Foster tells Lightman fear is healthy. Fear is aroused when danger is sensed. The danger can be sensed in an instant, in the blink of an eye, before we are consciously aware of the threat. Fear mobilizes us to take the necessary actions that sometimes save our lives. Consider the near miss car accident: before we are aware of the danger, in a split second, our fear of the impending harm, pumps blood into the large muscles of our legs preparing us to run, changes our facial expression to signal others who see us that there is an impending threat, makes complex evaluations of the speed and angle of the car heading towards us, and enables us to make the necessary adjustment in steering wheel, gas, and brake. And all of this occurs without thought, without our even knowing or consciously planning what to do.
If we had to make those decisions consciously it would be too slow to avert sudden danger. We wouldn’t be able to drive on freeways at high speeds unless we had a fear mechanism that can sense danger and mobilize actions so quickly. Fear evolved in the environments of our ancestors where predators such as saber-tooth tigers presented sudden threat, which had to be dealt with immediately. If humans had not lived most of the time they have been on this planet in such an environment, we would today not be able to drive more than 15 miles an hour. Of course fear can be mobilized by threats that can’t be resolved quickly if at all; for example waiting for the outcome of a test to determine if we have a malignancy. When there is nothing we can do to cope with a threat we can be overwhelmed by fear.
CAVEAT: How the Lightman Group spots lies is largely based on findings from my research. Because it is a drama not a documentary, Dr. Lightman is not as tentative about interpreting behavior as I am. Lies are uncovered more quickly and with more certainty than it happens in reality. But most of what you see is based on scientific evidence. Each show also provocatively raises the complex psychological and ethical issues involved in perpetrating and uncovering lies. In this critique I explain more about the science behind the show, and when the creators take poetic license.
Lightman says that his shoulder begs to differ. When the shrug occurs as the gestural equivalent of a slip of the tongue, it is usually much smaller that what was shown here, a fragment of the full gesture, and it contradicts the words, which also didn’t happen at this moment in the program.
Lightman says it is 70% certain he is lying; it is not an exact science. It isn’t. Sometimes it is 90% certain, but it is never 100% certain. Evaluating demeanor can be helpful, but it isn’t foolproof and it is never perfect.