Clients often have a strong preference for in-person qualitative research. They say it is because the body language and facial expressions of the respondents are important. I know one of the reasons is that they find it more engaging.
How important is body language anyway? Can you get anything more than gross indications of interest from it?
People have been researching lying to try to help, in particular, the police, child protection workers, and security services. Here is some of what they have learned, according to a recent story in The New York Times.
- Liars do not avert their eyes more than people telling the truth
- Liars do not fidget, sweat or slump more than truth-tellers
- There are fleeting changes in expression, but these are difficult to analyze
It turns out that content analysis is actually more useful.
People who are lying tend to try to stick to a script, to avoid getting caught in a lie.
People telling the truth don't have a script, so they tend to recall more extraneous details, and make mistakes. And the more they talk about a given experience, the more of these details come to mind.
This is particularly noticeable if you have some baseline for how a given individual tells a story, so the recommended procedure is to start with a basic story.
In my work, it's not so much that people are lying, as that they are posturing, or saying things that they believe to be more socially acceptable. It's nice to learn that the words are just as important as the non-verbal to truly understand.
Judging Honesty by Words, Not Fidgets, by Benedict Carey, The New York Times, May 12, 2009