Archive for Nonverbal communication

New directions in deception detection?

Jessica Seigel, "The truth about lying", Knowable Magazine 3/25/2021

You can’t spot a liar just by looking — but psychologists are zeroing in on methods that might actually work

The featured research is a review by Aldert Vrij, Maria Hartwig, and Pär Anders Granhag, "Reading Lies: Nonverbal Communication and Deception", Annual Review of Psychology 2019:

The relationship between nonverbal communication and deception continues to attract much interest, but there are many misconceptions about it. In this review, we present a scientific view on this relationship. We describe theories explaining why liars would behave differently from truth tellers, followed by research on how liars actually behave and individuals’ ability to detect lies. We show that the nonverbal cues to deceit discovered to date are faint and unreliable and that people are mediocre lie catchers when they pay attention to behavior. We also discuss why individuals hold misbeliefs about the relationship between nonverbal behavior and deception—beliefs that appear very hard to debunk. We further discuss the ways in which researchers could improve the state of affairs by examining nonverbal behaviors in different ways and in different settings than they currently do.

That review focuses on why peoples' ideas about clues to deception are mostly wrong, and why nobody is very good at detecting deception from behavioral cues.

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The pragmatics of ESP

As I was browsing some search results in Google Scholar, I came across a listing for a paper titled, "Communication and Community: The Pragmatics of ESP."

After reading the title, I asked myself, If you have ESP, why would you need pragmatics?

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Extreme measures

Robin Andrews, "Female Dragonflies Fake Their Deaths To Avoid Annoying Males", IFL Science 4/28/2017:

So, you’re in a bar, or on a bus, or grabbing a coffee, something like that – and that guy that kept grinning at you like a deranged werewolf decides to saunter on over, say hello, and strike up a highly unwanted flirtatious conversation. No matter how many hints you drop, he persists in trying to win you over – so what do you do?

Well, you could always take a cue from female dragonflies, who have come up with a rather effective way off putting off overly aggressive male suitors. When push comes to shove, they plummet to the ground, spasm around a bit, then play dead.

Writing in the journal Ecology, Rassim Khelifa – an entomologist from the University of Zurich with a penchant for the hovering critters – describes this as an “extreme sexual conflict resolution,” which we suppose is fair enough. Desperate times call for desperate measures, though.

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The origins of graphic communication, pt. 2

Annalee Newitz has a fascinating article on abstract Paleolithic notations in Ars Technica (

"38,000-year-old carving includes enigmatic 'punctuation' pattern:  New finding suggests that paleolithic Europeans shared a common set of symbols."

reporting on this paper:

R. Bourrillon, R. White, E. Tartar, L. Chiotti, R. Mensan, A. Clark, J.-C. Castel, C. Cretin, T. Higham, A. Morala, S. Ranlett, M. Sisk, T. Devièse, D.J. Comeskey, "A new Aurignacian engraving from Abri Blanchard, France: Implications for understanding Aurignacian graphic expression in Western and Central Europe", Quaternary International (1/24/17).

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Facial sentiment analysis

I've never seen as much popular interest in non-verbal communication as in the  #FreeChrisChristie meme on Twitter, Vine and elsewhere.

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Apparently this is not an April Fool's joke

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Dogfood semiotics

A couple of days ago, the package room in the Quad sent me a notice of a FedEx delivery. I figured it was the antique toilet flush valve that I'd ordered, but when I went to pick it up, I discovered that someone had sent me a large, heavy carton of canned dogfood, maybe 70 pounds worth.

I don't have a dog, and had never visited the web site of the company that sent the order. But the order had my full name, correctly spelled, and my correct street address and zip code. So it didn't seem likely that I had ordered this stuff by mistake, nor that it had been delivered in error. A quick phone call to the company — amazingly, a real person answered immediately — verified that someone other than me had placed the order, using an apparently valid credit card associated with an address in Pittsburgh.

Internet fraudsters can be ingenious, and so I briefly wondered whether some convoluted identity theft scheme might be in play, maybe somehow part of mark.liberman.121's machinations? And then I thought of the horse-head-in-the-bed scene from The Godfather — the head for that scene was supplied by a dogfood company — did someone think that a FedEx delivery of the finished product would serve as a euphemistic version of a similar message? Nah, way too subtle to be effective.

But still, I wondered, is there some message that a large carton of canned dogfood, delivered by FedEx, could plausibly convey? And is there someone who would want to convey that message to me? Reflection on the contextual pragmatics of canned dogfood left me no wiser.

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Now it's cows that use names (sigh)

According to a sub-headline in Full-Time Whistle, new scientific research has shown that "Cows and their calves communicate using individualised calls equivalent to human names."

How interesting. Cows have enough linguistic sophistication to employ the high-level device of personal naming? Let us delve into the details just a little, without moving away from the article itself.

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Body language

One of the best empirical studies of body language that I've ever seen appeared a couple of days ago in, of all places, the Wall Street Journal — Geoff Foster, "Reading Tiger's Body Language", 8/6/2013.

Perhaps more than any other golfer, Woods makes his emotions transparent on the course. You can immediately tell by his swagger when he's stroked a drive down the fairway. If he flubs one into the trees, you will likely see (or hear) his disgust before the ball hits a branch.

This inspired The Count to conduct an audit of the top-ranked golfer's body language. The goal was to provide fans with a Rosetta Stone of Tiger reactions—a handbook allowing those watching the PGA to know exactly what Woods thinks of his shots before anyone else does.

We watched more than 220 of Woods's shots from six different tournaments this year—the Masters, the Players, the Memorial, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, the U.S. Open and the British Open—and logged his reaction after each swing. Only tee shots and approach shots were evaluated (on putts and chips, the cameras tend to show the ball, not the player). The shots were then classified as "Good" (down the fairway/near the pin), "OK" (in the first cut/on the green but not close to the hole) and "Bad" (in the trees, the bunkers, the deep rough, etc.).

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Wordless traffic signs in China

On the blog "Mama's Got Wanderlust", the following sign appears without adequate explanation:

Before turning to the next page, Language Log readers are encouraged to try their hand at an explanation. Write down on a piece of paper what you think the sign means BEFORE you turn the page. Scout's honor!

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