Do you think you can tell when someone's lying to you?
Most people think they can by watching for cues like if someone looks to left or scratches their nose.
But that's nonsense, Geoff D'Eon learned when talking to experts for Body Language Decoded, airing Thursday at 8 p.m. on CBC TV's Nature of Things.
"Most people have a 50-50 chance of telling if a person is lying. You might as well flip a coin."
The documentary's writer-director also learned that when strangers meet, they lie to each other at least three times in the first 10 minutes of conversation.
"We all tell white lies."
An expert like Joe Navarro, a former FBI agent specializing in body language and the author of What Every Body is Saying, an international bestseller available in 27 languages, has a much better chance of determining if a person is truthful when watching the 43 different muscles in a person's face that make 10,000-plus expressions.
And Navarro, dubbed the spycatcher, notes in the 45-minute film that the feet are often more accurate than the face.
"The documentary has led me to look at people slightly differently," notes D'Eon, sitting in a Halifax coffee shop. "Not in a judgemental or critical way, but a more informed way. I never used to look at people's feet. Now I know where we point our feet is determined by our limbic system; the part of our brain that keeps us safe from harm. It's unconscious and automatic.
"In a social setting, if you meet someone, if they point their feet at you, it usually means they are engaged and open to the conversation. Many times people will look at the person they've just met, but their feet will stay pointing in the direction of the door or wherever they were looking. And feet in couples are an indicator of closeness and intimacy."
Everyone has an innate ability to read other people because thousands of years ago people had to be able to size up strangers quickly to determine if that stranger was a threat, benign or a potential mate, continues D'Eon.
"The people who were able to do this survived and their DNA was passed along. The people who were not able to do it either didn't find mates or became prey."
The Gemini Award-winner whose documentary credits include Bounty: Into the Hurricane, Counterfeit Culture and Facebook Follies, loves people-watching, so when Edward Peill of Halifax's Tell Tale Productions Inc. approached him about making a special about body language D'Eon was intrigued.
"I find people-watching innately interesting. People-watching is a hobby of mine. You can learn a lot about the culture and society by watching the way people interact in airports or foreign cities, for example.
"I went to Italy at 11 with my family and the way people used their bodies and hands in conversation made an impression on me.
"I find non-verbal communication can actually be as expressive or more expressive than the words people use. On some level I've always known that, but it was fun to dig into and speak with people who are experts in their field. It was eye-opening."
Reading body language can have implications outside of personal interactions.
Body language expert Dr. Lillian Glass of Miami, Fla., who is interviewed in the film, correctly predicted Donald Trump would become President of the United States before he was even the Republican candidate. She stresses Trump is a great communicator.
"What comes across is that he's not phony like other politicians."
Dr. Stephen Porter of UBC states in the documentary that Bill Clinton, when he denies having sex with Monica Lewinsky, is a highly skilled liar though Dr. Porter can't be sure if Clinton is a trained liar.
Reading body language can also be a powerful tool in law enforcement. In fact, Dr. Porter alerted authorities to the fact that Penny Boudreau was being deceptive in her plea to the public for information about missing daughter Karissa. Penny Boudreau of Bridgewater eventually pled guilty to second-degree-murder of the 12-year-old.
Our brains and our emotions are hard-wired to our bodies, D'Eon notes. Not only can our bodies reveal the way we feel, there is increasing evidence that how we hold and move our bodies can affect the way we feel.
The relatively new field of study is called embodiment and D'Eon discussed it with Amy Cuddy, a Harvard Professor whose Ted Talk on Body Language is one of the most watched Ted Talks of all time.
"It shows that by adapting powerful stances, using our body expansively, imagining we're powerful, we can feel more powerful," says D'Eon. "She talks about how adopting superwoman poses before or during stressful situations can make you feel more powerful."
He also notes embodiment has potentially interesting applications including the treatment of PTSD.
"You can learn a lot about a person by watching and understanding whether they are comfortable or uncomfortable in a given situation. Why wouldn't everyone (want) to learn what is essentially a universal language?
"I think the world would be a better place if people generally were better able to communicate with each other. The ability to read body language can be an asset if one wants to understand what someone else might be going through. Empathy and understanding are critical to positive human interaction," D'Eon concludes.
Following the broadcast, the documentary can be watched on the CBC website by clicking here.