Nonverbal messages: cracking the code My life’s pursuit by Dr. Paul Ekman

Some may be familiar with the popular TV program “Lie to me” which ran for three seasons starting back in 2009. If not, the story-line centred around the idea that nonverbal body language and “micro-expressions” can provide indications of emotion and potential deception. The program follows the character “Dr. Cal Lightman” and his team as they aid law enforcement agencies and other groups who seek to profile suspects and the like.

What most may not know is that it was the work of Dr. Paul Ekman that provided the basis and structure for the series. He was consulted in the production of the show.

I had hoped to learn all of these juicy secrets by reading this book. Little did I know before requesting it that it is mostly an autobiography of his life rather than a reporting of his findings. That’s not to say that there aren’t tidbits thrown in here and there that aren’t interesting. His book “Telling lies” promises to provide more of the how-to and is accordingly on my reading list. Or, you can visit his website and pay money for some of the tools he has developed.

While his research sheds light on this world of ‘hidden’ communication, he also admits that accurate perception is not always that easy – even for those who are trained to do so.

Closer to the end of the book he talks about being consulted to evaluate a photo of Abu Ghraib prison guard Sabrina Harman who is depicted smiling and giving a thumbs up next to the corpse of an Iraqi soldier. He reports that her smile was not ‘genuine’ yet I think most would say otherwise. Is a photo like this not in violation of a basic human right put forth by the United Nations? For this reason I would be somewhat troubled if this new ‘science’ was used as proof to convict someone in a court of law.

How aware are you nonverbal cues? If you are at all interested you might find that research in this area to be rewarding.

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