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"Face The Truth" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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A joint study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego, the University at Buffalo, and the University of Toronto has found that a computer vision system can distinguish between real or faked expressions of pain more accurately than can humans.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Deception detection.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Pain, it's tough to tell if someone's faking it by simply looking at their facial expression. But a study by the University of California, San Diego, the University at Buffalo and the University of Toronto, shows a new computer system can do a better job spotting fakers than humans can.

The team used its Computer Expression Recognition Toolbox, or 'CERT' system to pit human vision against machine vision in a 'face-off' of sorts.

Volunteers were shown video clips of people either in pain, or pretending to be in pain. The 'pain' inflicted was mild. Researchers simply had volunteers immerse a hand in ice water. Even with training, the humans could spot the fakers only 55 percent of the time, while the computer system got it right 85 percent of the time.

The signal for spontaneously felt emotions originates in different parts of the brain than deliberately posed emotional expressions, and proceeds through different motor systems. The computer spotted the subtle differences between voluntary and involuntary movements that humans don't pick up on--like how and when the mouth opens and closes.

The team believes the technology could be used in security, psychopathology, job screening, medicine and law.

Face the truth--in your face.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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