Detecting lies in profiling through body language thanks to Micro Expressions: How FBI agents


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Text comes from: Menschen entschlüsseln: Ein Kriminalpsychologe erklärt, wie man spezielle Analyse- und Profilingtechniken im Alltag nutzt (2015) by Dr. Jens Hoffmann, published by Münchener Verlagsgruppe (MVG), Reprints by friendly permission of the publisher.
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An important issue in dealing with lies and truth is body language - an area that is very important in real casework. Also FBI agents proceed like that.

Detecting lies in profiling through body language thanks to Micro Expressions: How FBI agents body-language


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Dr. Jens Hoffmann Jens_HoffmannDr. Jens Hoffmann is a criminal psychologist and profiling expert.

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The setting is crucial

If I want to assess whether a person is telling the truth, I should make sure that I give her a good setting, an environment in which she feels comfortable and in which she actually begins to report things. Once she starts telling, it can lead to her betraying things she had previously been silent about.

In choosing the conversation setting, the personality style of the person must also be considered. If it is a possibly narcissistic person, it can be advantageous to make her feel that she is something very special.

How to expose liars

I have recently held such a conversation with a young man who was suspected to be in his Company to have sent anonymous letters to colleagues. He reported very quickly that he was already running a branch of his employer at the age of 22 years - which I answered deliberately that this was a very impressive performance.

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By doing so, I consciously fulfilled the narcissistic needs of the man. He began to tell me things with which he inadvertently betrayed himself as the author of the anonymous letters. His mistake was that in his narcissistic flight he named details that only the author of slanderous writing could know. A different approach might not have succeeded in getting the young man to betray himself unintentionally.

The happy-feet phenomenon

Because we humans are very good at controlling our facial expressions, but what we do with our arms or legs is usually not so well controlled.

A nice example of this is the phenomenon of so-called happy feet. This is a relaxed rocking of the feet meant as an expression of joy. If you see such a joyful seesaw in a round of cards, for example, in an opponent, then caution is advised, because he probably holds a good hand.

Pay attention to small things

To observe this, you do not even have to look under the table. As soon as the feet move back and forth so joyfully, this is transferred to the upper body, and this can be seen particularly well in the mitschwingenden clothing.

But not only during the game are the happy feet found. If one notices in conversations or negotiations at once that somebody starts with this movement of the feet and keeps on happily, then he unconsciously signals that he is currently feeling well.

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Truth signals in the gesture

It is now known that there are truth signals in the gestures, the so-called illustrators. When I underline what I have said with arbitrary and therefore unintentionally controlled gestures of my hands, it speaks for me that I am comfortable - and that I am saying things as they actually are.

Likewise unconsciously, however, another type of gesture is executed: the adapters. With them we try to regulate our emotions. An example would be a grip on the earlobe, with which we try to calm down.

Pay attention to the dynamics

When such a gesture is shown, it can be a signal that a person is uncomfortable, even though they may continue to pretend to be sovereign with their faces.

Many factors are dynamic, so they can be recognized by the change that takes place in the course of a situation. An underlining gesture therefore speaks for a certain truthfulness, but there is a change, and the person starts to calm down, or even freezes, which can simply indicate that "there is something".

Of course, such a change does not automatically tell you that this person is lying. But it shows that there is something within the subject area that makes the person uncomfortable and makes further inquiry advisable.

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Reaction in case of danger

Linked to this is another basic rule of human behavior: If we face a danger, we have three different reaction possibilities. The first is the escape reaction, the second is the combat reaction, and the third reaction is a freeze, often a dead-centered reflex. Even if we feel threatened in a conversation, it can lead us to show one of these reactions with our extremities.

If a person suddenly appears frozen during a conversation, they may find the situation threatening at that moment. The situation is similar when the feet are suddenly moved in the direction of escape - when a person changes from a relaxed sitting posture to pulling his lower legs and feet back under the chair, for example, perhaps leaning on the seat with his hands. The foot posture therefore anticipates our behavioral tendency and signals an “I want to get out of here”.


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English version: ISBN 9783965960336 (Translation notice)

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