After scrutinizing all those job applicants, salespeople, and suspects in the
latest theft from the employee refrigerator, you probably consider yourself
something of a human lie detector. But are you a wizard?
That's the term Maureen O'Sullivan, a deception expert at the University of
California San Francisco, uses to describe people who are especially good at
detecting those little tics--facial expressions, gestures, and so forth--that
show when a person is lying.
While most people believe they could easily detect lying behavior, most miss
a good 50 percent of lies, O'Sullivan told a briefing sponsored by the American
Medical Association. Then there are the wizards--that 1 percent of the population
that can catch a lie nearly 90 percent of the time.
It's easy to see how O'Sullivan came up with the name. "Wizardry is a
special skill that seems magical if you don't have it," she said.
According to the Reuters news agency, O'Sullivan and her colleagues have so
far screened 13,000 people for their ability to catch a liar on videotape. "We
found 14 people who we called ultimate experts," she said.
While people know to look for certain cues as a person lies, these wizards
intuitively find an individual's peculiar cues, according to O'Sullivan. One
may shrug when lying, and another may make fleeting expressions of disgust or
O'Sullivan's next task is to find out how wizards pick up on these individual
cues. So far, she's found that wizards have little in common, except a motivation
to catch liars.
She said her findings could help train people who need lie-detecting skills
in certain occupations--for instance, federal agents or therapists. How
about HR people too?