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Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Connection between Emotional Hotspots and Lying

As promised, I write today about the second workshop conducted by David Matsumoto at the American Society of Trial Consulting Conference. While the Thursday afternoon session on reading facial expressions (and "microexpressions") lasted three hours (please see previous post), the session on lie detection was only one hour long. So, he had a lot to cover in a short span of time. To his credit, David is an excellent public speaker. He's funny, articulate, clear and responsive to questions.

Most of the session was devoted to understanding, identifying and recognizing emotional "hotspots." A hotspot occurs when subconscious, emotional cognition runs contrary to conscious, logical cognition. Such occurrences put a lot of pressure on one's brain, making it difficult to focus and control. Imperfect control results in emotional "leakage." A person who is trained to detect microexpressions can catch such leakage as it happens.

For example, a candidate can say something nice about his opponent, but he crinkles his nose for just a split second. The expression of disgust has leaked out. The beauty pageant runner-up allows a one-sided look of contempt to cross her face for a millisecond before she successfully plasters a big, fake smile back on her face.

There are gestural cues to look for, as well. For instance, David showed the video of Alex Rodriguez answering a question from Katy Couric about the use of performance-enhancing drugs. He answers "no" very definitively -- while nodding his head up and down at the same time.

David was very careful to point out that a hotspot, with associated emotional leakage, is only a sign that there is some disconnect between the speaker's words and his emotions. Lying is only one possible explanation for such a disconnect. Leakage can also be the result of cognitive dissonance, ambivalence or extreme uncertainty.

So, for us consultants, the key is to identify hotspots. That suggests that lying might be taking place. Additional investigation and/or interrogation is necessary to tease out what is causing the emotional disconnect.

So, what should I do now with my cursory training and heightened awareness of emotional leakage and hotspots? Well, I'm not quite ready to market myself as an emotional cue expert, who can help lawyers identify lying jurors or witnesses with precision. That said, I will certainly look for microexpressions when reviewing footage from focus group sessions. I will keep an eye out for microexpressions from a witness I am helping to prepare. An obvious hotspot can help me identify a line of inquiry that might be tricky for the witness.

I am curious to see how useful this heightened sensitivity to facial expressions might be moving forward. Please feel free to contact me if you'd like to chat about my experience with this program.

On Monday, I'll file a new post with some additional observations, lessons and stories from the conference. Tomorrow, it's golf at East Lake! Fore!!!!!

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