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The truth is on our faces: Common tells to watch out for

Mar. 6, 2013 - 11:48AM   |  
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The body reveals more than we want to show. There are no fail-safe giveaways to deceit, but sudden changes usually mean something is going on. Psychologist Dr. Paul Ekman calls them "hot spots," and they can provide clues that all may not be on the up and up. What to look for:

Microexpressions

The language of microexpressions is universal — the same around the world. But to the untrained eye, even emotions worn on the sleeve can be easily mistaken. Some things to look for:

• Happiness: Genuine smiles will always involve the muscles around the eyes that make the eyebrows — as well as skin between the brow and eyelid — lower slightly. It can be tough to spot, but its absence means a fake smile.

• Sadness: The inner corners of the eyebrows are raised so that the eyebrows slant downward. Cheeks are slightly raised, lip corners are slightly pulled down, and sometimes the lower lip is pushed up slightly.

• Surprise: Both eyebrows are raised, eyes widen and the jaw drops open.

• Anger: Brows are lowered, eyes glaring, the upper lip is narrowed and lower lip tightened. The only reliable sign that anger is being faked is the absence of tightening or narrowing the lips.

• Fear: The eyebrows are raised and pulled together, wide-open eyes with upper eyelids pulled up and lower eyelids tensed. Lips are stretched horizontally. The most reliable sign of fear, which no one Ekman has tested has been able to perform deliberately, is the simultaneous raising and pulling together of the eyebrows.

• Disgust: The upper lip is raised, with the lower lip sometimes protruding. The nose wrinkles, cheeks are raised and brows are lowered, often creating crow's feet around the eyes.

• Contempt: One lip corner is raised and tightened slightly.

Body language

• Eyebrows: When people know the answer to the question they're asked, their brows are usually raised. When they don't know the answer, their brows are typically lowered. Sadness is almost always revealed by oblique eyebrows — which are very hard to fake or to conceal.

• Pupil dilation: Sudden dilation indicates arousal — possibly sexual, or brought on by anger, fear or excitement. If the reason isn't obvious, start asking questions.

• Looking down and away: This can be a sign of shame and also occurs when people feel disgust, disappointment, discouragement, regret, guilt or sadness.

• Ears: Touching the ears isn't necessarily a sign of lying, but it often indicates nervousness of some kind.

• Nose: Nostril flare could be a sign of fear, but it also occurs with anger and sadness.

• Lips: Lip biting in response to critical questions suggests an increase in stress. It could be generated by the fear of being caught or the fear of being disbelieved.

• Clenched jaw: Although a nervous habit for some, for most it indicates an attempt to carefully control what's being said or is a sign of oncoming anger. That doesn't mean what's being said is a lie, but if the person is trying to act casual, you might want to put your radar up.

• Swallowing: Repeated swallowing — when the person is not drinking or eating — is often a sign that some kind of emotional button is being pushed.

• Hands: Someone telling you he is not mad — or afraid — when you think he is? Do some quick palm reading. Hands get cold when people are afraid because the blood flows away from the hands to the large muscles of the legs to prepare for flight. Hands get warmer when people become angry as blood flows to the hands and arms to prepare for fighting.

• Sweat: Is someone sweating when he's not doing anything physical? It's usually a sign of a significant emotional trigger.

• Heart rate and blood pressure: Without physical activity, sudden jumps in heart rate or blood pressure usually mean some kind of emotional arousal.

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