Seminar teaches strategies to expose liars

Frank Marsh, a former Marine Corps intelligence officer, gave a lecture on lie detection last Thursday. Marsh discussed topics such as handwriting analysis and cues given by people when they lie. (credit: J.W. Ramp/ Publisher) Frank Marsh, a former Marine Corps intelligence officer, gave a lecture on lie detection last Thursday. Marsh discussed topics such as handwriting analysis and cues given by people when they lie. (credit: J.W. Ramp/ Publisher)

You do not lie to Frank Marsh. There is no point, because he will know when you’re lying. It is his job to know. A former Marine Corps intelligence officer, Marsh now studies the ways in which people deceive others and themselves. Last Thursday, Marsh gave a lecture about how to detect lies and the ways in which people demonstrate their true intentions with every word and deed.

As one would expect from an expert in understanding people, Marsh knew how to play the crowd. Skilled in the art of deadpan, he had people rolling in the aisles without ever actually seeming anything less than serious. His vivid, sometimes disturbing descriptions certainly brought out his guiding principle: “What you say tells me what you see; what you see tells me what you think; what you think tells me who you are.” Marsh spent much of his lecture discussing the importance of words, saying, “By your words you’ll be justified; by your words you’ll be condemned.” He noted that word choice subconsciously conveys intent, pointing out that when one takes the elevator to the top floor of a 50-story building, the verb used is that one “went” to the top floor, but after climbing the stairs to the top of the same building, the verb is that one “got” to the top floor.

Marsh demonstrated the fact that people use incorrect grammar to subconsciously mark something as bad and to distance themselves from it. Also, he showed how lying, obfuscating, and concealing things requires a form of “verbal surgery” where the omissions and deceptions can be seen, just like the scars of a physical surgery. But omissions are not the only ways that people give themselves away: Liars will also include excessive detail in their descriptions in an effort to convince the listener. When he talked about detecting lies, Marsh said that everybody must follow Miller’s Law, which states: “If you want to tell if someone is telling the truth, you must believe that what they are saying is, in fact, true.” Marsh said that studies have shown that police officers and other people who are suspicious by nature or training are actually much worse at spotting lies accurately. This is because even liars tell the truth more than 90 percent of the time. Indeed, most people lie by omission rather than by commission, in that they leave truths out more often than they add lies in. Marsh said that people must start with a mindset along the lines of “I know what you are telling me is the truth, but what is true of it?”

Marsh then moved on to non-verbal clues that indicate deception. His strategy is to look for abnormal behavior as an indicator of deception. However, he stressed that the search for abnormal behavior is futile unless one knows what is normal and what is not for a particular person. That is to say that it is necessary to establish a baseline before actually saying anything about a person’s behavior. His approach to questioning involves asking a number of innocuous questions before moving on to the real, pressing ones. Marsh’s last point about behavior as an indicator echoes a fundamental principle of body language: that gestures must be studied in clusters and in context. Isolated gestures have no meaning. A single motion can mean many things. Thus, gestures must be grouped into related clusters and then analyzed. The same set of gestures performed by a man and a woman may mean different things. Likewise, the same set of gestures performed by people from different cultures may mean different things. Thus, context is also essential in looking at gestures.

Marsh is also a qualified handwriting analyst, and he walked the audience through the various techniques which he uses to analyze texts and their authors. He said, “A change in spacing and a change in slant are the two biggest indicators of deception in handwriting.” He also highlighted changes in sizing, tone, darkening, and pressure as ways to determine the mood and intent of a writer. Darkening and underlining can also be seen as a form of overcompensation, where authors attempt to direct attention away from the area they think is suspicious.