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Description: Is Magic actually magic? Well, Hogwarts aside, while what is presented as magic typically involves fancy hand-work and misdirection another big part of “magic” involves “reading” people. Some performers suggest that can actually see into peoples’ minds and read what is there. Jay Alexander seems to have this level of skill but he is different. He explains how he reads people and what he does IS amazing and magical but it is, in fact, based in close human observation and social psychology.

Sources: OZY – The Human Lie Detector

Date: March 27, 2015

HUman Lie Detector

Photo Source: (link below)


Paul Ekman on micro expressions

Ekman International

Do you know someone who is good at ‘reading” people? At telling when someone is lying? How good are you at doing these sorts of things? What do you think is involved in such “readings?” IS it magic or science? Well it might seem like magic and some people who are good at it (such as magicians and fortune tellers) may or may not think of it as a “gift” or as “magic.” Paul Ekman thinks it is, or can be, science. Ekman began by studying humans’ apparently inherent (built in or learned early in life) ability to recognize other people’s emotions by reading their facial expressions. Ekman has gone on from there to study human facial expressions and other aspect of human body language in more detail. For example, Jay Alexander in the video clip mentions micro-expressions, small flashes of emotion shown briefly on the face that reflect actual inner feeling but which are then quickly covered up if one is trying to lie or deceive someone else. Ekman studies micro expressions and their relationship to human deception.

Ekman’s consulting company, Paul Ekman International PLC, trains border security workers and law enforcement providers at all levels essentially in human lie detection. The training does not lead to court appropriate evidence but it does help security people decide who to look at more closely and police to decide how to structure their investigations. The television series Lie to Me (2009-2011), starring Tim Roth, was based directly on Paul Ekman, his research, and his company.

So, how good are you at detecting lies? Have you played the game where people tell each other several (3 or 5) things about themselves, one of which is a lie and the other players have to spot the lie? Well perhaps with friends it is a test of what you know or remember about your friends but what about with strangers? Search “Spot the Lie” on YouTube and you will find many videos of people playing the lie-teller part of the game so you can tell and tell which of their statement is a lie. Most of us are not very good at it but perhaps if we took some training from Paul Ekman we would be a lot better and perhaps we should be prepared to look for some science behind things that seem magical.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What would the adaptive advantages be to being able to judge whether someone was telling the truth or not?
  2. What sorts of things does Ekman train people to be able to do or to do better?
  3. Are there other areas where this sort of looking for science behind “magic” might be a good idea?

References (Read Further):

Paul Ekman’s company (Paul Ekman International PLC) website has a good references page containing lots of places to find more information on this topic