Communication notes: Divination vs handicapping

Just a bit more before getting to Sister Robin…

Tells in analyzing communication (written or oral) are general involuntary indications that a person is tense or relaxed or concealing something. I have one friend who develops a large red splotch on their right cheek whenever they’re bothered by something. No matter what they say, if that splotch shows up they’re not happy. Tells exist because most people most of the time want to tell the truth and if they lie with their mouths their body still tries to get the truth out.

Also, people tend to end up talking about things they did or feel and even if they’re trying to hide what they really feel or really did or really want to do there are verbal tells that come out. A great example in TV was an early season of the Sopranos where Tony’s mother became obsessed with talking about news stories she’d found of women killing their children and going on at length about how horrible it was – and at the time was planning the killing of her son. Most real life examples aren’t that extreme but how much a person talks about something (and just as important… how they talk about it) can give some indication of what they’re thinking or what they’ve done or what they want to do.

But none of this is foolproof and if anyone says something like “Oh, he touched his mouth…. he’s lying!” that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Things like analyzing a person’s body language or statement analysis are not infallible and there is no single ‘tell’ that can allow a person to state “They’re telling the truth!” or “They’re hiding something!” Even a person who is absolutely telling the truth 100% (as they perceive it) will still have an occasional tell that can be interpreted as conveying falsehood. What counts are patterns and percentages. It’s not like a mathematical formula which always works – it’s more like handicapping a horse race taking lots of things into account and playing the averages. It’s not infallible but there are people who can make a living at it.

Finally, in the social sciences there is a concept called ‘face validity’ used in testing. What it means is “Does it seem like a good way to measure what we’re trying to measure?” If you want to measure how many hours a day a person spends looking at their phone and only observe people while they are on public transport…. that doesn’t have face validity because extrapolating from that data might lead you to think people spend 20 or more hours a day on the phone. Face validity is also not completely infallible but it’s one factor that needs to be taken into consideration in designing surveys (for example).

Next…. on to fragile Robin…

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3 Responses to Communication notes: Divination vs handicapping

  1. el says:

    Good day, it’s el. Have been following those series with interest. Will you continue them and post about Robin? Haven’t commented before since it was general background info (also interesting) till now… Decided to comment in case you thought lack of comments meant lack of interest. ūüôā

  2. el says:

    In case you are interested, Rod Dreher linked to what he calls “an important essay by Taibbi on the fraudulent white racial grifter Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility.”

    The essay is here:

    Rod’s post is here:

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