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How Santa Claus Knows If You’ve Been Naughty or Nice

From Carol Kinsey Goman:

Have you ever wondered how Santa Claus determines whether to leave you a present or a lump of coal on Christmas Eve? How he knows if you’ve been naughty or nice? I don’t have any hard evidence to back me up, but I’m pretty sure that he must be a first-class lie detector.

And, if so, here is how Santa does it:

He begins with a baseline

The first and most important step in Santa’s deception detection is learning your baseline behavior under relaxed or generally stress-free conditions so that he can compare it with the expressions, gestures, and other signals that are only apparent when you are under stress.

He watches you while you are chatting informally, noticing how your body looks when you are relaxed. (What is your normal amount of eye contact and blink rate? What kind of gestures you use most frequently? What posture do you assume when you’re comfortable? What is your pace of speech and tone of voice?

Then, after he knows your behavioral baseline, he stays alert for meaningful deviations that signal a stress reaction (and possible deception) as you go through the day.

He sees you when you’re faking 

There are seven basic emotions that are shared, recognized, and expressed the same way around the world. Discovered and categorized by Paul Ekman and his colleagues at the University of California in San Francisco, the universal emotional expressions are joy, surprise, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and contempt.

When you don’t genuinely feel the emotion that you are trying to display, it often shows up in expressions that don’t use all the muscles in the face that are typically part of that emotion. For example, if your smile doesn’t include the eye muscles, it is not a felt smile. Real smiles crinkle the corners of your eyes and change your entire face. Faked smiles involve the mouth only and are often asymmetrical.

In monitoring your emotional reactions, Santa also looks for simulated emotions, where you try to convince others that you feel a certain way by simulating the facial expression associated with that feeling. He will notice your “terribly sincere furrowed-brow” or your exaggerated display of anger that feels somehow excessive. He knows, too, that any expression you display for more than five to ten seconds is almost certainly being faked.

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