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Liar, Liar, Face On Fire?

July 20, 2011

Brit Trogen

 

I've always been a fan of poker movies. James Bond: Casino Royale? Maverick? Classics. But the one trope I could never really get behind was the idea that all poker players (or at least, all the villainous ones) have some sort of facial tic that you'll be able to use to your advantage during all that bluffing you're doing. Are we really supposed to believe that those guys playing for a million dollars a hand haven't learned not to twitch their left eyebrow when they're holding a lousy hand?

 

Thanks to a new study from the University of Buffalo, it doesn't seem quite so far-fetched anymore. And this study of the control of facial expressions during deceptive situations has far more implications than the odd poker game. At least, assuming you're one of those people who likes to bend the truth.

 

The study provided subjects with movie tickets in an envelope, which they would either take (liars) or not (truth tellers). They were then instructed to convince an interrogator they had not taken the tickets, and to reduce their facial movements to do so (smiles, eyebrow movements, etc.) Their facial movements were filmed, and examined frame-by-frame to determine their level of success, and it was found that while 60% of subjects believed they had maintained total poker-faces, none of them had.

 

The ability to reduce expressions in order to fool lie-catchers was stronger in the liars (and in fact this phenomenon has been observed before), but what was surprising was that even the liars couldn't keep full control of their expressions. So maybe the poker tic does have a basis in reality... but I'd still like to see a control group of the best liars in the world.

 

Murdoch perhaps?

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