Monday, October 18, 2010

listening to liars

NPR did an interesting piece this morning about a Stanford University psychology study of thousands of corporate earnings calls, and found that there are patterns in the way the CEOs discussed their companies fortunes when they were later proven to be lying. For example:

[One researcher] says lying executives tend to overuse words like "we" and "our team" when they talk about their company. They avoid saying "I."

She says there's a reason for that: "If I'm saying 'I' or 'me' or 'mine,' I'm showing my ownership of the statement, so psychologically I'm showing I'm responsible for what I'm saying."

Useful to know if you are canvassing CEOs, but it's interesting for actors because this sort of precise attention to the nuances of language is essential for finding our way into a character's psyche. Ludwig Wittgenstein observed that any child of 12 is a virtuousic user of her native language: she is capable of making distinctions and expressing herself with the level of nuance that we associate with virtuouusic performers of music. In these nuances, we reveal ourselves constantly, so by paying careful attention to the precise way in which characters express themselves, we have one of our best hopes of finding out who they really are.

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