Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Poker Faces and then Some by RJ Laguardia

Card games are a Filipino past time that were handed down to us by over 300 years of Spanish colonial rule. However, our love for the more traditionally Western game of Poker is only beginning to grab hold of mainstream consciousness. Poker has many variants, but they are all similar in objective: to end up with the highest-valued hand at the end of each round. In order to do well in this game, one of the key tricks is to maintain a poker face, an expression that is ironically, devoid of expression. Otherwise, based on the players’ gestures alone, it is quite easy to win big in Poker.

But having a poker face isn’t that easy to an untrained player. After all, gestures are an almost involuntary form of communication for our species. According to behavioral scientists, in an ordinary conversation, only 5% of our message is relayed verbally. The other 38% is vocal, and the remaining 55% is non-verbal, through our gestures. In fact, one researcher went so bold as to say, that we speak, to hide what’s on our minds. Our gestures cannot lie.

Thus, it is interesting to know just what behavior scientists have found out with regards to our gestures, and telling lies. I will now demonstrate to you the common gestures that have been found to signal when a person is not being truthful. How will this help you, you may ask? It will keep you on your toes, say you are screening applicants, or if someone gives you a sales pitch, or at its most practical, if your significant other is making excuses.
For example,
“Yeah, hon, that dress really looks flattering on you. It brings out all the curves in all the right places.”
“I don’t see why any man would find her beautiful, least of all me. Next to her, you are a goddess, perfection personified.”
“Who says you sing out of tune? Anybody who tells you that has got to be tone deaf!”
Just what are the common “lying” gestures?

According to the book “Body Language,” by Allan Pease, when we lie, we are programmed to act out what is commonly depicted by the Three Monkeys: Speak no Evil, See no Evil, and Hear no Evil.

Speak no Evil. People often use their fingers or their fist to block their mouth. Sometimes this is seen as filtering the words that are coming out of the mouth. Sometimes, the thumb is pressed against the cheek. Some people give a fake cough. An offshoot of this may come in the form of several light rubs below the nose, or one quick touch.
See no Evil. People often rub or touch one or both eyes. This is seen as an attempt to avoid looking at the face of the person being lied to. Men usually rub vigorously, and if the lie is a big one, often look away. Women use a small, gentle, rubbing motion. Eye movement is also an indication. You normally look up, and to the left when thinking about the past, and up to the right, when imagining things.

Finally, hear no Evil. People cover one or both of their ears, or drill a finger into an ear. This is seen as an attempt to block the conversation. Some people rub the back of the ear, pull on the ear lobe, or bend the ear forward. A variation of this is the neck scratch, which is usually just five small scratches just below the ear.

But of course, there are other indicators, or as Jon Bode calls them, micro-gestures, that could signal deceit. Be careful though, not to look at gestures in isolation, as they have to be placed in the proper context. Gestures have been known to occur in series, and each succeeding one reinforces the ones that came before.

In the end, no matter how accurate gestures mapping or even the highly contestable polygraph test is, what is important is we are able to maintain an open mind, yet think critically before we swallow the bait, hook, line, and sinker. In fact, our ability to perceive truth is a function of our instincts.

And so, my dear friends, the next time someone shares with you something significant, be sure to observe his or her gestures, then judge what your next move will be. In the game of life, as in poker, the best move may just be to call the bluff. And that’s the whole truth.

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