Lie detection is all the rage on TV these days, with newcomer “The Mentalist” drawing viewers like flies to honey and “The Closer” and “Psych” burning up the Nielsens. And now a new show has joined the mix, called “Lie to Me,” about a man with a near-preternatural ability to tell when someone is lying.
The show stars Tim Roth (forever Mr. Orange) as Dr. Cal Lightman, a behavioral science expert who makes bank as a consultant for clients who want him to catch liars. His near-perfect skills supposedly come from interpretation of body language and facial expressions that let him in on whether this week’s murder suspect or shifty spouse is spinning a big one.
Both the main character and his skills are reportedly based on the persona and work of Dr. Paul Ekman, the facial expression expert who advises the Department of Defense on lie detection. Ekman’s method is based on what he calls “microexpressions,” small facial movements that he says present evidence of what you’re really feeling. We don’t necessarily know we’re doing them, so we can’t necessarily control them—say “I am saddened by my wife’s death” but flash a happy or disgusted microexpression, and a detective should take note.
As DISCOVER reported in 2005, Ekman’s colleague Maureen O’Sullivan found that a tiny group of people can become nearly 100 percent accurate at lie-catching. These mendacity savant, known as “wizards,” can not only recognize every microexpression, but can also read the “whole picture” of the situation—a necessary task, since not every liar shows anything on their faces, meaning that microexpressions aren’t a perfect method. Granted, exceptions and nuance don’t make for the best network TV, so Lightman romps through each episode pointing out blatant facial cues that not even a blind cockatiel could miss.
It’s true that, when it comes to lie-detection science, reading behavioral cues is still the best technique we have. Still, it’s hardly an exact science. But then, what’s a network TV series that doesn’t bend the truth a little?
Image: Courtesy of FOX