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The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues

Probing Point


Nonverbal insight. An opportunity to examine an unverbalized (i.e., a hidden, undisclosed, or withheld) belief, mood, or opinion, as revealed by a nonverbal cue.

Usage: A probing point--signified by a lip-purse, a shoulder-shrug, or a throat-clear, e.g.--may appear when a word or phrase in the stream of dialogue "touches a nerve." A probing point presents a strategic opportunity to search beneath a subject's spoken comment or oral response to the remarks of another. Questions may be specifically designed to target those unvoiced agendas or attitudes, or hidden uncertainties marked by body-language cues. Thus, probing points can be effectively used to explore emotions which are otherwise concealed in the chain of verbal behavior and speech.

Media. "'It [e.g., stumbling over words, higher vocal pitch, repeated swallowing] is no guarantee that a lie is being told, but it signifies a hot moment, when something is going on you should follow up with interrogation,' Dr. [Paul] Ekman said" (Goleman, New York Times, C9, Sept. 17, 1991).

Unwitting cues I. Produced unconsciously, a. autonomic (see, e.g., FIGHT-OR-FLIGHT), b. reflexive (see, e.g., ATNR), and c. visceral(i.e., "gut reactive," see SPECIAL VISCERAL NERVE) signs such as the Adam's-apple-jumpgaze-downhand-behind-head, and tense-mouth reliably reflect emotions which may be unexpressed in words.


Unwitting cues II. Unwitting cues may be used as "pegs" upon which to frame verbal questions designed to reveal attitudes, opinions, and moods. Examples of such questions include: 1. "Are you certain you really like this model more than that one?" 2. "You seem hesitant--is this your final answer?" And 3. "Do you have mixed feelings about this?" 

RESEARCH ABSTRACT: "This study examined the effect of probing for additional information on the accuracy of deception detection. One hundred forty-eight experimental interactions were analyzed to see whether deceivers and truthtellers behave differently when probed and whether probing improved deception detection. Probing produced a number of changes in nonverbal behavior, several of which differed between deceivers and truthtellers. Probing may have communicated suspicion or uncertainty; therefore, deceptive sources were motivated to control their nonverbal demeanor to mask deception-related cues and appear truthful. Probing did not improve detection. Instead, probing receivers considered all sources more truthful. It is suggested that suspiciousness and prior knowledge may affect probing's efficacy" (Buller et al. 1989:189).