by Ekman, the relevant literature and those techniques are equally available to terrorist entities. The natural concern is that, terrorists may begin dedicated training in counterintelligence techniques designed to teach operatives how to deliberately manipulate their facial expressions and other detectable behavioral mannerisms capable… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Cite This Research Proposal:

APA Format

Detecting Deception From Nonverbal Cues.  (2009, April 7).  Retrieved July 20, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Detecting Deception From Nonverbal Cues."  7 April 2009.  Web.  20 July 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Detecting Deception From Nonverbal Cues."  April 7, 2009.  Accessed July 20, 2019.