Ekman on Microexpressions

by F.

There’s a profile in the new Scientific American Mind on Paul Ekman. If you’re familiar with Ekman’s work, there’s not much new here. But it’s a good read nonetheless:

As to why so many people find it difficult to recognize deception, Ekman says, “Many people simply want to believe what they are being told, even if they really know better. Who wants to find out that your spouse is being unfaithful with your best friend? Or that your kids are using hard drugs? You should want to, but it’s terrible when you discover it. And if you knew this, you’d have to do something about it; most of us are pretty avoidant.”

From an evolutionary perspective, it would not necessarily have been advantageous for humans to be perfect lie detectors. In small, close-knit groups, little falsehoods are frequent and help group members gloss over unimportant mishaps or inequities. If every lie was singled out, the resulting confrontations would almost certainly do more harm than good. In the end, the smooth talkers would probably be expelled from the group, weakening its number if nothing else, and none of those remaining would have gained any benefit from the expulsion.