When I heard Fox was putting on a TV show with the excellent and cool actors Tim Roth and Kelli Williams, and it was about what its about, I was very pleased to hear the news and looked forward to it starting. I haven't been disappointed.
Some have complained about the accuracy being off the mark sometimes, but hey, its a TV SHOW. When they say, that the face of a character is doing something, its up to that actor (and yes, the director) to display that affect, but look, its on a schedule, and a budget so if they actor doesn't display the facial expression perfectly, give them a break.
I found this show so fascinating for several reasons. One, I had once been on a path to a career in the espionage field and two, I worked for someone in this area of facial affect recognition. Allow me to explain....
Back in the late 1980s, my now ex-wife got a job working at the University of Washington. I was already working there for MCIS. The Psychology Department was looking for artist types. Its funny because she would never listen to me about computers. At the time, I was trying to learn all I could to get a better job, which did happen.
My argument to her had been that one day everyone will need to know how to run a computer. Her argument was, she was an artist, who doesn't care about computers. We had been raising our 3 year old son about then, and needed money. So she found a job ad that was interesting, and she tried out for it and got hired.
It was Dr. John Gottman's lab. He'd put out ads for someone, as it turned out, to run one of his computer labs. Ironically, the artist who would never need to understand how to use a computer got that job managing people who were using computers. I had to laugh.
A Doctor there, needed artist types because of their innate ability to deconstruct the face in their mind, quickly and accurately. Dr. Gottman had come up with the Specific Affect Coding System (SPAFF), based upon Dr. Paul Ekman's Facial Affect Coding System (FACS, now, Facial Action Coding System).
This was all very fascinating. Ekman had people out training Judges, Attorneys, Law Enforcement, CIA, etc. Basically, we heard, you could use this to practically read someone's mind. It was amazing to watch and I don't know why it didn't occur to me sooner to create a TV show around this. Even though I didn't, I'm glad someone else did.
Dr. Gottman is still out there doing his work and has a web page about his work at The Gottman Relationship Institute.
They would take couples who were having trouble in their relationship, bring them in, interview them, wire them up, face them to one another in a small room, with remote video cameras, then have them talk about things that will be most informative in their relationship situation. Later, these video tapes would be coded for time and facial expressions using proprietary software for later analysis. It was all very fascinating.
I was pleased to have helped them at the lab in setting up, actually, fine tuning their PC computers environments. I don't think Dr. Gottman ever even knew I had done that work as I was volunteering my time, and doing it to help my wife at the time, run her lab more easily. This all lead to our becoming friendly with Dr. Gottman and his assistant, the very cool Stephanie. We had dinner with her and her oceanographer husband once and it was a very pleasant evening. I remember a party at Dr. Gottman and his wife's house that was also a very memorable occasion.
All this lead to our getting involved with the BBC and a documentary they shot on the lab and the work they were doing. It aired in Great Britain on the caveat from us, that it never be shown in the US. It hasn't. What was funny, was back then, the media in the UK tore us apart for a variety of things such as being "emotional exhibitionists", my favorite.
Now, what with all these "reality shows", it makes me laugh. But back then, it was a little difficult to deal with, when all we were doing was trying to help a good group of people doing very good research.
The documentary involved a film crew following my wife and I around for an entire week. It started on Sunday, then on Tuesday, we went into the lab for a three day stay. We were the first couple to do this in their new "apartment lab". That was the point. The Doctor in Charge (DOC), wanted to have a semi controlled situation. I had a University Psychology degree (Awareness and Reasoning Division, Phenomenology), my wife ran one of his computer labs. He knew us, trusted us, felt we were intelligent and stable (well, I was anyway).
So we agreed to do it. Plus, we were told the BBC would pay us. They tried to get us $2,000 but in the end, we got $1,000, a lot of money to us then. Did this compromise us in anyway? Being friends of the lab and being paid for it? I do not believe so, not at all. To be fair, the DOC told us too, to just be ourselves and not worry about him or his research. Be honest. What a guy!
We had to wear some blue vests, with electronics in them, testing our heart rate, breathing, etc. We were monitored at nearly all times, there were two one way mirrors, and many video cameras near the ceiling. We were given some tasks to perform, like build a tower out of some art supplies. How did we interact? What would we do? What did it mean?
We were in the lab all the next day, then part of the following day. The film crew were all very nice, and got some pick up shots at times, and their interviews with all of us, then on Friday, they headed back to the UK.
Once, we got a bit stressed out and needed some time off, so the DOC let us walk off under a nearby bridge to get some quiet time. My wife, cried a little, we talked, then headed back after about 45 minutes. It was funny that they film crew wanted to follow us getting away from the film crew but the DOC had to be stern say, "No, don't you get it, they need to get away from YOU." Once we came back it went smoothly through the rest of the week. We did get some privacy in the bathroom and after 8pm we shut it down and had the rest of the night off until the next morning when it started all over again.
In the end, Dr. Gottman got some good press out of it which helped his funding. And he has done very well over the years passed, although we have lost touch.
There is only one thing that I could mention here of interest.
About a year or so later, I split up with my wife. Why we split up, is really not of interest here. The point is, at the end of the documentary, Dr. Gottman was asked how we did; how was our marriage, would we make it or break it. In the years since, I have watched this documentary and when I get to the end, where the BBC producer asked the question, its interesting in hindsight to notice his reaction. Think, Lie to Me.
The first time I saw it, we were still married. The last time I watched it, was with my son, who was three when it was shot, and 19 when we watched it together. It was his idea to watch it, he wanted to know what happened. I refused to let him watch it all his life. There were things in it a kid really didn't need to hear, honest comments from his mother, myself, others.
So, while we watched it a few years ago (he's 22 now), I carefully watched Dr. Gottman's face. His comments were, that we had a good sense of humor and that counts for a lot in a marriage or relationship, that we had our problems like anyone, but he thought in the end, we'd make it.
But that's not what happened. So, was is his research faulty?
No. when I now look into his eyes, I can see exactly what he was thinking. And he realized at that moment, that because she was his employee, because we were friends, he couldn't say what he truly believed. You see, I think he knew right then and there, that we weren't going to make it. But how, could he say it. Because then, would he contribute to it happening? He would have to see us again that next time and on a regular basis.
So, how could he answer honestly. That doesn't make him a bad person or researcher, it makes him what he has always been since I've known him, a very good Human being. A kind and caring person. I believe he wanted to answer honestly, but let's face it, how many out there are a Dr. Lightman from Lie To Me? I'm not, though I admire his tenacity and sociopathic tendencies; but then, I can't be that way either.
As an interesting anecdote, several years later, I received a call from my now ex wife. She was excited and said she had just talked to a producer for the night time TV news show, 20/20. They wanted to possibly have us on their show as a follow-up program to Dr. Gottman's BBC documentary, more so because he had ended the documentary saying we'd make it, but it was obvious that we hadn't. So, it seemed apparent to me that they wanted to ask the quetion that this begged: did this mean his research was faulty?
She said she had spoken to the woman from 20/20 for fifteen minutes and now she wanted to talk to me. Would I consider a phone call? She sounded excited at the prospect of a trip to New York as she'd never been. I had grown up going to the east coast to visit family during the summer times. I was excited at the prospect but not as much as she was.
Anyway, I said, sure, sounds good. We hung up. I waited for maybe ten minutes, wondering what was to come, and the phone rang. It was the producer from 20/20. We talked. In the course of our conversation, I came to realize my ex had done what she always did so well, shaded the truth, made herself look good, etc., etc., etc.
Being I have a degree in Psychology, I understand clearly the need for truth in research, so I told the brutal truth. I told her my ex will do that and I won't. If they want me on the program I would go, but I would only tell the truth and I wouldn't make Dr. Gottman look bad as I didn't think he in any way deserved it. As for this comments on our marriage, I explained what happened. This was about fifteen minutes into our talk and my phone notified me I was getting a call. I begged to be excused for a moment, saying that it was probably my ex. The producer said she understood, I put her on hold.
My ex sounded excited, and said, "Well, what did she say?" I said we were still talking and that I'd call her back when we were done. She said, "Oh". Disappointed.
I got back to the producer. She seemed truly fascinated by what I had to say and we laughed from time to time. I said if you put my ex and I on camera and she lies, I will tell the truth and it may not be the show you are looking for. She thought that was interesting and I realized I may be killing myself a free trip to NYC. I love NYC and hadn't been there for a long time. Then my phone notified me I was getting a call. I took it. It was my ex.
I told her I was still talking. She sounded very disappointed, she even said, what is so interesting that you are still talking? I said I don't know, I'm just answering questions, but again, I would call her back when I was done. I went back to the producer. We talked for a little while longer when the phone again notified me my ex was impatient. I told her I'm still on the phone with the producer, and I'll call you when we're done. It was a short call and she was now pretty annoyed. I went back to the producer.
Overall, we were on the phone for forty-five minutes, long distance to New York City. It was nice talking to NY again. She asked me, what did I think, is it going to happen? I said, I don't think so, but who knows? Maybe.
It never came to be. I never heard another thing about it. Dr. Gottman has done well all these years since, so I'm happy to guess that it didn't adversely affect his career or research.
If you find this kind of research interesting, or if you just like Tim Roth, you really should watch, Lie To Me. Its just too much fun, and if you want to know how accurate, or even try to figure out how this all works, tune into Dr. Ekman's web site after the show. Have fun!
Dr. Paul Ekman