Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

TES Talks To.Pamela Meyer

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

TES Talks To.Pamela Meyer

Article excerpt

The lie-spotting expert tells Jessica Powell how teachers can rumble students telling fibs and create a culture of truth in school

A teacher who hasn't had to get to the bottom of a "he said/she said" saga is a rare find. Lie telling can be commonplace in schools and for teachers, who are already time-poor, unravelling those fibs can take a frustratingly long time. There must be a quicker way of getting to the truth, right? Unfortunately, it seems that there isn't.

"Where it's a complicated situation and you're trying to figure out the truth, one of the problems is accepting that it will take a long time," says American lie-detection expert Pamela Meyer. "It may take several days. It may take saying to a student, 'Why don't you write me a letter about it?' It's not an efficient process. Many interrogations are not like on television - they're just long, boring conversations."

Meyer - who previously worked in the media - changed career after attending a 20-year reunion at Harvard Business School, where she'd obtained an MBA. At the event, a professor gave a talk about deception and the signs that someone was lying. The audience was hooked - and no one more so than Meyer.

It was that talk, 10 years ago, that inspired her to become the self-made lies expert that she is today. Meyer reviewed the existing literature on deception, became a certified fraud examiner and undertook training in analysing facial micro-expressions, extracting confessions and statement analysis.

Getting to the truth

All the knowledge she gleaned she shared in her book, Liespotting: proven techniques to detect deception, and her TED Talk, "How to Spot a Liar". Plus, she founded Calibrate, a deception-detection training company.

While Meyer is often described as an expert "lie-spotter", she feels that the term can be misleading. "What's important is not so much spotting lies but being able to get to the truth," she stresses.

For her, then, it's about grasping the reasons behind why someone has lied in the first place and what they're hiding - not just pointing the finger.

Meyer believes a focus on truth is profoundly important in schools. "Every student comes into the classroom with a different back story and yet they're expected to act in unison," she notes. "Understanding a student's truth so you can speak to them in a way that makes sense to them, and makes them feel open, can make a huge difference in their life. Teachers know this."

And Meyer is confident that most teachers are also skilled at getting the truth from their students: "Often teachers know that with certain kids you get more truth out of them when you have them alone but with others they're more truthful when they're being witnessed by someone, for example."

If a teacher is struggling to untangle a web of lies, though, Meyer suggests paying attention to the structure of the stories that students are telling.

"An honest person will tell you a story with a beginning, middle and end. The main event you're trying to find out about will usually be towards the middle, and the end will be an emotional comment on what's happened," she notes.

"If someone is lying, often they will front-load their story with huge amounts of authentic detail - 'Oh yes, I was in the classroom, I remember Jonny didn't have a pencil, but there were three pens...' - to make you feel they're honest. The main event will be pushed back, and there will be no emotional comment on it. …

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