The Little Clues That Reveal Big Truths About Who We Are by Matthew Hertenstein
While most people think they’re good at spotting liars, the truth may come as a surprise. The vast majority can detect a lie only 54 percent of the time (barely better than flipping a coin). A tiny percentage, maybe one in 1,000 people, can discern a lie more than 80 percent of the time. These “truth wizards” are exceptionally keen at reading a person’s facial expressions and body language, among other clues.
Hertenstein, a psychologist, chronicles research into what such nonverbal cues can reveal about a person. The book’s title alludes to a poker player’s term for a mannerism that can provide clues about an opponent’s cards (SN: 10/19/13, p. 8). Research suggests that even brief observations of another person’s “tells” can offer keen insights into their personality, on-the-job success and even whether their marriage is likely to survive a rough spot.
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Hertenstein makes the case that tells are revealing at all ages and in many spheres of life. Want to know whether a child is at risk of developing autism? After decades of study, he writes, researchers have identified several tells — behaviors seen briefly but intermittently throughout the first 18 months of life —that can help predict autism. In another example, behavioral scientists observing children in a lab setting for a mere 45 minutes can predict who will grow up to be cautious and anxious rather than outgoing and confident.
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Anyone can use tells, not just experts. By watching as little as six seconds of video of a college instructor, students can accurately predict how highly the instructor will be rated at the end of the semester. Even 5-year-old kids can do it: Youngsters in distant lands can typically look at photos of candidates in U.S. elections and pick who the winners will be.
Hertenstein reminds readers that tells — whether used to judge a job applicant, a criminal suspect or a potential mate — are merely clues about a person’s personality, not hard evidence. Nevertheless, he argues, awareness of such cues can help people hone powers of observation and assess interactions with others in a more sophisticated and nuanced way.
First impressions of another person can be powerful. But they can be even more insightful if you know what to look for.
Basic Books, $26.99
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