Lie to Me*

I’ve been looking for something to blog about, and with not much else going on, I’ve decided to talk a little bit about my latest obsession, a show on FOX called Lie to Me. I would never have thought to watch this show, but my professor brought it up in class twice last quarter. He claimed that he only watched enough television to stay current and relevant, but he seemed to have seen everything that was on television. Ever. He even made a reference one day to Ed, which I thought was great, but that’s really getting into the depths of  the television abyss.

Anyway, he talked in class about the science behind the show Lie to Me. It’s all about micro-expressions. There are two types of facial expressions: macro and micro.  A macro-expression is a normal expression that lasts for 2 to 5 seconds. A micro-expressions looks just like a macro-expression, but it occurs in a fraction of the time, about 1/25th of a second. Micro-expressions give away concealed feelings. So if someone asks you how your day has been, and you say it’s been great, but really your grandmother died, you would flash a micro-expression of sadness that, to the trained eye, would give away the fact that you are lying about your day. There are apparently 3,000 expressions that we make that are relevant to emotion, and only about 50 to 60 will show up in everyday conversation. There are seven universal emotions that will reveal themselves in micro-expressions, and they are:








Now the really interesting thing is that these facial expressions look the same no matter who you are or where you are from. The main researcher in this field traveled to some remote tribe in Papa New Guinea where there was no television, no media, no mirrors, nothing, and these people made the exact same micro-expressions as anybody else.

And the great thing about the show is how they demonstrate the universality of these expressions. The use photos of famous people who we know were lying. So within the context of the plot, they’ll explain an expression of a character, like “see how his finger is pointing in a different direction than his eye are looking? That means he has no confidence in what he’s saying.” Then they’ll show actual footage of that, like Bill Clinton’s little speech about not having sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, and sure enough, he’s looking in one direction and pointing in another. There’s lots of great footage and photos of known liars, like Saddam Hussein and Mike Tyson and Rod Blagojavich. And from the characters in the show to the photos of real people, the expressions look absolutely identical. It’s really neat.

The only thing that worries me is that the pilot was the best example of the science with lots of photos and clips, and the number of pictures has gotten progressively less as time goes on. I’m hoping they don’t drop that element altogether. However, while the pictures are the hook and my favorite part, the show is still compelling. It stars Tim Roth who’s great. And while it’s a formula show, like any other cop drama like Law & Order, the stories are much more entertaining. There’s some side drama with the fact that the people who work for this agency not only know when criminals are lying, but when their own families or coworkers are lying. And since the task at hand is not only to determine who’s lying, but why they are lying, it’s more character-driven than plot-driven.

I’ve posted a link to a trailer for the series to the right, in the VodPod videos. I’ve been experimenting with embedding video, and the bummer about wordpress is the only thing you can post directly in the body of the blog is YouTube or Google (same thing, really). So for something like this, which I got from Hulu, or for the other video there, which I posted on Vimeo (far better than YouTube), this VodPod seems to be the only way.  At least you can play the video without leaving the blog.

If it seems interesting, you can catch up with old episodes on Hulu, but older episodes disappear after six weeks or so, so regrettably the stellar pilot is no longer available. Oh and it took me a while to figure out why the asterisk after the name of the show and the disclaimer is always displayed so prominently. I’m guessing it’s because when they say, here’s a universal expression for guilt, and then show all these famous people with that same expression, well they have to say it’s for entertainment only so they don’t get sued. I certainly didn’t need the show to convince me of Blagojavich’s guilt, but it’s satisfying as all hell to see that guilty expression on his face!

Oh and one more thing. Shows like this always make me envious of the skills they glamorize. Wouldn’t such and such be a neat party trick, I think. Usually it’s a fleeting thought because I have no training or expertise in the field. But when I heard in a web-extra for this show that the time of the micro-expression was 1/25th of a second, I thought, gee, who might be particularly adept at spotting something that lasted about the length of one frame?


About suitejen

Writer. Video Editor. Mama.
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2 Responses to Lie to Me*

  1. Pingback: My Spin-off | Suite Story Productions

  2. Simon says:

    I actually stumbled across this while trying to figure why the asterisk was in the title.
    I must have missed where they said there was a universal expression for guilt. What they seem to do actually makes sense. Using a person’s emotion to determine how they feel about what they are saying, and using body language to determine the emotion.

    Is it fool proof? no. As one of the characters always points out, there could be a reason this person is behaving this way or displaying (or lacking the display) of an emotion. And that is true, but that is why you set up a baseline. And they do that in the show. Dr. Lightman will do things or say things to provoke an honest response about something random (or not random) to figure out how a person normally reacts. Then use that to determine how best to interpret responses to other questions.

    Like you this is an ability I feel compelled to learn. and as fast as 1/25th – 1/15th of a second is, it is feasible. we do notice these expressions at a subconscious level. It is why we get “feelings” that someone is feeling a certain way, even though they are denying it. But you can become adept. there are many programs online that you can use to train the ability to spot micro expressions. a google search for micro expressions would be sufficient.

    On the other hand, you have to keep in mind, that as they say in the show, sometimes we preferred to lied to. There are some things we don’t want to know the truth about. Becoming adept at such an ability would be like opening Pandora’s Box. On the one hand, you will know what everyone is feeling, and properly interpreted, you can determine what they are truly thinking (to a degree). On the other hand, you will know what everyone is feeling… You will be like Dr. Lightman. And this ability of his partly led to his divorce.

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