“Basic emotions are hard to conceal completely,” O’Sullivan said. People may be afraid of being caught or happy that they are putting something over on another person, so some inappropriate emotion may flicker across their face.
O’Sullivan calls these microexpressions — changes that last less than a second — and the people best at catching liars are able to notice them.
The thinking clues occur because it’s harder to lie than tell the truth, she said. To lie, people have to make something up. This can lead to hesitations in speech, slips of the tongue, lack of detail in what they are saying.
Certain types of people known as “superliars” are aware of those problems, she added, but may overcompensate by talking too fast.
“Anxiety by itself is not a sign of deception,” she added, “there are other things you have to look for … things that are inconsistent with what they’re saying.”
Look for shrugs: “is someone telling you something very positive and shrugs in the middle,” she said. Watch body posture, hand gestures, eye flutters.
What makes you a ‘wizard’?
So, who is good at detecting these various clues and sorting out the liars?
Men and women are about equal among the 31 wizards, she said, and they are scattered across the country.
The thing they have in common is “they are motivated and want to get it right,” she said, they practice it, like athletes.
About 20 percent to 30 percent reported some sort of childhood trauma, such as alcoholism in the family or a highly emotional mother, perhaps leading them to screen for emotional clues from childhood. A similar number didn’t notice their ability until midlife and then began working on it, she said.
All of the wizards are intelligent, but their education ranges from high school diplomas to doctorates. The elite group contains a number of attorneys — people sensitive to how people use words — and hunters, who have to be aware of clues in their environment.
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