Take a look at a slide show presentation, “Nonverbal Communication in a Police Interrogation.” Compared to Dan Hill’s article, it is both more precise, and more tentative. Now look at this picture of Vladimir Putin, and Russian Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov. Doesn’t Lavrov look more expansive and jolly than Putin? And yet, their world views must be very close. From this picture, decide who you would rather go to the movies with. Your buddy Lavrov?
Hill writes, “Reading a person’s emotions is crucial to fully understanding them and it is true that people’s faces best reflect and communicate their emotions.” The implication is that the tools to read other individuals are available to all of us. But why are we taken in by others so easily? if hidden intentions could be made so easily visible, we would not be so commonly surprised by what other people do.
One way to resolve this paradox is to speculate that people are divided into three groups: the gullible, the skeptical, and the knowing. The first two are victims of their innate characteristics, while the third, either by Hill’s assertions, or some other talent, are able to divine the intentions of others. But the existence of the third group is frustrated by the characteristics of the psychopath who, by varying estimates, comprise 2-5% of the male population, and about half that frequency in the female.
The popular conception of the psychopath imagines Hannibal-Lector violent criminality, and it is false. Psychopaths are all over the place. They are particularly evident in the workplace, where it isn’t possible to choose your companions. Like all other human traits, they exist on a continuum, meaning there is no particular boundary at which a person is normal or nuts. Unfortunately for nice guys, the traits of the psychopath are advantageous in certain professions, such as CEO, or surgeon.
Analysis of facial expressions is a part of the division of psychometry concerned with personality traits. The lie detector, actually a variety of devices that measure involuntary responses that accompany emotions, is a tool of the same interrogators who train from the slide show. The psychopath can defeat both types of tools, because his involuntary responses are decoupled from what he is actually thinking. So are his emotions. The weakness of the psychopath’s emotionality is a boon for survival in some kinds of situations. An extension of the ability to fluently lie, it is in some way the attempt of a “selfish gene” to propagate, in a preference for individual survival over that of the group.
Refer again to the flashing pictures of Dan Hill’s article, and compare to Lavrov’s broad, toothy smile. Putin’s face is highly expressive, and not artificially pleasant — exactly the opposite of the psychopath, the type science most closely identifies with the religious “has no soul.” Lavrov’s toothy smile says he’s the guy you want to go to the movies with. But on the continuum of psychopathology, Lavrov is probably a little higher on the scale — an asset for constant exposure on the world stage.
The psychopath confounds the bullshit detector with the opposite assertion: The man you think you can trust is the man you can’t. Professional interrogators know this. But they don’t look for souls; they look for “tells”, the body language by which a poker player sizes up his opponent. For instance, a subject may, when evasive, avert his gaze in the direction of his dominant cerebral hemisphere. Human variability, which Dan Hill conveniently ignores, is partly factored out by a process of calibration of the individual under interrogation. This is why a lie detector examination includes a large variety of inane questions, offered at irregular intervals. Only by comparison can the interrogator obtain information with even a probability of correctness.
In case you have been mislead by the picture of Kerry and Lavrov, you should go to the movies with Kerry. Lavrov will eat all the popcorn.