Having just spent another week with our Emotional Intelligence Academy team and an integrated group of intelligence and security agency professionals in Europe (as part of a 2-year initiative) I am warmed by the commitment and dedication to the common agenda of public/national safety and security around international airports.
I was also interested to see the trust building and the attitudes changing towards the power of scientifically proven behavior analysis and efficient elicitation approaches that can’t be predicted or beaten – even by 16 intelligence staff who put our 25 strong group to the test with nothing to lose apart from pride and the equivalent of a day’s pay. The study will be published and subjected to peer review soon. We know – the higher the stakes the higher the leakage (reinforced by the note below from Dr Paul Ekman).
We also tested the group with trained group members – even those couldn’t fool those we had trained reassuring us that our training approach in the hands of those with mal-intent is no counter-measure.
The secret? … it’s based on the reliability of the autonomic nervous system which, when stimulated by the right triggers (probes/dogs/uniforms/etc), produces signals across the communication channels which we can see and hear (without technology) – realtime. When people lie in high-stake contexts they leak the truth about what they are really thinking and feeling.
Technology has it’s place in security, but not in trying to make judgements on demeanor
The insight from our clients (now friends) was that the technology (baggage scanners/body scanners/avatars/polygraphs) might best relegated to secondary back up security layers and put the skilled behavior detection officers on the front line. Machines are not perfect yet and often occupy too much of our security resources chasing false alarms. OK, neither are humans, but they have the intellect to hypothesise and probe much better than machines.
A few recent articles (not peer reviewed studies) have argued that detecting lies from demeanor is ‘no better than chance’… ’54%’ and this is then applied to trained professionals – like those from the Transportation Security Administration(TSA) in the USA. This is often from ill-informed perspectives or, we have noticed, those interested in selling technology. Technology has its place – integrated into the security layers – not trying to make the technology make judgements on demeanour.
The shame is that this overplayed 54% statistic is from a meta study of students, criminals and professionals who have not been trained in research-based behavior analysis. We notice these same averages too at the start of our training. On completion of 4 days intensive training, we are regularly hitting group averages in the 80%-94% range with some individuals hitting perfect scores (see other blogs for links).
Note from Paul Ekman:
TSA personnel in the USA SPOT program (Screening Passengers with Observational Techniques) have come under repeated, unjustified criticism. Their failure to catch people pretending to be bad guys is totally irrelevant to whether they will actually catch the real bad guys. Lets get back to the real world. Money smugglers, weapons smugglers, and much more rarely, terrorists try to get through airport security and not get SPOTted. My research and the research of many other scientists found that when there’s a lot to lose (death or imprisonment) emotions are generated which are very hard to conceal and often leak out in what I call micro-expressions. The SPOT personnel are trained to identify these and many other signs of emotional overload. When there is not only the threat of dire punishment for failure but great reward promised for success whether it be money or 72 virgins it puts a lot of pressure on people’s ability to think, producing cognitive overload, and subtle changes in speech. The SPOT people are trained to detect the subtle signs of emotional and cognitive overload. Of course they didn’t catch the play-actors. They had nothing to lose and nothing to gain if their “bombs” were detected. There was no cognitive or emotional overload. I am all for testing it, but lets not do it in such a shoddy, half-baked, invalid fashion. That only wastes government money and smears a valid, needed layer of airport security. In a never publicly released study by the American Institute of Research, people identified by the TSA SPOTters were fifty times more likely to be wanted felons or smugglers than those selected at random. The evidence is in, the system is working, let’s be grateful for this layer of security.