Skip to content
Who's in the Video
Paul Ekman is the Manager of the Paul Ekman Group, LLC (PEG), a small company that produces training devices relevant to emotional skills, and is initiating new research relevant to[…]

Esteemed psychologist Paul Ekman makes a pretty good point about contemporary politics. Most voters value honesty and consider it an important criteria when they head to the polls. But politicians who become too honest tend not to last very long. It’s good to remember that a major component of politics and conducting foreign policy is the ability to conceal your real feelings from opponents. In that sense, it would be smart for someone running for president to find ways to enhance their credibility — especially when not telling the whole truth.

Paul Ekman: The most malevolent application of my work would be for people to learn how to not get caught when they perpetrate serious lies. How to actually become better at lying. In most interactions we have with other people, we seek honesty. In fact, on most of the public opinion polls that have been done, it comes up as the first or second most important criteria in terms of who we’re going to have as a friend, the relationships we want with our children, with our partner or spouse. We want them to be honest with us. 

I’ve been asked by a sitting president — I won’t say which one — to enhance their credibility, in other words make them more successful as a liar. And of course I would never vote for a president who I didn’t think could lie. We don’t want our political leaders, when they deal with other political leaders, to put all their cards face up. We don’t want them to be untrustworthy either. So it’s a fine line that’s walked between truth and dishonesty. [Henry] Kissinger, not a politician that I enormously admire, but in his book on diplomacy he said it’s accepted if we conceal our true beliefs, our bottom line. But to ever actually say something false ruins you for future diplomatic encounters. So you can conceal, but you can’t falsify.

When my wife comes and says I just bought this new dress. What do you think of it? She wants me to say, "That’s smashing." But I say that I don’t flatter her. So if I think it’s the wrong color or the wrong cut that’s what I’ll tell her. That’s not what she wants. She wants the smashing. But I’ve tried to convince her over more than three decades that it’s useful to have someone who will tell you the truth.