What can you learn about a person by just looking at their face?

I was an FBI agent for 30 years and observed criminals’ behavior when they lied.
I’ve also researched extensively about body language, facial expressions, and verbal indicators of lying. I’ve found that knowing signals that indicate someone is probably lying to you can be helpful to law enforcement officers, teachers, parents, anyone who is wondering about whether to establish or continue a romantic relationship, or anyone who deals with salesmen, repairmen, or contractors, that is, anyone who has contacts or dealings with other people.

I decided to share my knowledge with others, in order to promote more honesty (or less successful lying) in the world. So, I wrote a book titled, How to Spot Lies Like the FBI. In it, I discuss facial expressions, body language, and verbal indicators which likely signal someone is lying to you.

In regard to the facial indicators, you can see that someone is stressed, nervous or lying from observing many signals or “tells.” To eliminate false positives, one should first interact with the person with small talk and by asking general questions. That way you can determine their base or normal behavior. It’s noted that some people show signals that might be connected with lying if they happen to be nervous, jittery or anxious in their normal behavior. And people’s reactions can be affected by allergies, drinking, using certain medications or taking drugs. Also, a small percentage of the population includes pathological liars who will likely feel no stress from lying and probably won’t exhibit the signals of it. And some people will have particular psychological disorders that will change their behavior from the norm. So, watch for the baseline behavior, then look for about three lying indicators that they don’t display regularly, before you conclude they’re lying. With a little practice in making observations, you’ll be quite certain when someone has shown a true lying signal.

Most people react in predictable and observable ways when they lie because they’ll get chemical changes in their bodies, they’ll have physiological responses, and/or they’ll have mental reactions. For instance, a chemical reaction causes peoples’ faces to itch when they lie. If they touch or scratch their nose or cheek or rub their finger under their nose, those are indicators of fibbing. The mouth often goes dry, and you can see their reaction to that when they do a sucking action, usually with pursed lips. They may also lick their lips to alleviate the discomfort. Excess mucus is often produced while lying, so people will either cough several times or clear their throat a few times.

They may chew on or bite their lip. Their eyes may dart from left to right, back and forth, which is an ancient biological reaction when a person faces a dangerous animal or human adversary, and they’re trying to find an escape route. And if they blink several times in a row, faster than the normal blink rate of once every ten or twelve seconds, they’re most likely lying. Also, when you ask someone a question that affects them emotionally, they may show a “microexpression” which shows their true reaction. This only lasts for about 1/25th of a second before they show an expression that they want to display to you, so you have to watch sharply for these instances.

People will often touch or partially cover their mouth with their hand before or after they lie, or they’ll sometimes place a finger beside their mouth during your conversation. Lying people will often perspire more than the conditions call for. You may notice moisture on their foreheads or cheeks, and they’ll sometimes rub the back of their neck because of the discomfort of excess sweat there.

People will sometimes rub a knuckle into their eye socket after lying to you. Their heart rate will increase, their blood pressure will accelerate, and their breathing will quicken. You may notice the pumping of blood in their carotid arteries get faster, they may get short of breath, and their faces and/or cheeks and ears may redden. Also, some people, more likely women, will blush after telling a whopper.

There are other facial indicators and a good many body movements and ways people talk to you that are helpful to know about along these lines. You should probably read a book that discusses facial expressions, body language, and verbal indicators. And I wish you good luck in your future.


And this is “science” 2 – Face pareidolia

Face pareidolia is the illusory perception of non-existent faces. The present study, for the first time, contrasted behavioral and neural responses of face pareidolia with those of letter pareidolia to explore face-specific behavioral and neural responses during illusory face processing. Participants were shown pure-noise images but were led to believe that 50% of them contained either faces or letters; they reported seeing faces or letters illusorily 34% and 38% of the time, respectively. The right fusiform face area (rFFA) showed a specific response when participants “saw” faces as opposed to letters in the pure-noise images. Behavioral responses during face pareidolia produced a classification image (CI) that resembled a face, whereas those during letter pareidolia produced a CI that was letter-like. Further, the extent to which such behavioral CIs resembled faces was directly related to the level of face-specific activations in the rFFA. This finding suggests that the rFFA plays a specific role not only in processing of real faces but also in illusory face perception, perhaps serving to facilitate the interaction between bottom-up information from the primary visual cortex and top-down signals from the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Whole brain analyses revealed a network specialized in face pareidolia, including both the frontal and occipitotemporal regions. Our findings suggest that human face processing has a strong top-down component whereby sensory input with even the slightest suggestion of a face can result in the interpretation of a face.


Why are you hotter with your shades on?

And now, Science of Us attempts to unravel the answers to a summertime question of monumental importance: Why does nearly everyone instantly look more attractive with sunglasses on?

You know you’re at least a little curious. And so was Vanessa Brown, a senior lecturer of art and design at Nottingham Trent University in the U.K. Her research focuses on the meaning we assign to commonplace, everyday objects, and in an academic book that’s coming out early next year, she explores the cultural and psychological relationship between sunglasses and our modern idea of “cool.” In an email to Science of Us, Brown explained what her research has uncovered about why most of us look better in shades.

Because they really do make your misshapen face look better.

Put on a pair of sunglasses, and voilà – instant symmetry! The dark lenses cover up any asymmetrical oddities around your eyes, and research on facial attractiveness shows a clear link between symmetry and our perception of beauty.

As an added bonus, Brown pointed out, sunglasses provide a kind of scaffolding effect, imposing the appearance of an external, extra-chiseled bone structure on top of your relatively softer-featured face.

Because mystery. 

Many of the snap judgments we form about people come from looking them in the eyes; shade yours, and you’re instantly a more intriguing presence. “The eyes are such a tremendous source of information — and vulnerability — for the human being,” Brown explained. Eye contact helps us form judgments about someone’s intelligence, confidence, and sincerity, and sunglasses keep us literally in the dark about forming those perceptions about a person. And it works both ways, because the wearer of the sunglasses feels more inscrutable, too. One recent study showed that people who wore sunglasses acted more selfishly and dishonestly than those wearing eyeglasses, which, the researchers argue, suggests that shades delude us into feeling more anonymous, or unknown.

It’s colloquial wisdom that an air of mystery increases sexual desire, and research bears that notion out. Think of the common “the thrill is gone” complaint that accompanies the long-term relationship, for one. And one recent study showed that women who were uncertain of a man’s feelings toward them ended up reporting more attraction to those men. It’s essentially the plot of many a rom-com: We’re drawn to the people we can’t quite figure out.

Because of their historical link with edginess and glamour. 

We take their ubiquity for granted today, but sunglasses are a relatively modern everyday accessory, Brown said. Sales started to pick up in the 1920s, but they didn’t become commonplace until about two decades after that. The way sunglasses were most often used prior to their commercialization helps explain some of their inherent coolness, Brown said, because in their early days sunglasses were primarily used during risky water and snow sports, and were also associated with new technologies like airplane travel, which made them seem “daring and thoroughly modern.”

Soon after that, Hollywood stars of the 1950s and 1960s started wearing sunglasses to defend themselves from being recognized by the public or harassed by paparazzi, whose flashbulbs would often explode violently, sometimes literally in their faces, Brown said. But regardless of practicality, movie stars’ adoption of the accessory cemented the link between sunglasses and glamour.

Also – and this is more from my own personal research than Brown’s — hang-overs. They’re really great for hiding hang-overs.