Blink, Lies, and Videotape

“There are 17 different things a guy can do when he lies to give himself away. A guy’s got 17 pantomimes. A woman’s got 20. But if you know them like you know your own face, they beat lie detectors all to hell.”

— Christopher Walken, True Romance (1993)

Malcolm Gladwell is rapidly becoming my favorite author. His debut book, The Tipping Point, is one of the best sociological works of our time, and his new book, Blink, may be even better.

I got a chance to read Blink recently while on vacation (’cause that’s the only time I read things that don’t start with http://), and no sooner do I get back that I already find myself applying theories from the book to everyday life.

Take the Jose Canseco steroid scandal which bubbled up this week.

In Blink, a significant section of the book is dedicated to the study of “microexpressions”. Microexpressions are the fleeting looks on people’s faces when they are listening, thinking, or reacting. While an “expression” (like a smile) may stay on someone’s face for a long period of time, a microexpression usually only lasts a moment. Microexpressions are also almost entirely involuntary. For this reason, experts believe they hold clues to what we are actually feeling, whereas expressions are mere masks.

Microexpressions and what’s inside

To help better understand the relationship between microexpressions and cognition, Psychologists Wallace Friesen and Paul Ekman spent seven years devising a taxonomy of facial expressions. They identified about 3000 different facial gestures produced chiefly by five muscles. Each gesture had a slightly different meaning, and by learning all of them, the idea is that one can begin to read minds. Furthermore, other insights emerge, like the ability to tell a fake smile from a real smile (because they are produced using slightly different muscle movements) or a lie from the truth.

Which brings us back to Jose Canseco…

This weekend on 60 Minutes, Mike Wallace grilled Canseco in a hard-hitting interview about his own use of steroids and his knowledge of other players’ use throughout his career. The interview featured very tight shots of Canseco’s face, and I couldn’t help trying to pick up some microexpressions from his facial movements. Blink emphasizes that trained experts are the best people at analyzing such things, but also that we make our own unconscious judgements of people’s faces everyday so the untrained eye can also be somewhat successful.

Both in The Tipping Point and in Blink, examples are given where people are asked to analyze a person on TV — but with the sound turned off — so I thought it would be fun to do a little of that right on this web page. I’ve selected two clips, a little over a minute long each, of Canseco responding to a certain line of questioning. The volume slider of each clip is moved all the way down by default so the first time you play each clip you will hear nothing.

So here’s the test: Play through each clip with the sound off. Jot down whether you thought he was being basically truthful or basically deceptive in each clip. You can have different answers for each, or the same for both. Then, play both clips with the sound on and see if you feel the same way. Post your results in the comments.

IMPORTANT: Do not click this link until you’re done forming your opinions. After you are done, click it and the article will expand to include a short analysis and conclusions.

74 comments on “Blink, Lies, and Videotape”. Leave your own?
  1. Jeremy Flint says:

    First Clip: Fairly Truthful
    He appears at first to not be comfortable, licking his lips, blinking a lot, and in one or two instances, he would look off to one side or another as he began his answer. From these motions, it makes it seem as though he is having to think too much about the answers. Towards the end of the clip he seems to settle down and is not as sporadic with his facial movements.

    Second Clip: Deceptive All The Way
    He looks away for just about the entire duration of his answers, he is biting his lower lip while the question is being asked, and he is squinting and making odd expressions with his face.

    After watching the clips with sound, I would say I still stand by my opinions. In the first clip, he is talking about his own steroid use, which would be easy for him to talk about without any problem. The first part of the clip could have been near the beginning of the interview and he was just nervous.

    The second clip has him talking about injecting other players with steroids, in this case Mark (McGuire I assume). He seems to contradict things that he wrote in his own book (he says 2 times, but the book says often, which Mike Wallace is quick to point out is more than 2 times).

  2. johnny says:

    Great article. Okay, with the sound off – I thought Jose was being truthful in the first clip and deceiving in the second .. here’s why. Except for initial slight smirks in both, he was straight faced in clip 1. In clip 2 the wrinkles in his head were all over the place at the end. Watching w/ sound reinforced my first conclusions.

    Well, time for me to click on the link and see how I did!

  3. He was definitely truthful in the first one. At first I thought he may be lying with the smirk at the beginning but as you get familiar with Jose’s facial expressions you can obviously tell he was truthful. Its hard to explain why I thought why he was lying because I’m not sure what I’m looking for except for unusual expressions. The second clip there was no doubt in my mind that he is lying. I could see him make unusual twitches with his eyebrow and his lips.

    Not that I’m defending Jose, I for one think he’s the scum of the earth and I didn’t like him before all of the steroid talk, but he may of been uncomfortable in the second clip not because he was lying, but because he seemed unsure of himself. He had to recollect and think back several years. It could give the us the notion that he’s lying because we are scrutinizing him. There’s times when I forgot parts of memories and may have seemed as if I were lying if I were to be under the microscope.

    It would be interesting to get a professional card player’s perspective of Canseco. Card players probably have the best trained/untrained eye. What I mean is they do not have formal training as a trained expert would but they could probably identify the quirks better than any other untrained person.

    Before I read this article I really didn’t conciously read people’s faces, but from now on, It will give me a new perspective. Thanks for the insight Mike.

  4. Mike D. says:

    Chris: Very interesting idea. I have two friends who are professional pokers: Jeff Shulman and Andrei Herasimchuk. Jeff (or “Happy” as we call him) is a proven big tournament winner and CEO of Card Player Magazine and Andrei is a fellow designer who plays tourneys on the side. I’ve played against Jeff, but never played against Andrei.

    I’ll point them both to these clips and see what they think.

  5. Tommy says:

    Agreed, Blink was a wonderful read. Stunning actually. I’ve told the “true” story of the six degrees of seperation from The Tipping Point I don’t know how many times. I just wish more people took the time to read …

    In the first clip I can’t get away from Jose’s lips in the first few moments. They seem tense. Tense to the point it forces him to smile. I’ve watched the clip three times and I can stop thinking about what this means.

    In the second clip you get the same facial expression, but even at a more extreme level. I don’t know what John Gottman would say, but I’d be interested to hear his opinion.

  6. Mike P. says:

    Fun stuff…

    At first I thought that he was being a bit deceptive in the first clip, until I saw the second, which changed my mind.

    In the second he’s in the hot seat for sure and does not look comfortable, the lip biting (or whatever that was) and some other gestures just looked like […processing…accessing b.s. files…]…

    The sound kind of confirmed this for me.

    Okay, off to read the analysis and conclusions…

  7. Robert says:

    I don’t know…I didn’t watch the clips with sound, and Canseco looks like he’s definitely hiding something in the first clip. In the second, he just look uncomfortable, which I would assume is caused by the line of questioning.

    I’ve always remembered that quote from True Romance and wondered how true it could be. And while I know that there are definite gestures and postures that can indicate that someone is lying, I never knew there was so much to be concluded just from someone’s face (other than the usual heavy blinking, looking away, etc.).

    Of course, I have a feeling I could be wrong about this anyway. Let’s see…

  8. Don says:

    I don’t know there Mike, I think you might be going overboard on this, interesting though the thought may be. It might be a slight truth in many cases, but I think you seriously risk substituting perception for reality. Pathological liars don’t think they are lying. They won’t make the expressions. I might just have a facial tick you are misreading.

    From now on you and I are doing our business on the phone to avoid you making some silly determination that just isn’t accurate :-)

    Do you have an obligation having observed one of these involuntary behaviors to tell me that you saw it and you don’t believe me so I can say, “actually I had an itch”?

    (Editor’s Note: Again, I’m not a trained professional here so I’m just speculating. I’m not jumping to any conclusions that I’d bet money on. However, although you are obviously correct about pathological liars, pathological liars only account for a tiny percentage of the population. Is Canseco a pathological liar? Maybe. Are the odds heavily against it? Yes. I’ve gotta go with my instincts on this one, and those instincts say he’s lying in the second clip.)

  9. SteveR says:

    For perfect examples of this, watch George Bush, Condolesa Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, et. al. every time they speak.

  10. Carlos Porto says:

    Well in the first clip seeing it without sound I thought he was being deceptive, but when hearing the context of the conversation I think he was honest.

    When watching the 2nd clip without sound he looked to be more honest, although when listening to it, I beleive he was ommiting some of the truth.

    Now I’m not sure if hearing the first clip and then moving on to the 2nd affected my visual judgement, but it could have.

    Excellent mind bender Mike!

  11. Sarah says:

    Before reading your analysis I wrote this:

    With the first one: I initially thought he was being deceitful because of his smirks, but during the last 30 seconds or so of the clip, I changed my mind. He appeared to be answering whatever the question was quickly, didn’t look like he had to concentrate too hard to “construct” an answer, i.e. he was just speaking off the cuff about something and not putting any deeper thought behind it.

    With the second clip: He looks like he’s lying the entire time. Little to no eye contact with the 60 Minutes guy, lots of pained-looking facial expressions. Lots of blinking.

    After listening to the sound on both: I stick with what I initially thought, though if I’d been listening to the sound I never would have thought he was deceiving in the first one, since it turns out he was smirking because of the whole “where do you inject it” thing.

    After reading your analysis, I see we both viewed it very similarly. I’m no expert either, but I do agree that people do have instincts about this sort of thing. I hadn’t noticed the distinct expression at 1:16 in the first one, but you’re right, it’s the only time he makes it, and yet it appears a lot in the second clip (when Mike Wallace is basically pointing out discrepancies anyway).

  12. Beth says:

    I didn’t watch the two clips with sound before I made up my mind on this, but even after using the sound, I’m sticking with my guns.

    The first clip: I thought he was being truthful. He made constant eye contact, and looked nervous (which could be misconstrued as discomfort due to deception). He swallowed a lot, but tied the swallowing into general expressions, I found. They were too large for him to be trying to “hide” them in an attempt to deceive.

    The second clip: He was definitely lying, in my opinion. The one thing I noticed almost immediately was that on more than one occasion, his eyes moved drastically towards the left — which means they’re accessing the right side of the brain, and are likely being “creative” with the truth. He also had a lot more animation in his face; brief wrinkles, and he kept sucking his lips in his mouth. He didn’t do that once in the first interview.

    What a great experiment; now I’m going to have to get that book. ;)

  13. Keith says:

    With the sound off:

    He seemed to be lying at first, but then truthful in the first clip.

    The second clip was all b.s.

    With the sound on:

    He actually seemed totally truthful in the first clip and still seemed like he was lying his ass off in the second.

  14. Hmm, people seem to think that not maintaining eye contact while speaking indicates deception. Which is strange to me, since I find it very hard to look at someone and talk at the same time, especially if my answer requires some thought. It’s too distracting to maintain eye contact – I lose my train of thought if I try

  15. dave says:

    I found it difficult because I have a preconceived notion about Canseco.

    However, my interpretations are along the same lines as everyone else: sort of lying in the first one, really lying in the second one.

    I previously checked out your “Currenly Reading” link – ESPN.com Interview: Malcolm Gladwell – and have been intrigued ever since. I plan on getting Blink soon.

  16. Mike Purvis says:

    From now on you and I are doing our business on the phone to avoid you making some silly determination that just isn’t accurate

    Maybe I’m old fashioned, but that’s sort of how I feel about the whole psychoanalysis thing too. It’s definitely reputable science, there’s no doubt of that. But the ooga-booga things like ability to predict an unhappy marriage is the sort of thing I’d just rather not know in advance.

    After all, what if you’re in the 10% that do make it? (this is, of course, the point that Minority Report raised)

  17. Mike D. says:

    Mike: I agree that some people might not want to know if John Gottman (the researcher who did the marriage studies) thinks they have a 90% chance of getting divorced soon, but what about people who are already having questions about their new marriage? People who, say, have been married for a year, haven’t had any kids, and just fight a ton? If I were in that sort of relationship, it might be very helpful to know the test results.

    For instance, if I was in the “probably going to be divorced” group, I might mutually agree to cut losses early and end the relationship, especially before having any kids. And conversely, if I were in the other group, I may be encouraged to concentrate on working things out.

    Gottman’s methods are not as “ooga-booga” as they sound. He has an inventory of about 30 different emotions and he assigns a number of 1 through 30 to every single second of the 15-minute conversation… a separate number for the husband and wife. It’s pretty amazing stuff. According Gottman, positive emotions should generally outnumber negative emotions by about 5-1 and the single most important overriding negative emotion is “contempt”. Although contempt is not all that common to hear in such conversations, when you hear it a lot, you can be pretty sure the two people aren’t very compatible.

  18. Brian says:

    Just by watching the two clips with the sound off, I’m guessing Canseco is telling the truth in the first one and fibbing in the second. Which is pretty much the consensus around here.

    Seems like something is going on with the McGwire allegations and he’s backtracking as fast as he can. At first they injected each other all the time, then it was only once or twice.

  19. Nathan Logan says:

    I’m not a trained professional here so I’m just speculating. I’m not jumping to any conclusions that I’d bet money on.

    Fair enough. None of us, as you said, are professionals at this (not even poker players). By all means, this is an interesting thing to consider, but there’s no way we amateurs can know. After all, what if he’s not lying, but rather, nervous because he’s exposing an associate? Or because he’s essentially being a tattle-tale (you remember the elementary school days)?

    I’ve gotta go with my instincts on this one, and those instincts say he’s lying in the second clip.

    Whoa, whoa, whoa! What happened to the “not jumping to conclusions”?

    First off, your test was not administered in a scientifically rigorous way. We were baited ever so slightly…

    So here’s the test: Play through each clip with the sound off. Jot down whether you thought he was being basically truthful or basically deceptive in each clip.

    Now what if you had instructed us to jot down whether we thought he was being asked easy questions or hard questions? Or to jot down if we thought he was confessing his own use or ratting someone else out? Perhaps we would not have assumed his lying (although it’s impossible to tell now).

    Second, as you pointed out, even the experts don’t consider this to be 100% conclusive. And yet, your conclusion certainly seemed pretty firm that you believe, from the submitted clips, that Canseco is lying about Mark’s use.

    Third, sports tend to be pretty emotionally charged for a lot of people. Assumptions about people and teams (positive or negative) may have influenced the answers you find here.

    All in all, this test was not administered scientifically enough for me to believe that there was not tremendous bias. Heck, this could just as easily be a test of persuasive writing as it is of microexpressions.

    As I’m sure your poker friends will tell you, sometimes a tick will give something away and sometimes you’ll bet the bank on it. Sometimes you’ll win and sometimes you’ll lose. Ultimately, it’s about the cold, hard stats. The facts.

    Determining the meaning behind an eyebrow movement? I’ll leave that up to the professionals (who have done over 7 years of research and still remain somewhat in the dark). And unless your last name is Friesen or Ekman, I’d suggest you do the same.

    Sorry to come down hard – this comment wasn’t meant to be inflamatory. I actually enjoyed the material so much that I had to sit back and confront my own tendency to consider myself an expert, even though I have laughably little knowledge in this area. I really did love the post – very thought-provoking.

  20. Mike D. says:

    Nathan, buddy, I highly recommend reading the book. Blink is precisely about making decisions without having all the available data. That’s the main theme of the book — that sometimes our instincts are better judges of what’s right than our conscious, analytical minds.

    Also, read my comment carefully. I didn’t say I wasn’t jumping to conclusions. That’s exactly what I’m doing. I said I wasn’t jumping to conclusions that I’d bet money on… and only because I’m not trained in this.

    All in all, this test was not administered scientifically enough for me

    That’s because it’s not a scientific test. It’s a blog entry meant to scratch the surface of the subject. Make of it what you will.

    As I’m sure your poker friends will tell you, sometimes a tick will give something away and sometimes you’ll bet the bank on it. Sometimes you’ll win and sometimes you’ll lose. Ultimately, it’s about the cold, hard stats. The facts.

    I couldn’t disagree more actually. No-limit poker, which is what the big boys play, is not about stats at all. It’s about reading people. You don’t play your own cards… you play your opponent’s cards, and that’s what makes it such a fun game. Blackjack, other casino games, and to a certain extent low-limit poker, are more about stats than professional no-limit poker is.

    Determining the meaning behind an eyebrow movement? I’ll leave that up to the professionals (who have done over 7 years of research and still remain somewhat in the dark). And unless your last name is Friesen or Ekman, I’d suggest you do the same.

    Again, these people are not in the dark. They can analyze facial expressions with a great deal of accuracy. I highly recommend reading the book and finding out more. As for me, I’ll do as I please. If I want to write a blog entry about Blink and provide a video example of microexpressions in action, I’ll do so. This is not a post about Jose Canseco being a liar… that is an opinion you’ll have to make up your own mind on.

    In any case, I’m glad you enjoyed the entry. :)

  21. Nathan Logan says:

    You’re right – I will have to read the book to gain a better perspective on the specific things that you are discussing.

    Aside from that issue, however, one of my points was that attempting to draw us to the same conclusion at which you arrived via the means you did was by no means scientific (objective). I was not saying that because you did not do your doctoral dissertation on the scientific method that you have no leg to stand on; I was saying that because of the way you worded your blog entry, the conclusions at which people arrived may have had absolutely nothing to do with their “instincts”, but rather with the assumptions already placed in their heads. They were looking for lying. Perhaps they should have been looking for something else, or to be completely objective, looking for nothing at all, and then responding based on that.

    Instinct is sometimes to be trusted and sometimes to be utterly ignored (or at least treated in the proper light).

    Regarding the big boys and poker, although I’m not that familiar with it, assuming that it “is not about stats at all,” but “about reading people,” then for every tournament winner, you have hundreds/thousands (?) of people below the winner who messed up in attempting to read people.

    My real point is that it’s a fallible process and anyone exercising these tactics should consider that fallibility in deriving their conclusions.

  22. Mike D. says:

    Nathan: Many such tests are indeed conducted by asking people to “spot lying”. In fact, that’s exactly what experts do when they examine videotape testimony. They know they are looking for a “tell” in advance, and they observe accordingly. Nowhere in this blog entry do I claim any of this test is scientific, so please stop treating it as if it should be. I can’t run Mike Industries, work my day job, and be a scientist at the same time. The post is meant to provoke interest and awareness of the subject… nothing more.

    Regarding the big boys and poker, although I’m not that familiar with it, assuming that it “is not about stats at all,” but “about reading people,” then for every tournament winner, you have hundreds/thousands (?) of people below the winner who messed up in attempting to read people.

    Ok well first of all, I’m not assuming anything. I play no-limit poker almost every week and have for many years. As to your question of if the hundreds/thousands of people who didn’t win a given tournament messed up in reading people, yes, that’s exactly what they did. They didn’t mess up with their odds calculations. If you go off of odds calculations in no-limit poker, you can’t win… ever. Consider this: let’s say there’s a given hand where you have an 80% chance of winning given your cards. In low-limit poker, you play this hand every single time because in the long run, you’ll take the pot 4 out of 5 times and you’ll keep winning money. In no-limit, however, you’ll also take it 4 out of 5 times, but that one time you don’t take it, you could be out your entire pile of chips. End of tournament… game over. The only way to win at no-limit poker is to know why people bet certain ways at certain times and act accordingly. A good portion of this is face-reading, body-reading, and having a general feel for the table. It’s a lot less scientific than you might think.

    My real point is that it’s a fallible process and anyone exercising these tactics should consider that fallibility in deriving their conclusions.

    Yes. Definitely. Making judgements based on instinct is a fallible process, but as Blink points out, it’s often less fallible than long, deliberate judgements. In other words, too much information can sometimes be just as bad as not enough.

  23. Nathan Logan says:

    Mike,

    I’m sorry – I wasn’t intending to be so argumentative, but somehow ended up there anyway. I think the points I was trying to make have been made and I better understand where you’re coming from, but here’s one more stab at it, just in case.

    Many such tests are indeed conducted by asking people to “spot lying”. In fact, that’s exactly what experts do when they examine videotape testimony. They know they are looking for a “tell” in advance, and they observe accordingly.

    Agreed. But it’s still not objective (which means that it is inherently flawed), and more importantly, it’s done by professionals. Beyond that, in most cases, there is collaborating evidence to indicate one way or the other as to the truth. I doubt that someone has gone to jail in the US for a serious crime based solely on an expert’s analysis of his/her microexpressions in testimony.

    As to your question of if the hundreds/thousands of people who didn’t win a given tournament messed up in reading people, yes, that’s exactly what they did.

    Which is exactly what I’m saying. You have these tournaments with lots of people all trying to read other people. And in the end, there is only one winner. The rest are losers – they screwed up on reading people.

    The point? We’re all in the same boat – we’ll screw up reading people, too. Just something to keep in mind when we’re trying to do the same thing. But I think you were saying the same thing in the last paragraph of your comment preceding this one.

    Sorry for making this a bigger deal than it probably was. The book sounds sweet and I just added it to my Amazon shopping cart – thanks for the head’s up there.

    And cheers for all you do for the Web standards community. I should have never opened my mouth based on that fact alone. My hat’s off to you.

  24. AkaXakA says:

    As I had no clue who this guy was before I heard the clips and read your thoughts, I had no clue what he normaly talked like, BUT, being quite a good faker (as in, making people believe pretty much anything, so there, I’ve warned you) my thoughts weren’t far off from yours.

    Firstly, the second vid: He’s making stuff up. It hit me within 2 secs of the vid and once I heard it I definately knew I was right. Note that making stuff up is subset of lying that differs from normal lying. Normally, you’d have a good idea of what not to say and what to twist, but with making stuff up people have to think on their feet. I believe it’s the thinking on their feet is the thing that you can see in a persons face.

    Secondly, the first vid led me to believe he was lying. Only a bit, but I was still trying to figure out if this was if this was his normal way of communicating. Later on (after about 55 secs) he does lie. I kept thinking that he was tired too though, because his eyes were all red. When I turned the sound on, I could see why: It’s a painfull matter for him and he deffinately doesn’t like talking about it.

    Another thing I’ve just thought of: No sound makes you focus your information grabbing abilities through less sences. No ears, just eyes. It’s like playing music without score, or with your eyes closed; you focus more on the sound.

  25. Mike D. says:

    Nathan: Ok, I think we understand each other. No worries. With regards to the poker question though, there is one very important key difference in poker:

    When you’re playing poker and you’re trying to analyze your opponent, your opponent is usually not talking or moving much at all (although some people are intentionally chatty). Your opponent is generally sitting stone-faced, sometimes even with sunglasses on to hide his eyes, as you try to read him. People attempt to completely shut their faces and bodies down in poker so as not to give themselves away… this is a “poker face”. In a videotaped interview, or testimony, the subject does not have this luxury. He is forced to give himself away with every word he speaks and every muscle he moves… and that is why reading someone under these circumstances can be a lot more accurate.

  26. Johnny says:

    NO SOUND…Lies like a thief in the second clip, acts like a “con-man” in the first.

  27. 10man says:

    I won’t comment on Canseco per se as that has been well talked about. I work in the entertainment industry and spend a lot of my time observing actors on and off camera and stage. You can always spot the good actors because they are believable, and they are believable because they have tremendous control over their body especially their face.

    If it wasn’t for the fact that I know many of these people personally, I would have a difficult time telling whether they were lying or not. Of course, a big part of it goes into the fact that they spend a lot of time rehearsing their movements and expressions, and so become good at controlling them.

    The few times that I do notice chinks in their “control” armor is when they are forced to adlib during a live show. I relate this directly to the point made by AkaXakA about having to “make stuff up”. It seems as if concentrating on creating content has reduced focus on keeping perfect control and so the “tells” begin to appear.

  28. james says:

    Clip 1 was early in the interview, and clip 2 was later. Seems similar to the reactions of anyone being challenged, such as on a witness stand…the duration of time often plays a key role in one’s ability to cope with questioning. Microexpressions can be subconscious expressions of stress, and we know, stress is something that often accumulates over time. Also, he wasn’t challenged on what he was saying about himself, where he was clearly challenged on his allegations regarding others. Simply put, the experiment lacks control. The amount of exposure to questioning, and the styles of questioning are totally different in each clip. Still, a very interesting method.

  29. AkaXakA says:

    10man – That could well be the reason, I didn’t even realise that. (It was 3am though, that might be it)

  30. Mike D. says:

    james: Yep, no doubt… there are definitely uncontrolled factors to this. Canseco, however, volunteered for this interview and the facts Wallace brought up were just things that came straight from Canseco’s mouth, via the book. Even before any challenging took place in clip 2, you could see Canseco struggling to make stuff up (as Akaxaka and 10man pointed out). And even in clip 1, about 1:13 in, when he’s talking about his 600-foot home runs (which never occurred… nobody’s ever hit a ball 600 feet), his expression is much like his clip 2 expressions. So in the middle of listing 6 or 7 true feats, he says one false one, and it shows on his face. Pretty interesting stuff.

    Also, these are just two clips from the interview. There are other segments after clip 2 where he’s perfectly calm. Clip 2, to me, is just extremely suspicious.

  31. AkaXakA says:

    Mike: Could you post a calm section from the interview? It’d be nice to have reference material.

  32. Mike Purvis says:

    Reply to post #17:

    I think it’s just the larger knee-jerk reaction of not wanting to have one’s thoughts/motives read, much less misread. But there’s already a lot of professions (think: police officers) where people become extremely good at reading others for lies.

    The other issue I feel about it is that like all sciences, it has to be applied very carefully and in moderation. There’s an enormous potential to mis-apply psychology. For example, overapplying Bloom’s Taxonomy in the classroom results in endless memorize+regurgitate testing until the students all get perfect, since ‘knowledge acquisition’ is a prerequisite to comprehension and analysis. (This actually happened to me…)

    Anyone ever read The Trouble With Jenny’s Ear?

  33. Mike D. says:

    Yep, I don’t think anyone wants their mind read, but at the same time, it happens every day… whether by a trained professional or an observant layman. The book mentions that almost any time we meet someone new, we are unconsciously scanning their face for clues about their feelings and motives. This happens when you approach a girl in a bar, when you speak to a salesperson in a car dealership, and almost any other situation you can think of. You’re reading them and they are reading you. It even happens with babies. If you do something puzzling in front of a baby, they instinctively look at your face for guidance. I’ve noticed that even domesticated animals do this.

    So it seems to me like there’s no real way around it. Might as well learn how to do it properly though so you get better at reading the world around you.

  34. Justin C. says:

    Well, I’d first like to say that this is very interesting to me, as I am a long time fan of baseball. I’m currently taking a Psych course at college this quarter, and you’ve inspired me to purchase “Blink” and read it first hand.

    But I was wondering if you could do a huge favor for me. I enjoyed your Canseco micro expression test so much, I was wondering if you actually had those clips on your computer that you could email to me. I have a presentation for a class coming up, and I thought I might try my hand at talking about micro expressions (the presentation relates to the book 1984 by George Orwell, in which people are observed through telescreens, and, if even the slightest expression displays contempt, a person is arrested). If you could email the clips or direct me to a site where I could download the clips, that would great. If not, that’s cool too.

  35. R says:

    I like how this turned into a poker conversation.

    I do think Nathan is correct in that the blog entry coerced people to look for lying (and I understand that was your intention). But I suspect a similar entry with two clips of Jose talking about somethign irrelevant like his lunch without the sound might also reveal a bunch of posters who said they think he’s lying based on your intro. The evidence of this are the people who suspected he was lying initially in the first post when there was nothing to be questioned in the first place. This is what I think Nathan was getting at when he said this was a better study on persuasive writing.

    As for poker, I understand your point about stats being irrelevant at high stakes NL games since most pros know the odds like the back of their hand. Even low-limit players do. But that doesn’t makes stats irrelevant. Surely you realize that you must put someone on a “range” of hands when you don’t have enough info to put someone on a specific hand. A furrowed brow might indicate a strong hand but there are a wide range of strong hands in any given situation. Not being able to make these type of analyses in game is limiting your results.

    For instance, say you realize a player gives a certain tell anytime he plays AK KK or AA. You can’t just throw stats out the door and play his hand here if you find yourself in the pot with 88 and the flop comes AK8. If you’ve put him on those 3 hands, you’ve got to make a statistical call. Do you know the odds that he has AK (flopped 2 pair) vs AA or KK (flopped an overset)? Unless you’ve got the superability to read 2pair strong vs 3ofkind strong than you need to tap back into some statistical thinking again. This is an extreme example but good players not only have the ability to access player hands but can also apply conditional probability (based off of reads and limiting an opponents possible holdings) in addition to the strict pot odds and implied odds that anyone can bring with them to the table.

    My last exception is the tournament example. I think this is a poor one for one a number of reasons. One of them is that you can make a correct read and still lose. That is, losing a tournament does not imply a bad read was made. If you offered me 10-1 on a freeze out where I had to play with my cards face up I would jump all over it, because there’s an obvious strategy that I could implement where I could guarantee beating you more than 10% of the time. And those times I beat you wouldn’t prove you made a bad read since you saw all of my cards and yet I still won. Without a doubt the best poker players can survive early rounds of tournaments and accumulate chips without ever putting their stack at risk, but later in the tournament you cant avoid the fact that your tournament life may come into risk even thoguh you haven’t made a bad read.

    Good idea for discussion none the less. I’ll be sure to check out Blink. Book suggestions are always welcome.

  36. Mike D. says:

    R: True dat. Obviously stats matter in everything in life. My only point was that people who have never played no-limit poker do not realize how much of a human element is involved. The best poker players play no-limit because it is not just a game of grinding out statistical advantages (like card-counting in blackjack). You can only be so good at stats, as you say. Once you know all the hands and their given strengths, it’s all about reading people… and that’s where the good players get separated from the great players. Also, with your example of reading an AK, AA, or KK in someone: Technically, if you read someone as AA and they have AK, you are still misreading them. It’s true that maybe their AA tell and their AK tell are effectively too similar to differentiate, but you are still misreading them and that’s why you lost. Once the flop comes A-K-8, and you haven’t read that your 8-8-8 is better than their AA-KK, you messed up. Your point is that in poker these things aren’t always discernible (even by the best players) — and you’re right — but in the end, it’s still a misread.

    Also, I only mentioned the tournament example because I thought Nathan was implying that since great poker players lose in tournaments all the time, that means reading people is never reliable. Reading people, in fact, can be very reliable, especially when people aren’t going through the calculated motions (or lack thereof) to hide their expressions… as happens in poker. When you speak freely in everyday life, you are doing just that — speaking freely. And with that, I suspect, comes a greater ability for others to read you like a book.

  37. Edward says:

    You are my acid test. JD

  38. Joel says:

    Great Article. I too think the second clip is very telling. My eyes focus on his eye squints and upper lip movements. I imagine you have read his piece “The Naked Face” in the New Yorker from 2002.

    http://www.gladwell.com/2002/2002_08_05_a_face.htm

    Another good book that I have read of similiar interest is “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin De Becker.

  39. John Hill says:

    I have to admit, watching the first clip, I didn’t really know what to look for. I don’t know much about Canseco or what he’s said, I didn’t watch the interview, and nothing at all really stood out for me in the first clip. Telling the truth, lying, I really couldn’t tell. Then I watched the second clip. There was such an obvious difference in his facial expressions, he was biting his lip, looking away to his right most of the time, he just looked shifty. I wonder what’d have happened had I watched the clips for the first time in the opposite order, second clip first.

  40. Scott says:

    Canseco wasn’t “making stuff up” the entire time. Everything he said, he’d already either made up or were true events. In either case, he wasn’t “lying of the fly”, he was repeating previous assertions. So whether he was lying or not, the entire “making stuff up” stream of thought is invalid.

    In fact, it would be easier for him to keep eye contact if he were repeating things by rote than if he were making stuff up. I seldom make eye contact when I am talking to people but I’m no saint and I’ve lied before and I am always worried about one thing when I do:
    Will they buy the eye contact as meaning truthfulness or notice that making steady eye contact is what I do when I lie. It’s easier to do when you’re lying because you’ve already made up the lie and know what you’re going to say. It’s when you make up a lie “off the cuff” that it is hard to focus on maintaining eye contact. But that wasn’t happening here. Canseco wasn’t saying anything he hadn’t already said. Nothing new came out of that interview. So eye contact made little difference.

  41. Mike D. says:

    Scott: Maybe so, but he did clearly contradict what he had written in the book. This leads me to believe one of two things (or both):

    1. A ghostwriter wrote the book (which is very likely) and that is why he couldn’t keep his facts straight.

    or

    2. He wrote the book many months ago and had forgotten the specifics of the lies he had already concocted and thus recited them incorrectly in the interview.

  42. Bradley says:

    I’ve studied such things in school for quite some time, and I have a couple of things I wish to offer.

    Psychology is interesting. Psychologists are often aware, yet incapable of dealing with, their own psychosis. How many “weird” psychologists do you know? I know maybe five, and all of them are not quite in touch with some things. They have the incredible burden of seeing the framework of events as they unfold. Not exactly the calm, life-with-everything-in-order people we see in the movies.

    I enjoy this conversation piece a great deal. Psychology helps us interact with each other better. It does. But the problem I noticed in college will inevitably plague even the people reading this conversation. And the caution:

    Do everything in your power to avoid analyzing others.

    No matter your interest in this subject, you are often more likely going to be wrong as an amateur. This isn’t a university, this is the world. Use care when forming judgments with these skills. I find that life is much easier lived when we do not judge.

    Perhaps another angle: I know who will lie to me and who won’t, and I don’t need microexpressions to tell me about my friends. Microexpressions are only really a benefit when I am not familiar with the individual in question, such as José Canseco. Then comes the argument whether we should be analyzing people we don’t even know, again.

    Forming an opinion is understandable, normal, expected. Perhaps we should remember what TV has taught us for all too long: “Don’t try this at home.”

    If you’re using such techniques to “spot liars,” “find the real truth,” etc., you are heading in the wrong direction. If you use psychology to better understand yourself and your interaction with others, you may learn something useful for real life. Just a caution from an enthusiast who has crossed boundaries before. Broader is better in psychology. Be careful with conclusions.

  43. Larry Olivier says:

    Long-time baseball fan here, I’ve been watching Canseco up close for years. When he was in Toronto I got to see him many times.

    Your piece does not take into account the 8000-pound gorilla in the room, namely, that Canseco has battled nervous tics for decades.

    He’d be standing in the outfield not talking with anyone, just waiting between pitches, and doing facial contortions and gymnastics in a way that reminded a lot of fans of HoF pitcher Steve Carlton.

    I am not a doctor or a psychologist, but amongst friends we used to wonder if Canseco had Tardive Dyskenesia (because we saw similar facial tics in a friend who suffered that debilitation after years of neaurological medication).

    Makes me wonder how bombarding his body with steroids and HGH might have affected his brain and central nervous system.

    What is Tardive Dyskinesia?

    Tardive dyskinesia is a neurological syndrome caused by the long-term use of neuroleptic drugs. Neuroleptic drugs are generally prescribed for psychiatric disorders, as well as for some gastrointestinal and neurological disorders. Tardive dyskinesia is characterized by repetitive, involuntary, purposeless movements. Features of the disorder may include grimacing, tongue protrusion, lip smacking, puckering and pursing, and rapid eye blinking. Rapid movements of the arms, legs, and trunk may also occur. Involuntary movements of the fingers may appear as though the patient is playing an invisible guitar or piano.

  44. Larry Olivier says:

    Addendum: Despite Canseco’s involuntary facial and body tics — which go on and on and on repeatedly during the course of a game — he always tries pulling himself together when he’s being interviewed on TV, in fact, some of his tics seem to be caused by his self-conscious efforts to suppress and control *other* tics.

  45. Mike D. says:

    Bradley: Points well taken. However, I wonder if it is even possible not to judge people? We may think we are not judging because we aren’t consciously aware of it, but one of the premises of Blink is that like it or not, we are always sizing people up. It’s just as much a defense mechanism as anything else. For instance, if you’re walking down an alley at night and someone else is walking towards you, you’re instinctively looking that person up and down to make sure they aren’t a threat to you. My feeling is if we are always sizing people up anyway, we might as well just get better at it, no?

    Larry: Excellent information about Canseco. To be honest, I remember an interview in the past where I thought for a brief second he might have Tourette’s or something, but I hadn’t given that much credence when watching the 60 Minutes piece. If indeed he has such a disorder, or the one you’re talking about, I believe that yes, that clearly affects how well he can be read. Perhaps it renders his ticks meaningless. But on the other hand, could it perhaps also amplify his microexpressions? In other words, does it make it harder for him to hide when he’s nervous or lying?

  46. Marilyn says:

    While I agree with the premise of this excellent analysis, I’m also willing to bet that Conseco had at the very least, a number of briefing sessions with a PR firm and/or coach, that instructed him on how to react – verbally and physically. I’m sure even a little training would have skewed the results – not totally, but enough to make his expressions and words less than candid a lot of the time.

    Marilyn

  47. Bradley says:

    Mike: No, I don’t necessarily agree. For one, I believe I am in control. But then again, I am also a Christan and my convictions might be different. Is it human nature to judge? Yup. But it’s also human nature to be lazy, I do strongly believe. Yet, people like yourself and me both make a good living for ourselves by hard work.

    So maybe self-control is underrated in society at this time.

    I believe I can not judge if I want to. I won’t settle for the “we’re doing it anyway” approach. I have much more potential than that.

  48. Adam Helfgott says:

    These concepts are nothing new. They have been discussed and modeled in great length by the NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) – Google: Richard Bandler … Read a book by them from years ago (70’s sometime) called Frogs into Princes.

  49. JDogg says:

    As far as Conseco’s interviews have gone, he’s full of crap. He hasn’t been consistent throughout the interview process with all the shows he’s been on. He even said in his book “numerous times” and with Wallace he said maybe twice, but i really wasn’t counting. blah, blah, blah.

    Now, for being ‘truthful’ in lying, there is only one way … you have to create multiple worlds for yourself in your mind, and believe that you are living in that “world” when you are vocally explaining your actions.

    But, then that leads to schitzophrenia and a whole host of other problems.

  50. Mike D. says:

    Bradley: Who knows whether it is true or not, but part of the book suggests that you really have no control over some of the judgements you make about people. You said you’re Christian so you don’t do that, but I’d be willing to bet that you may be incorrect in some cases.

    How about popping on over to Harvard’s Implicit Association Tests and trying some of them out. Try the race one, since that’s the one cited in the book that’s particular hard not to fall victim to.

  51. Rick says:

    Mike, just being nitpicky here, I’m sure, but you said “who wants to know if [the psychologist] thinks they have a 90% chance of getting divorced soon”? I believe that misstates the statistical information provided. The information said the psychologist makes predictions with 90% accuracy. I’m no mathematician — and I don’t even play one on TV — but I don’t think that’s the same thing.

    For other fascinating psychological stuff, google “inattention blindness.” I recently attended a seminar for defense attorneys (U.S.) defending death penalty cases. The stuff I learned about inattention blindness is (dare I say it?) blinding! And mind-boggling.

    (Editor’s Note: What am I missing here? How are the two statements materially different? If you get tested and the doc says “you’re getting divorced” and his accuracy rate is 90 percent, isn’t that more or less the same thing as you having a 90 percent chance of getting divorced (assuming you believe in the methodology)?)

  52. Adam M. says:

    Boy am I late to the party on this one. I spotted this on my way to leave a comment about sIFR 2 RC4, and it just looked too good to pass up. :-)

    My take, no sound:

    First clip — Honest. Facial expressions seemed straightforward and non-contradictory. Which is to say that he didn’t do anything obvious like grimacing and looking away, shifting in his seat, etc. right after Mike finished talking.

    Second Clip — Deceptive. Several flickers of discomfort before composing himself to answer a question, eye movement is all over the place, more seat movement, and by the end of it his face was turning into a shifting mess of contradictory expressions. Looks very uncomfortable.

    Watching them again with audio reinforced my initial impressions. Should be interesting to click that link at the bottom of the post and get your take on it.

  53. Nick says:

    Hi Mike,

    Very interesting thoughts. I have one question for you. We know that we all subconciously judge and analyze people we interact with – and we know that our natural instincts are very good at discerning the truth. Do you think it is possible that by studying these “microexpressions” and learning the technicalities of analyzing conversations you are training yourself to notice these things in your conciousness, and thus preventing automatic, subconcious judgements that are possibly (likely?) more accurate than your concious efforts?

  54. Mike D. says:

    Nick: Interesting question you raise. I look at it this way — Our subconscious mind is going to make judgements regardless… whether we want it to or not. Our conscious mind is also going to make decisions, but we can control this part. So basically, what we need to learn how to do better is to actually listen to the subconscious instead of actively fighting against it.

    For instance: If someone from another company gives a presentation to me, there may be certain giveaways in his mannerisms and appearance which indicate that he isn’t being truthful. You are taught, however, to not be judgemental of people based on their appearance, speaking style, etc, so I fear that in this case, the conscious mind might be purposely ignoring (or even fighting against) the better judgement of the subconscious. I think the key is to recognize the findings of the subconscious, fully appreciate where these findings came from, and then act accordingly.

    That still doesn’t exactly answer your question though, I guess. It is unknown to me whether conscious “fiddling” with the subconscious can reduce its effectiveness.

  55. What am I missing here? How are the two statements materially different? If you get tested and the doc says “you’re getting divorced” and his accuracy rate is 90 percent, isn’t that more or less the same thing as you having a 90 percent chance of getting divorced (assuming you believe in the methodology)?

    If I toss a coin 100 times and get 100 heads (this isn’t a dodgy coin or anything!) then there is still a 1:2 of getting a head or tail. In other words, the past events do not influence the probability of the future event. So to relate this to your scenario, there is no way of knowing whether the doctor is going to be correct with your relationship, just by studying the percentages of his previous answers.

    I learnt this in college, so my memory may be a bit fuzzy. Indeed, I might be completely wrong! But you asked, and I hope only to help you reach an answer. My head hurts now.

  56. Mike D. says:

    Matt: Yes, but we’re just talking about general prediction accuracy here. The “past events don’t influence future events” thing would apply if I said something like “Because the doctor’s last 9 predictions came true, then his next one will not come true, because his accuracy rate is 90%”. This, clearly, would be bad logic.

  57. Robert Bass says:

    When all is said and done, I really do not care about baseball and streoids. This is just another George Bush “weapon of mass destraction” and nothing more that trivial gossip. Remember, the purpose of baseball to entertain and vicariously enjoy the accomplishment of “your” team.

    If you’re talking about truth or lies, how about analyzing something newsworthy, and of real importance, like Bush and his administration, Condeleeza rice, etc.

    What I am really interested in is the 17 Pantomines. Where or those available.

    Any information is appreciated.

  58. Gern Blandsten says:

    On the first tape he is lying until the last bit, you can see how he blinks his eyes, but he lets them linger half closed just a little to long. I believe he is trying to block the difficult questions out, but I’m not sure. On the second tape he is truthful.

  59. P L Burke says:

    I thought he was not truthfull in both videos, because he tried to much to convince the audience that he was honest. Too much slight and not that sight eye squinting and frowning, plus minute gestures with his mouth or swift swallowing.

  60. Will Duncan says:

    I think that he is lying in both clips. He seems dishonest the whole time. He does seem to be a little less stressed in the first clip but you can still tell that he is thinking a little hard about answering the questions. He seems to have spent some time thinking and acting to the questions that he might be asked in the interview.

  61. Dean says:

    Well, I’ve never thought of myself as even remotely smart (certainly not as smart as anyone here) and so it doesn’t surprise me that I wasn’t really able to notice conclusively that he was lying. I actually did as someone above suggested and watched the second video first (perhaps instrumental in my failure). I will admit that I did notice a difference in the videos: The second video (the first that I watched) he seemed to be a bit under fire and far more humble than in the first (the second video I watched), but did that have something to do with the questions asked or his lying? How much does personality have to do with it? I mean, if I witnessed a bank robbery where the thieves got away in a car identical to my own, I would be nervous enough at that prospect to potentially look as if I were lying if questioned by the police. Can my nerves trigger certain microexpressions that would indicate that I was lying, when in fact, I was not?

  62. Dean says:

    Well, I’ve never thought of myself as even remotely smart (certainly not as smart as anyone here) and so it doesn’t surprise me that I wasn’t really able to notice conclusively that he was lying. I actually did as someone above suggested and watched the second video first (perhaps instrumental in my failure). I will admit that I did notice a difference in the videos: The second video (the first that I watched) he seemed to be a bit under fire and far more humble than in the first (the second video I watched), but did that have something to do with the questions asked or his lying? How much does personality have to do with it? I mean, if I witnessed a bank robbery where the thieves got away in a car identical to my own, I would be nervous enough at that prospect to potentially look as if I were lying if questioned by the police. Can my nerves trigger certain microexpressions that would indicate that I was lying, when in fact, I was not?

  63. Luther says:

    Watching the first video, he seemed to feel guilt or shame, so he was either lying to Wallace or telling the truth and ashamed of the truth. I think the latter proved to be the case.

    In the second video he was certainly agitated and probably lying. I seemed to focus on his eyes more than the rest of his face, they were moving much more than in the previous video, plus a lack of eye contact and looking to the right and, once his eyes were shifting from left to right to left or something like that, as if he was making it up on the spot. I think he was definetly lying at that time. But was he lying all the time? Or was he just agitated because he had to accuse someone else? I am not sure.

    This was very exciting to do. Thanks.

  64. Emily says:

    I personally really liked this article and I think i’m going to give Blink a shot, since i love to know how people act and facial and body expressions, thank you for this

  65. Lightning says:

    Truthful in the first and not so truthful in the second. I believe that he probably prepaired Marks needles at times , but they probably mostly injected them selves. Often !! he may have injected Mark the first 1 are 2 times to show him how correctly , but thats about it.

  66. Jessica Marc... says:

    Watching the first clip without sound I immediately thought he was being deceptive, although towards the end of the clip I was less sure. Watching it with sound, I picked out the words “gludious maximus which is your butt muscle” as the place where I had perceived distress in his facial expression in the silent version. It is also mainly what had caused my assumption of his deception. With sound added, I reasoned where I picked up deception, he was just uncomfortable with what he was having to say (butt).
    The second clip I had no questions of his deception, both without and with sound. Watching clip 2 with no sound, I thought it was clip one, slowed down (to better catch the deception on his face).

  67. aaron says:

    He looks like he is not being truthful. His responses do not appear natural.

  68. Blinkin’ Cool

    Very good stuff, some of the more original I’ve seen, combining two of the more recent things I’ve been thinking about. Know what else? I think Mike is … well, you form your own opinions….

  69. Canseco’s Interview

    I’d rather talk about Rick Ankiel’s curveball, David Eckstein’s UZR or even Matt Morris’s beard but… Will Carroll pointed out this blogger’s take on the infamous Canseco interview on “60 Minutes.” It’s hard for me to buy his method completely,…

  70. Facial Analysis

    Via both Will Carroll and The Birdwatch, Mike Davidson tries to look at Jose Canseco’s face to see if he’s lying during his 60 Minutes interview. This technique is discussed extensively in Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. I first saw this…

  71. […] of my favorite blog posts to write was one I wrote about Jose Canseco’s 60 Minutes interview two years ago, asking readers to try and analyze his microexpressions as he told Mike Wallace how many players in […]

  72. Matt N. says:

    Interesting research. First clip: some truth some lies; Second clip: The same. It is truly difficult to tell if Jose is lying or not. I’m just glad he’s not my wife. I’d like to see how Roger C. fairs.

  73. r jensen says:

    He is lying both times. The first time he is lying about what he is saying. I think often times for celebrities they are given a script to memorize so that their publicist can do some damage control. He also doesn’t want to look too bad because he needs to sell his book.
    On the second occasion he is lying about injecting Mark only a couple of times. He injected him way more than a couple of times. What is more than likely the case here is that he does not want to seem homosexual in front of the cameras. There are too many potential readers and fans that would think of him as being for homosexuality, especially fans of baseball. It is generally considered a man’s sport, although I think the statistics of homosexuality in sports is more than likely higher than most might think.

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