The January 29, 1915 Wall Street Journal describes (p. B1) technology “…That Unmasks Your Hidden Emotions.” The article, by Elizabeth Dwoskin and Evelyn Rusli, introduces software based on the work of Paul Ekman, now 80 years old, who catalogued more than 5,000 facial muscle movements that he believes clue us in about the emotions behind the faces. The software is coded to detect subtle changes in our faces, using those changes to unveil thoughts and feelings that would otherwise stay hidden. Several young companies using this software are cited, including Emotient, Inc, Affectiva, Inc., and Eyeris.
This “I’m gonna detect what you’re feeling and know what you’re thinking” technology has been mostly used for market research, but would seem to have great potential for other uses, privacy concerns aside. Examples in the article: Monitoring truck drivers for sleepiness, gauging classroom attentiveness, an interrogation aid. This blog is focused on people committing fraud. Which leads us to this question: How useful might this software be for detecting committers of fraud by reading their facial expressions?
Daven Morrison, MD: “Silvan Tomkins [researched this] before Ekman, and Ekman at one time would have considered Tomkins his mentor. Some in the security business know about [Ekman-based] training methods used by Israel and the CIA, NSA, and others. Unfortunately, the training is losing credibility. The best argument for why this solution is failing despite being in the industry for more than 20 years is Ekman’s own argument: One cannot tell the difference between [facial expressions showing] fear of ….being caught lying from fear of being punished when….really innocent (i.e. fear of not being believed).” We use this argument in our book (A.B.C.s of Behavioral Forensics, Wiley, 2013) as an argument against the “lie-spotting” promises of people like Pamela Meyer.
“This technology has a ‘god complex.’ It is an unrealistic and limited promise: ‘If I can read others, the whole world will open up for me and I can manipulate people’ For fraud, the point is more nuanced and not so simple. We make this point on our text and I think it fits the way people work: To inoculate against fraud, we have to see our own affects as well as those of others. This is why we talk about a dance of deception orchestrated by emotion. Two people, one manipulating, the other, not. This technology is about manipulating. And it is trying to find the easy way to detect it… A bit of snake oil salesmanship.”
“The affects as described can be a flash, unconscious, and they can be ignored. Both by the received but also by the person who is experiencing the affect. So, although these …companies may believe they are capable (with big numbers) to perceive affects and sell stuff, they may not. In fact, they might be wasting money and time trying to interpret emotions (complex affects) in people they really don’t know or with whom they don’t have a relationship.”
In the end, with both lie-detection and marketing, it is important to remember the first rule of the marketplace: caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware!

Joe Koletar:  What Daven refers to as experiential learning over time most of us call gut instinct. I dealt with a contractor when we were beginning to build our house. I didn’t like the way one of them responded and I dropped him. Turns out I was right.

Join us for more insights into behavioral forensics (behind fraud and similar white collar crimes) from the authors of ABCs of Behavioral Forensics (Wiley, 2013): Sri Ramamoorti, Ph. D., Daven Morrison, M.D., and Joe Koletar, D.P.A., along with Vic Hartman, J.D.  These distinguished experts come from the disciplines of psychology, medicine, accounting, law, and law enforcement to explain and prevent fraud.  Because we are inspired to bring to light and address the fraud problems in today’s headlines, we encourage our readers to come back and revisit us regularly at

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