Term Paper: Lies Paul Ekman

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[. . .] Another possible explanation of our alleged lie-detecting incompetence is that we often have emotional mechanisms in place which make catching a liar a more uncomfortable event than putting up with the lie, and making provision to work around it. Many people do not want to catch a liar, because a trusting rather than a suspicious stance enriches life. To always doubt, to make false accusations, is not only unpleasant for the doubter but "undermines much chance of establishing intimacy, in mating, friendships, or... work relationships. (p. 342) There are professionals for whom the inability to catch a lie would mean failure at their careers, i.e. police officers, bank loan officers, IRS agents, etc. But for a majority of the population who desires a peaceful, and personally rewarding life, identifying and challenging a person on a lie is a source pf more personal stress than living with the subtlety.

While some truth exists in these contentions, I have to say that I find them somewhat overstated and confusing. Why, for instance, would a higher lie-detecting capacity require us to doubt 'always', or to 'make false accusations'. Surely, the more effective we are as lie-detectors, the more confidently we can behave and the fewer false allegations there may tend to be. Could it be that the 50/50 rule of thumb (half of our lies swallowed, the other half detected) means, as one might perhaps have expected on commonsense grounds, that -- except in the case of highly trained and experienced specialists at lie-detection who can sometimes attain a score of 85% -- the 'arms race' between deception and detection skills is still neck and neck.

In summation, Professor Ekman opens his Epilogue with an acknowledgment that his work, which is designed to further truth and honesty, can inevitably also help the dishonest. He apologizes that in examining the practice, and art of lying, he has provided tools for the liars to become more skillful at their trade. His work and his desire is to provide tools for the rest of us to live honestly, and catch those who chose not to. His 'confession' that he may have furthered the cause he is trying to defeat seems out of place. Like those who discovered how to harness the power of the atom, the knowledge can be used for peaceful, positive purposes or for terrorism. Atomic power can bolster the strength of a nation that wishes to avoid war, or it can destroy millions of lives. In researching the power to catch a lie, the knowledge is valuable, regardless of how people may use the knowledge to further their own purposes.

It seems to me that most of us choose to navigate our way through the fog of half-truths, quarter-truths and downright lies in order to build a culture, and community in which truth, trust, and confidence can flourish. About matters of the greatest importance, such as financial policy, environmental protection, war and peace, and a host of others, our culture seeks to build, so as to live up to higher standards of integrity rather than seek a lowest common denominator.

A personal impression of book

In most areas of the world, English and Latin are known as the universal languages. This list regrettably ignores the third universal language, which is the nonverbal communication of the body. Most body gestures are understandable to people all over the world, and Dr. Ekman's book digs deeply into his subject. What is the source of non-verbal communication? While Ekman seeks an answer to this question by investigating how cultural desires, evolutionary training, the minds knowledge of the 'truth', and what the person actually says interact. These 4 categories which influence out thoughts and behavior sometimes conflict. While evolutionary reality still has our minds programmed with a "flight or fight" response, cultural standards have taught our minds that we are not limited to these two sets of knee jerk reactions to external stress. Similarly, when confronted with the opportunity to lie, or tell the truth, evolutionary responses of self-protectionism which may tempt a person to lie, do not have to rule our responses. We can choose to response truthfully. We can choose to approach the threshold of possible conflict and respond with the truth, because in the end, even if the truth creates more stress than a lie, there will be a greater good attained by contributing to the cultural values of trustworthiness.

What triggers emotions? How does our body signal to others whether we are a bit down or deeply anguished, peeved or enraged? Can we really ever control our emotions? Dr. Ekman does not seek to answer these questions which are the underlying issues to his research. Instead his book researches the outgrowth of these interactions. When our emotions override our will, and we choose to lie, the stress of this decision is like the bit of water that spurts from a water balloon as you tie it closed. The stress, (emotional conflict) is both psychological, and physiological. It leaks out, and erupts in a visible expression. Dr. Ekman has discovered many keys to learning to identify these subconscious expressions. I would compare this to the skills he has outlines in his book to that which is learned by poker players. Wealthy card gamblers owe their success to learning to read their opponents, and spotting their "tells." Dr. Ekman expertise has discovered a number of new 'tells' for the armature and professional alike, and he outlines these skills in this book.

All of us are trained in the use of speech, to communicate what we mean in a way that other people will understand. As we are trained to use speech to communicate we also are taught how to position our bodies to express what we are feeling. Communication through body language use to be thought of as somewhat of an subconscious behavior. By observing somebody's posture, eye movements, and breathing you can gain information about what he/she is doing in his/her mind. Body language can be positive or negative. Through life experience we have learned that people often lie with words. However, facial expressions and other body language tend to be more honest, as it is impossible for a person to not communicate. Understanding the messages conveyed through the body is of significant importance in order to improve communication skills, to improve one's personal and professional targets and to increase personal effectiveness in inter-personal contacts. Through all five senses: feeling, touching, smelling, seeing, and hearing, we receive and interpret information received from the world around us. Discovering more completely the manner in which our own 5 senses communicate to others is a key to giving and receiving truthful information. These components combine together to make up the basic parts of nonverbal communication. When you use these components together they make your communication skills clearer and you relay better messages to others.

This book, in addition to teaching us to read, and interpret communication from other, can also be a tool in realizing the weaknesses in our own personal nonverbal communication. Dr. Ekman apologized for the information he provided for liars to become more proficient at their craft. However, his material, if a person cam internalize it, and consider what it would say about their own actions, can be used as a key to becoming a successful communicator. As Dr. Ekman discusses, somewhat in this book, but more in-depth in another of his works entitled Emotions Revealed, discusses how that our own emotions are sometimes difficult to uncover. Emotions Revealed explores both evolutionary and behavioral roots of anger, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, and happiness. For each emotion, Ekman describes:

Universal themes that undergird our feelings,

Automatic reactions that unfold within microseconds,

The actions that are actually under our control.

In this book, Dr. Ekman further deconstructs the interaction of these three forces which underlie our behavior in order to gain a greater understanding of the outcome, the communication of truth, or a lie. By understanding these issues, the reader can come to a greater understanding of his world, and of himself. To get outside opinions from peers and authoritative people on impact of our own communication is vital for building an authentic, and genuine life. This book can be used as the conversation of a close friend for the reader to apply the clues to his own actions. While self-awareness was an overused term of the late 70's and 80's, it is the essence of what separate man from other animals. Self-awareness id the one aspect of life that allows us to move beyond 'fight or flight', past evolutionary conditioning, into a fulfilling, intimate, and rewarding relationships with others.

The Author's larger picture:

This book captured my attention due to the depth of research, and the questions Dr. Ekman asks. What has been interpreted simply as body language in the past, the author has questioned, and asked 'What are the forces behind the way our body… [END OF PREVIEW]

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