Mentalist Atlas Brookings takes a weekly look at your five senses and explains how to interpret, analyze, and utilize the data they send you. Topics vary from body language and the functioning of the mind, to the art of negotiation and anticipating the behavior of others - with odd detours along the way. Hopefully your eyes will be opened to the subtle mental processes that shape and drive your behavior and color the way that you interact with the world around you.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!
Well, as promised in last week's post, we will spend some time today looking at those who practice to deceive. As this is such a huge topic, with important applications for nearly everyone, I expect that we will develop this theme over the span of several posts.
I think a good place to start is with my younger brother. He is certainly a valid case study.
Man, can that kid lie. It is effortless.
He is convincing. He tells you something with confidence and authority. He sounds like he knows what he is talking about. He is dynamic, devious, cunning.
His fibs are almost always harmless, often enjoyable detours from reality. I remember once that I dropped by my mother's house. I wasn't expected, and it turned out that she wasn't home. So I called her from her house phone as that's a great way to get her to answer her cell phone - she sees the number and thinks "Hey, that's MY number! I wonder who that is?"
At any rate, she answered and told me that she was out of town for a few days. We had chatted for a few minutes when a beep on the phone alerted me that another call was coming in. I recognized the number on the caller ID as my younger brother, who was out of state at the time. It was but the work of a moment to press the 'flash' button on the phone and add him to the conversation.
ME: "That's a shame that you're out of town Mom, because Todd came up from college to see you!"
MOM: "No, he didn't"
ME: "Yes he did. Here, I'll hand the phone to him."
TODD: "Hi Mom! Why aren't you here? I came home to surprise you and I have to leave tomorrow night!"
Now I know I am not blameless here. I told porkies. But my brother had the sense to stay quiet and get the lay of the land, and once he knew the situation, he was a sight to behold, a veritable Maestro spinning a web of deception of epic proportions, one which has lived in on family lore for years. He genuinely had my mother near tears at the thought that she had missed a surprise visit from the baby of the family.
I told you he was devious.
I remember once that we were both doing our chores after dinner. I had to wash the dishes, and he had to rinse and dry them. Everything was going smoothly until, all of the sudden, he made a banging noise with a pot, began crying, and ran to find an adult - all the while denouncing me as the sort of monster that would strike him with a frying pan while his back was turned. My pleas of innocence fell on deaf ears and I ended up doing the dishes by myself.
Naturally, this capacity for untruth is a dangerous trait in a younger brother. As a younger man, if I was to survive, I had to adapt.
I had to learn to read him.
This happened in stages, which I will relate in the weeks to come. The first discovery occurred when I had made some pointless childhood bet with him. I believe that something close to a billion trillion zillion bucks were on the line. It was during this exchange that I noticed something interesting - the little stinker wouldn't make eye contact with me.
I believe that we have all had a moment in our lives where we have got a great joke going if only we can keep a straight face. Of course, when we make eye contact, it is difficult not to smile. I think that this is what had occurred with my brother, but I noticed afterwards that it applied across the board with others.
This is not to say that when someone is lying to you that they won't make eye contact because they might end up laughing, rather, they won't make eye contact because they can't. The body will act naturally to shield them from being caught out. You, as the person being deceived, are a threat to the reality that they have created. Your questions and the conclusions that you draw from them can represent a danger to the falsehood that they created.
Even when your questions are completely innocent, because you are perceived as a threat, the body language of the deceiver will act as though you really are. Your subject's physiological responses will be governed by the Limbic system, with their actions dictated by the well developed Freeze, Flight, or Fight process.
As a result, they will do their best to:
1. Draw in their limbs to make themselves appear smaller; 2. Become very still, often by sitting on their hands or locking their ankles, and; 3. Fastidiously avoid eye contact, with the idea being "If I can't see you, you aren't going to see me".
Those who are more flighty will place an object, like a pillow or table, between themselves and you, and will eye the door longingly - often slowly positioning themselves closer to the exit in a subconscious attempt to leave. They will also avoid confrontational gestures like finger-pointing.
I think that is enough for today. Next week, we'll look at both what a liar says and how they say it. For this week, do your best to PAY ATTENTION to the body language of those around you. Did someone freeze? Lock their ankles? Refuse to look at you? Did they block their body with their leg? If so, why?
When I play chess, prior to any move I make, I ask myself "Why did my opponent make that move? What are they hoping to accomplish?" Finding the answer to that question informed my own strategy. By answering it, I could discover my opponent's intentions, and their actions no longer held any surprises for me. As a result, I won a lot.
The moral of the story? Pay attention, ask yourself "Why?", and you will learn a lot more about the thoughts and intentions of those around you than you ever thought you could!