Lie Detection

How True/Real is the Science in the Television Series “Lie to Me”?

“Lie to Me” was a crime drama series that was telecast on the Fox Network between 2009 and 2011. It starred Tim Roth, as a gifted psychologist called Dr Cal Lightman. His firm, The Lightman Group, would assist law enforcement agencies with investigations, arriving at the truth with the help of applied psychology, micro-expressions, Facial Action Coding System and body language.

The question is, was there any science behind the show and is it possible to use it in real life. Surprisingly, the answer is yes.

The show was actually inspired by Paul Ekman, a pioneer in the study of non-verbal communication and a world-renowned expert on the subject. He has spent more than 40 years of this life studying emotions and their connection to facial expressions, earning the sobriquet of ‘ the best human lie detector in the world’ in the process.

Ekman was actually approached by the producers of the show four years before it went on the floor. He read every script and advised the writers on how to portray science. He also ensured that the expressions he had studied were accurately shown. In a particular episode, when the actors could not enact an expression properly, he stepped in and taped video tutorials to help them.


The basic behind the show is the concept of micro-expressions. These are blink and miss expressions that show up on people’s faces when they are feeling an emotion. Micro-expressions are involuntary and they occur in tense situations. The person is not aware of them and they usually occur when a person is trying to conceal his or her emotions.

Micro-expressions can show when a person is feeling anger, fear, sadness, surprise, contempt, happiness, embarrassment, guilt, relief, pleasure, shame, amusement, excitement, pride or satisfaction. They were actually discovered by Isaacs and Haggard, who found them when they were looking at psychotherapy films, for clues on non-verbal communication between a patient and his therapist.

Deceit itself gives rise to no signs – there are no facial expressions, gestures and muscle twitches from which we can infer if a person is lying. What you can see are clues that indicate if a person is not prepared properly, and clues to other emotions that do not fit in with what the person is saying.

You cannot determine a lie by reading micro-expressions but you can certainly detect concealed emotions. If you see a micro-expression when a person speaks, it does mean that the person is lying. A more accurate conclusion would be that there is something more to the statement.

Applied Psychology, Body Language, and FACS on ‘Lie to Me’

Applied psychology uses psychological principles to overcome real-life problems. It includes areas like clinical psychology (psychological assessment), forensic psychology (the point where the justice system and psychology intersect) and others. Cal Lightman and his team from The Lightman Group use these techniques in their work.

The body language and behaviour of a person can reveal clues to unspoken intentions. Examples for body language include facial expressions, body posture, eye movements and gestures. The body language of a person can reveal clues to that person’s state of mind or attitude. It can indicate attentiveness, boredom, aggression, intoxication, amusement, pleasure and more.

The Facial Action Coding System or FACS was originally developed by Carl-Herman Hjortsjö, an anatomist from Sweden. It is a system that attempts to taxonomize facial movements. Users of the system become sensitive to the facial movements of other people.

So, the science behind the television show actually exists. You can use it to improve your relationship with your partner, kids, parents, colleagues and friends. The good news is, Let’s-Live Coaching offers 1 day, 2 day and 5 day Human Lie Detection Courses. So enrol today!

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