Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lie To Me: Obama Gives McCain the Finger or I'm Hooked on this Show. And Is it True Popular People are Better Liars?

There are shows on Wednesday night that I like to watch, American Idol for instance and now Lost, but I've pushed both those shows to DVR because I'm hooked on Fox's new show Lie to Me starring Tim Roth as Dr. Carl Lightman, a character who's an expert in reading facial expressions and who is based on a real man, Dr. Paul Ekman.

The show's good, but that's only part of the reason I'm hooked. I've been fascinated by body language since my 20s, and during the recent presidential election wrote about what I saw in John McCain's facial expressions. I'm no expert, I just shared my opinions.

And I also posted an expressions experts opinions on Obama's smile and Palin's folksiness, and kept up with what

A few weeks ago on the show, Roth's character said popular people are better liars, and I decided then that I was going to look up the show online and see if it was using any real science or just common sense, but busy person that I am forgot.

Tonight the show used a clip of President Barack Obama back when he was a candidate making comments about opponent Sen. John McCain. In it he was saying he respected McCain while also using an emblematic slip or a gesture that's akin to what we'd call a Freudian slip in language or a slip of the tongue. He subconsciously flipped McCain the bird.

That was too much. I had to visit the show's website to see if any real science was behind that. The YouTube video clip at the top of this post shows then-candidate Obama giving McCain the finger subtly, a sign of anger or contempt, according to the fictitious Dr. Lightman.

Each week Dr. Ekman, who's the show's consultant, writes a column at Fox called "The Truth About Lie to Me" in which he separates the actual science from the stuff the show's writers make up. Regarding "emblematic slips" he said at his own website, "The person showing the emblematic slip knows what he or she is thinking but doesn’t know it has leaked out."

At the Fox site, he said the following:
I discovered gestural slips in my very first study of nonverbal behavior, many years ago. In an experiment I arranged one of my fellow graduate students was being given a hard time by the head of the department. She gave him the finger, just as the best man, Obama, and Rumsfield did. Not out in the open, but much less noticeable. The person showing such a gestural slip is aware of the anger or disdain that he or she feels, but is unaware that the message has leaked out. (Love Always--The Finger)
As was said in the show, Rumsfield and Obama had something about which to be angry. Here's a Rumsfield clip, and the suggestion is he has contempt for the student asking the question about the Iraq War.

But what about lying presidents? Here's what Ekman said in his interview with The New York Times:
Dr. Ekman would not discuss his assessments of public figures who are still active. (George W. Bush was off limits at the time.) But past presidents are fair game. “Nixon was a terrible liar,” he said, adding, “The last good liar we had as president was John Kennedy.”
Apparently Bill Clinton was a pretty bad liar too because the show's used clips of him more than once: "I did not have sex with that woman!"

Is it True Popular People are Better Liars?

While I didn't find Ekman himself making the statement that popular people are better liars, I did find a 1999 study that supports that statement in the show.
"We found that convincing lying is actually associated with good social skills. It takes social skills to be able to control your words as well as what you say non-verbally," said Feldman. (Science Daily)
The study also found that younger or older women appear to be better liars than their male counterparts. I'm not surprised there. Females are trained to make others happy first and so they have to find ways to avoid telling the truth sometimes. In addition, the ability to lie to a man is a survival skill for some women.


msladyDeborah said...


The Obama flip would of been on point during the "that one" debate.

I am not sure if popular people are better liars or not. If they are it is probably due to the opportunities they have to cultivate their lie into a well scripted story.

SjP said...

I agree with MLD! Would have loved to see that during the "that one" debate...

Unknown said...

I noticed that gesture at the time it happened. It was so obvious to me I thought that it would have been picked up by the media.
But then I forgot to check.
I just saw the same clip in "Lie To Me", so it looks like it was picked up.