It seems that scientists found some evidence for the proverb “The eyes are the windows of the soul.”
In experiments conducted by researchers at University College London 11 volunteers were asked to answer a variety of personal questions with some truthful answers and some lies. While they were interviewed, the volunteers wore special eye tracking glasses which recorded their blink rate, where they were looking and for how long, and the sizes of their pupils. The scientists then created videos of computer generated avatars speaking the answers given. In half of the videos, the avatars’ eyes were fixed on the listener. In the other videos, the avatars’ eyes moved and reacted using the data from the eye tracking glasses.
The result? Of the 27 people shown the videos, 88% were able to identify truthful statements when eye movement was present, as opposed to a 70% detection rate when the avatars’ eyes were fixed. When asked to identify untrue statements, 48% of viewers had success when eye movement was present versus 39% when the avatars’ eyes were fixed.
While the researchers are not sure how the eye movements helped viewers in telling truth from lie, they did note that truth-tellers tended to hold the interviewer’s gaze for longer than fibbers and that the speaker’s pupils dilated more when they were prevaricating. The pupil response may be linked to the increased cognitive load needed to tell a lie.
The researchers state that their work could be helpful in making virtual worlds such as Second Life more useful for interactions like business meetings, where a level of trust between participants is required. My takeaway, of course, is that a cyber savvy virutal con man could make use faked avatar eye movements to gain his cyber victims’ trust. Back here in the real world, when the used car salesman tells you that the little beauty you are looking at was only driven by a little old lady to church on Sundays, watch those pupils!