You’re a Body Language Expert. So what?

Part 1: Practical Applications for Nonverbal Intelligence and the Truth About Lying

By David Schneer

5-Minute Read

That is a fair and profound question. Especially since it was my father who asked me this recently. Why profound? And who is Dad?

Dad First. My father is no potted plant. Ex New Yorker. US Marine. He earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering and one in physics. Stanford invited him to pursue a Ph.D. in quantum physics but he decided to do physics rather than study it.

That was in 1970, where he first worked at Fairchild and then later with the reverent triune at Intel (Malone 2014, 11) for nearly three decades (See Exhibit 1), until he left for a second career in venture capital.

(Exhibit 1; Schneer Family Archives Without Permission; Do Not Tell Dad; He Won’t Like it)

How is this relevant here? Well, to survive the turbulent Intel environment, there was no room for B.S. Dad had a legendary and highly sensitive B.S. meter. (See exhibit 2)

(Exhibit 2; Random Meme)

What a Richter Scale is to earthquakes, Dad is to B.S. He ended my prolific teenage lying career. And it was Dad who sent me this pandemic meme to acknowledge our new venture—The Merrill Institute for Nonverbal Intelligence Training.

Dad is a skeptic.

Like those who hawk body language “merch” online by claiming to expose luminary lies (think the Royals), my Dad says deceit is so obvious.  A touch of the nose or tug of the ear. Rapid blink rates. Eyes averted. Hard swallow. Labored breathing. Sweating. All signs of lying. Right?


Liar, Liar Pants on Fire

Let’s get this straight. There is no Pinocchio effect! (Navarro 2008, 230). The foremost global experts on lying all agree that there is no single sign that someone is fibbing (cf. DePaulo, Eckman, Ford, Frank, Freisen, Hartwig, Hwang, Levine, Matsumoto, Navarro, Skinner). Anyone who tells you otherwise is likely lying, and since liars lie about lying (John 8:44 NASB) it’s hard to know what to believe.

Moreover, the major worldviews (Islam, Judaism, Eastern Orthodox, Western Christianity) all denounce lying, albeit the Jewish tradition exceptions for keeping the peace, protection against theft and harm or for the sake of decency and/or humility (Friedman, Weisel 2003, 8).

And lying is not only an abomination and hard to detect but it is ubiquitous too (Navarro 2008, 208).

But how does lying really work? A closer look yields that lying is used for social survival (Navarro, 2008, P. 208). And quite often. “She’s not home (Sure she is, she’s sitting right next to me)”. “I already donated (no I didn’t)”. “I’m not available (I could go, but I don’t really want to)”. “I love it (same tie you got me last year)”. That’s right, to avoid rocking the social boat unnecessarily, we lie.

But wait, it gets worse. Not only are lies shunned, omnipresent and elusive, numerous studies prove definitively that we humans are very poor lie detectors.

Why? Enter Timothy B. Levine’s, “Duped and the Truth Default Theory (TDT)”. We humans are “hardwired” for the benefit of the doubt (Levine, 2020, 14). Furthermore, the TDT posits that most of the time most people tell the truth unless there is some detrimental consequence to being honest. Then people will lie. (Levine 2020, 246-247). Furthermore, most lies are not caught in real time (Levine 2020, 244).

According to Levine, truth engenders trust and trust greases the wheels of social harmony. Thus, we lean toward belief for the sake of social cohesion. But what about that swirl of deception around us?

The TDT accounts for that, stating that the most destructive lies are told by a few prolific liars with catastrophic consequences (Levine 2020, 247). Think Bernie Madoff—the convicted Ponzi-scheme mastermind. His lies were not the “I-gave-at-the-office” type. They were sociopathic lies, devastating to those who believed them.

So, you say to yourself, thinking, okay…lying is shunned, hard to catch in real time, everywhere, and woven into the social fabric. Why bother?  Hence, the profound part of my Dad’s question. “You’re a body language expert. So what?”

In Part 2 of this series, I will give you practical and scientific advice on why it is fruitless to try to detect lies. Rather one should focus on whether someone is comfortable or uncomfortable with what you are saying or what is coming out of their own mouth.

Most Communication is Nonverbal. Are you Fluent?


Malone, Michael S. Intel Trinity, Harper Business. Kindle Edition. e Intel Trinity: How Grove, Noyce and Moore Built the World’s Most Important Company.” New York, New York: Harper Collins, 2014

Ekman, Paul. Telling lies: Clues to deceit in the marketplace, politics, and marriage. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2009

(John 8:44 NASB: “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies.”)

Friedman, Weisel, Jewish Law. “Should Moral Individuals Ever Lie? Insights from Jewish Law,” 2003 (p 8).

Hartwig, Maria. “Telling Lies: Fact, Fiction, and Nonsense, by Maria Hartwig: Should you believe Paul Ekman, world’s most famous deception researcher?” Psychology Today, (2014): 15

Navarro, Joe, and Marvin Karlins. Essay. In What Every BODY Is Saying: an Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2015.

Timothy R. Levine.  “Duped.” The University of Alabama Press: Tuscaloosa, Alabama, (2020)

Matsumoto, David Matsumoto, Ph.D., Hyi Sung Hwang, Ph.D. San Francisco State University and Humintell, LLC , Lisa Skinner, JD, SSA Federal Bureau of Investigation Mark G. Frank, Ph.D., “Evaluating Truthfulness and Detecting Deception and New Tools to Aid Investigators “ University at Buffalo, State University of New York In press, Page 2, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.