Characterization: Verbal cues, facial cues and lying

lyingHow do your characters behave when they are lying?  In my reading I’ve come across characters who glance down or away, shift from foot to foot, can’t keep their hands still or have a nervous smile.  I’ve also come across a number of adult characters who are veritable lie detectors.  In my own work I’m going to make sure this isn’t the case because I just watched Kang Lee’s TED talk, “Can You Really Tell if a Kid is Lying?

Lee and his team of researchers told a group of children that they would receive a big prize if they did well enough completing a task.  Working with one child at a time, they left the child alone  with top secret material.  Cameras watched to see if the children would peak.  Then the researchers came back and asked if the child had peaked.

Lee showed the audience two recordings of children claiming that they didn’t peek.  In the first, a boy displays classic “liar” behavior, glancing down and away.  In the second, a girl shakes her head. Lee than asked the adults to vote on who was lying.  Let’s just say that their accuracy was horrible.  Panels of adults have been shown the videos and none of them scored significantly better than if they simply guessed.  The panels included teachers, social workers, judges, police officers and parents.  Lee’s conclusion?  Adults are awful lie detectors.

Lee has discovered that only one reliable physical indicator exists — a change in facial blood flow.  Simply, blood flow to the cheeks drops off and to the nose increases.  There are no visible indicators.

In spite of this, as a society we believe that lying makes a child bad (it is developmentally normal), children are bad liars and adults are good at telling when a child lies.  Lee has shown the lie in all of these assumptions.  A little something to keep in mind the next time your character tells a big fib.


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