Expert Q&A With

Aaron Garner, Director of Semita Veritas Ltd, is a Certified FACS Coder, trained to spot even the smallest and most subtle of movements in the human face. This information can be used in line with his other behavioural observation skills for scientific research into emotion or to recognise anomalies in a persons behaviour that may indicate hidden emotions or possible deception.

Aaron Garner is an Approved Trainer for Paul Ekman International (PEI). PEI are the sole providers of training on the science and research that has been pooled together over no less than 40 years on the subject of human emotion, facial expressions and deception. This research has been carried out by Dr Paul Ekman, author of many books on the subject and specialist consultant for the FOX TVs hit drama series “Lie To Me”.


What is FACS?


The Facial Action Coding System (FACS) is a tool that allows human coders to objectively break down the muscle movements of the face. It was developed in the 1970’s by Ekman, Friesen and Wallace in order to have a system that could be used to further the research into human emotions.

The system uses codes known as Action Units to record various movements of the muscles of the face, also attaching a letter to denote the intensity or symmetry of the movements in some cases.

FACS coding is applied in psychology research, market/consumer research and even in computer animation to name but a few applications.

Being a Certified FACS Coder allows me to assist research facilities and organisations with their facial expression research and projects.


Was the show ‘Lie To Me’ accurate in it’s delivery?


Whilst the TV show is based on the research of Dr Paul Ekman, we must remember that it is a drama and therefore dramatic licence has been taken in the writing. This was inevitable and the reason for Dr Ekman (the scientific consultant to the show) to insist that he could write a blog that would separate the science from the drama. This blog, still available online, ran alongside each episode and helped those that wanted to understand the reality of detecting deceit. In reality it is not as quick or indeed as easy to make a decision as portrayed by the character ‘Cal Lightman’ in the drama.

However, there is indeed some great scientific research smattered throughout the episodes (especially Series 1) and I highly recommend it as a great watch.

Lie To Me Promo


Which muscles are reliable indicators of sadness?


Raising of the inner brow (Frontalis Pars Medialis) and the lowering of the lip corners (Depressor Anguli Oris/Triangularis). Raising only the inner portion of the brow is actually very difficult to do consciously for most people, but is an automatic and universal physiological response when feeling true despair or sadness. Pulling down only the lip corners, without raising the chin boss or sticking out the bottom lip, is again very difficult to do.

As with all facial displays of human emotion, sadness has a huge range of intensity from slightly sulky through to agonising despair. The muscles movements of the face will invariably vary relative to the intensity. In profound sadness, especially when crying, the chin may raise, the brows may lower and cheeks raise as the muscles around the eyes tighten and tears are produced.


What’s the difference between a real smile and a fake smile?


The difference is around the eye area. When the smile is an expression of true enjoyment we see two muscles at work, raising of the lip corners (Zygomatic Major) and tightening of the outer muscles around the eyes (Orbicularis Oculi pars Orbitalis). The first gives the smiling mouth and the later creates the raised cheek and crow’s feet (wrinkling on the outside of the eye area).

A non-enjoyment smile lacks the movement around the eyes, however, it is possible that, if the lip muscles are pulled up significantly, this can push the cheeks upward and create crow’s feet wrinkling. This can give the illusion that the eye muscles are functioning making it harder to spot the false smile. I would recommend Dr Ekman’s books “Telling Lies”(2009) and “Emotions Revealed”(2004) for a great indepth study of smiles in their many variations.


Do Micro-Expressions play a role in detecting deception?


Micro-expressions of the 7 universal facial expressions can help us to identify underlying emotional states. For the purpose of evaluating truthfulness and credibility, understanding the emotional state of others can be hugely valuable information, but should always be combined with a thorough understanding of the context, the subject’s baseline behaviour and information from the other available channels of communication including the voice, the words and other non-verbal elements. Micro-expressions may be able to inform us the presence of an emotion but we still cannot guarantee the cause of the emotion without further investigation.


Who inspired you to pursue a career in lie detection?


I've been inspired by many authors and researchers in the field of non-verbal communication and deception but my biggest inspiration has certainly been the work of Dr Paul Ekman (mentioned above). His research has contributed so much to the field and to the scientific community. As a professional speaker and trainer it is important for me to thoroughly understand the people I train or speak to. Without this insight I cannot be sure the key messages or learning points I’m delivering are being understood. Having a specialism in subtle communication and credibility assessment has given me several layers of insight that allows me to help ‘people’ understand ‘people’, regardless of their personal or professional context.


How does having a deep understanding of body language affect your private life?


When I first meet someone, and they ask what I do for a living, there is oftentimes some nervousness but this is generally only for a short period. Honesty and integrity are values that I live my life by and my wife and I endeavour to pass on these values to my two children. My sons (8 and 5 yrs old) are already very interested in the work that I do and subjects I train, I’m happy to be able to arm my children with skills that are hugely valuable in life.


What are your plans for the rest of 2012?


Running more in-house trainings, open workshops, developing new e-learning solutions and working on some interesting consultation projects. I always enjoy speaking at events and conferences on these subjects and so will be looking at more speaking engagements also.


Learn More


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