BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

BBC Correspondent Ania Lichtarowicz
"Look someone in the eye for a true picture of how they are feeling"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 3 May, 2000, 23:36 GMT 00:36 UK
How to spot a liar
Facial expression
Is this man hiding something?
Most people look at the wrong part of the face when trying to tell if somebody is being honest, say researchers.

If you want to tell if somebody is lying, you must focus on their eyes, brows and forehead.

But US researchers found that people tend to focus on the lower part of the face.

Perhaps the old adage "the eyes are the windows to the soul" may be correct

Dr Calin Prodan

Researcher Dr Calin Prodan, of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, said: "Perhaps the old adage 'the eyes are the windows to the soul' may be correct."

Dr Prodan said humans learn in early childhood to manipulate facial emotions to make them appropriate to a given social situation which, in time, allows them to be deceitful.

Facial expression
Is this a more honest expression?
"For example, a person who is angry with their superior may display a 'social' smile rather than an angry scowl when asking for a raise."

To better understand the brain's recognition and processing of facial emotion, the researchers briefly showed 30 people line drawings of a human face displaying different emotions on the upper and lower face, including happiness, sadness, anger, fear and surprise.

Brain processing

Participants viewed the drawings in either their right or left visual fields, which offered clues to the side of the brain processing the information and its ability to do so.

Participants most often identified the lower face emotion, regardless of visual field.

When subjects were instructed to focus on the upper face, they did so best when the pictures were shown to their left visual field, which is processed by the right side of the brain.

However, most continued to identify the lower facial emotion when viewing in their right visual field, processed by the brain's left side.

Dr Prodan said recognition of emotional displays on the lower face appear to be processed by the brain's left hemisphere which deals with learned behaviour.

However, emotional displays on the upper face tend to be processed by the brain's right hemisphere which deals with inborn, instinctive behaviour.

He said: "These findings help us to gain a better understanding of the neurologic basis for affective communication, which will increase a physician's ability to assess how diseases, such as stroke and dementia, alter these functions."

Dr Prodan said people may naturally focus on the lower face to aid in speech comprehension during conversation, especially in noisy environments.

Social conventions may also play a role as many cultures consider it unacceptable to look someone directly in the eye.

He said: "There is a natural learning curve starting in early childhood for acquiring the skills to read facial displays of emotion.

"We certainly can train ourselves to pay more attention to upper facial displays, which can help us read a person's true emotional state.

"However, this can have a downside because of social conventions."

The research was presented at a meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to other Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories