In the old TV series Lie To Me Dr. Cal Lightman and his colleagues assisted federal law enforcement in detecting liars mainly through body language. In a similar fashion the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) has been training TSA staff to spot passengers who might be potential security risks. Through nonverbal signs such as facial expressions and body gestures “detection officers” are learning how to spot liars. The question is how efficient are they?
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key.
Excerpt: At Airports, a Misplaced Faith in Body Language by John Tierney New York Times.
“Like the rest of us, airport security screeners like to think they can read body language. The Transportation Security Administration has spent some $1 billion training thousands of “behavior detection officers” to look for facial expressions and other nonverbal clues that would identify terrorists.
But critics say there’s no evidence that these efforts have stopped a single terrorist or accomplished much beyond inconveniencing tens of thousands of passengers a year. The T.S.A. seems to have fallen for a classic form of self-deception: the belief that you can read liars’ minds by watching their bodies.
Most people think liars give themselves away by averting their eyes or making nervous gestures, and many law-enforcement officers have been trained to look for specific tics, like gazing upward in a certain manner.
But this theory didn’t hold up when it was tested by a team of British and North American psychologists. They found no pattern in the upward eye movements of liars and truth tellers, whether they were observed in the laboratory or during real-life news conferences. The researchers also found that people who were trained to look for these eye movements did not do any better than a control group at detecting liars.
Stephen Porter of the University of British Columbia says the poor success rate in studies is caused partly by the limitations of laboratory experiments in which subjects are often asked to lie about things that don’t really matter to them. Liars may show more stress in a real-life situation when much depends on being believed.
In a study last year, psychologists at the University of British Columbia trained professionals in forensics to look for an array of facial expressions and other signs of stress or inconsistency in someone telling a story. Then these professionals looked at news footage of people pleading for the return of a missing relative. Some of the pleaders were sincere, but others were lying (as eventually revealed by evidence that they had already murdered the relative). The trained professionals were able to identify the liars with an 80 percent accuracy rate.
The T.S.A.’s administrator, John S. Pistole, defended its behavior-detection program last year by saying it identified high-risk passengers at a significantly higher rate than random screening. The accountability office report challenged the methodology behind that assertion and questioned the cost-effectiveness of the program. It noted that fewer than 1 percent of the more than 30,000 passengers a year who are identified as suspicious end up being arrested, and that the offenses (like carrying drugs or undeclared currency) have not been linked to terrorist plots.” Read more…
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ESL Voices Lesson Plan
Level: High Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, speaking and listening. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handouts (from this lesson) access to news article, and video.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Can You Spot the Liar? Fun Activity by New York Times!
Directions: Researchers say that your body language tells questioners if the words you’re saying are actually true or false. Click on the photo and have students see if they can spot the people who are telling lies from the ones telling the truth.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart by Freeology for assistance.
- Airport security screeners look for facial expressions and other nonverbal clues that would identify terrorists.
- Critics say there’s no evidence that these efforts have stopped a single terrorist.
- The T.S.A. seems to have fallen for a classic form of self-deception.
- Most people think liars give themselves away by averting their eyes.
- There’s an illusion of insight that comes from looking at a person’s body.
- This theory didn’t hold up when it was tested by a team of British and North American psychologists.
- There is no Pinocchio’s nose — no one cue that will always accompany deception.
- Liars may show more stress in a real-life situation.
- Trained professionals in forensics to look for an array of facial expressions and other signs of stress.
- That’s an impressive record, but it’s only one experiment.
Directions: Review the following statements from the reading. If a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.
- TSA stands for Transit State Authority.
- TSA is training thousands of behavior detection officers.
- There’s evidence that these efforts have stopped terrorists.
- Men lie the most.
- Liars usually give themselves away by averting their eyes or making nervous gestures.
- Law-enforcement officers are not consistently better at it than ordinary people.
- There is one cue that will always accompany deception.
- John S. Pistole is the The T.S.A.’s administrator.
- Some researchers believe that you get so much more information by just by talking to people.
- It is difficult to tell if children are lying or not.
Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- Like the rest of us, airport security screeners like to think they can read body language.
- They looks for facial expressions and other nonverbal clues.
- But critics say there’s no evidence that these efforts have stopped a single terrorist.
- They belief that you can read liars’ minds by watching their bodies.
- Most people think liars give themselves away by averting their eyes.
- In scientific experiments, people do a lousy job of spotted liars.
- There’s a illusion of insight that comes from looking at a person’s body.
- There is no Pinocchio’s nose — no one cue.
- Trained professionals were able to identify the liars with an 80 percent accuracy rate.
III. Post Reading Tasks
Reading Comprehension Check
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.
- Can you always tell when someone is telling the truth. How? For example are there there certain body gestures or facial expressions that you look for?
- In your opinion, is there ever a time when lying to someone is good? Provide examples.
- Do you always tell the truth? Explain why or why not.
- Do you think people are better at detecting lies than machines (e.g., a lie detector)? Why or why not?
IV. Listening Activity
Video Clip: Pamela Meyer: How to spot a liar. TEDTalks
“Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, shows the manners and “hotspots” used by those trained to recognize deception — and she argues honesty is a value worth preserving.”
While Listening Activities
Directions: Students listen for the correct word or phrase to complete the dialog taken from the video. They are to choose from the options presented.
- Lie spotters are people armed with scientific/science knowledge about how to spot deception.
- The faze/phrase “Lying is a cooperative act” means someone chooses to believe a lie.
- There are times when people are unwilling participants/party in a lie.
- Some infamous people involved in public deception/perception were Robert Hanson, Aldrich Hanes and Bernard Madoff.
- According to studies most of us encounter nearly 10-200 lions/lies a day.
- According to research, we lie more to strangers/strange than coworkers, extroverts/extras lie more than introverts, and men lie 8 times more about themselves then about other people.
- Women lie more to protest/protect other people.
- According to Meyer the two patterns of deception are speech/speak and body language.
- The video of two mothers/moths were used to demonstrate the difference between truth telling and lying.
- According to research lying is a part of our historical/history and culture.
Questions for Discussion
Directions:Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions.
1. After listening to this video has your personal idea of humans as lie detectors changed in any way? If yes, describe in what way. If no, describe your original opinion.
2. Did you agree with everything Pamela Meyer said? Discuss which comments you agreed with and which ones you tended not to agree with. Explain why.
3. With your group members, make up questions that you would like to ask Ms. Meyer.