Best not lie to this Psychology PhD graduate

Leanne ten Brinke can spot a lie in your facial expression

Microbiology’s gain would have been psychology’s loss if Leanne ten Brinke had followed her original academic path.

“I came to UBC because my supervisor at Dalhousie, Dr. Steve Porter, had the fantastic opportunity to develop a world-class forensic psychology program at the Okanagan campus,” says ten Brinke, a native of Antigonish, N.S. She also switched her area of study from microbiology to psychology.

Ten Brinke will be the Okanagan campus’s first Psychology PhD graduate at convocation this June in Kelowna.

Ten Brinke’s thesis is about the behavioural consequences of high-stake emotional lies. “In particular, I examined the facial expressions of genuine and deceptive ‘pleaders’—individuals who have gone on television pleading for assistance in finding their missing relatives.

“In the case of the deceptive pleaders, they actually were responsible for their missing relative’s death. We found these deceptive murderers failed in replicating the sadness commonly expressed by genuinely distressed pleaders.”

Her research has attracted considerable attention in Canada, the U.S. and U.K., with CBC, MSNBC, and the London Daily Telegraph among the media reporting on ten Brinke’s study.

“Lying is difficult, and controlling all aspects of your behaviour is nearly impossible,” says ten Brinke. “In particular, muscles in your face are likely to ‘give away’ your true emotions. In daily life, being able to spot these signs may save us from being conned by a shady salesman, or duped by a cheating spouse.”

Ten Brinke has been supported by the Social Sciences and Health Research Council for her PhD studies. She also held a Canada Graduate Scholarship and received a Michael Smith Foreign Study Supplement to travel to London and conduct research at the London Business School.

Porter calls ten Brinke a consummate and brilliant scholar.

“Leanne is an inquisitive, open-minded, intelligent scientist with a love of evolutionary psychology and a genuine desire to make a difference,” says Porter. “Her interests are diverse, but at her base is a passion for unveiling the secrets of human nature through science.”

Ten Brinke has received an SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship to study at the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley campus in September.

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