I'm ashamed to admit it - but it took me 2 attempts to spot her deception. What about you, did you spot the giveaway signs?
In 2019, sentenced to 4-12 years in prison for grand larceny and theft, Anna Delvey's story has captured the imagination of the world - Netflix, HBO and all major news outlets included. Released last month (February 2021), among her exclusive interviews was BBC's Newsnight, March 9.
As a publicist, among my client activities is training them for TV and radio interviews. Body language, tone, pitch, speed - all skills I help them develop. So, given the nature of my work, as I settled-in to watch Delvey's interview, I was keen to study 3 things:
1: How visually styled would she be? (She's a celebrity now, remember)
2: How pre-rehearsed would her answers be? (She probably has a publicist now, naturally)
and my biggest fascination of all,
2: Would her body language contradict any of her responses?
My early misstep
The wannabe psychologist in me brimmed with excitement. I grabbed my crisps. opened an ice cold beer and started watching.
Initially, I missed the giveaway signs that suggest she was, at times, being disingenuous. On reflection, shame on me. Clearly, I was too busy looking for the classic signs - scratching her nose, covering her mouth, shuffling uncomfortably - all rookie mistakes that seasoned bluffers rarely actually make. Granted, she was guilty of some of these, but I wanted more concrete evidence of deception.
Then, I remembered an article I read two weeks ago. The article explored a subtle way of spotting deception. Optimistic, I watched the Newsnight interview again. This time, I spotted her 'tells' immediately.
Watch the below clip from the interview. Can you spot her 'tells'?
Her revealing 'tells'
Just two-seconds into the interview, Delvey leaks a subtle micro-expression called 'Duper's Delight'. Duper's Delight is where a liar leaks an involuntary smile or smirk, which critically, is at direct odds with what they're saying. Typically, Duper's Delight is fleeting, barely discernible. Almost always, the self-satisfied grin disappears as quickly as it arrived, replaced by the mask of deception that preceded it.
But, why would a liar smile, involuntarily or otherwise? Psychologist and body language expert Dr Paul Eckman argues that it's because of,
"... the pleasure we get over having someone else in our control and being able to manipulate them."
In the above video, when BBC Journalist Emily Maitlis asks Delvey if she got a thrill from her criminal activities, Delvey leaks a smile, which tellingly, lasts less than a second, before disappearing like warm coffee vapour. Bizarrely, her smile soon returns, again briefly, before she replies, "Absolutely not!" - begging the question, if it didn't thrill you, why the smile?
So, was she lying?
As with all psychology theory, Duper's Delight is subject to interpretation. You must decide, based on your own instincts and experiences whether you think Delvey is being deceptive in the interview. Despite her denial, did she in fact revel in the crimes that have given her international appeal?
Let me leave you with my favourite psychologist, Emma Kenny. A TV regular, Emma contributes her expert comment to daytime TV shows like This Morning and features on many true crime documentaries. In the below clip, Emma demonstrates Duper's Delight by analysing the now 'classic' TV interview with convicted murderer Diane Downs. In 1984, Downs was sentenced to life in prison for murdering her daughter and attempting to murder her two other children.
Watch more from this episode with Emma here