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a clear manipulator

An example of a MAP

Several indicators are known as Manipulators, Adaptors or Pacifiers (MAPS). These are unknown signals displayed by someone to show anxiety or stress.


Touching a body part, focussed mainly above the shoulder line is a classic sign of MAPs. If you see this in a public speaker or a leader figure then it could be that the anxiety is deception related. Top or back of the head is a sign of anxiety. But the face, neck or side of head is touched it’s also anxiety but also deception too.

Picture to the left shows someone rubbing behind their ears, which is a classic MAP signal.

Another example of this is when someone scratches the cleft area between the lip and the nose. This is a sign of disbelief in something that has just been said.

If these manipulators come up during a conversation then be wary as it’s usually a sign of deception. But be careful, the gesture must be in context so for example if its a windy day and the hair blows and tickles the ear then use common sense.

Categories: Deception, Manipulator
  1. January 17, 2011 at 8:07 am

    Manipulators is based on work by Lieberman and Eckman, both of which are contracted with FBI, NSA and CIA in deception analysis. Combined they have over 60 years of critical analysis in research alone.

  2. Jeff Cavanaugh
    February 14, 2012 at 3:36 am

    While I appreciated your blog on MAPS, specifically regarding manipulators, there are some key points and warnings that have been missed and should be added. The following information is supported in Chapter 4 of ‘Telling Lies’ by Paul Ekman, the psychologist you had mentioned:

    Manipulators are most often performed by the hands but it can also be the recipient. Other common recipients are the ears, crotch, nose and hair. The foot can even be a manipulator. A manipulator includes all of the movements that a person may use to scratch, pick, rub, groom, etc another part of the body.

    There are times that a manipulator is a sign of discomfort, not necessarily deceit. Studies have shown that they tend to increase as a sign of discomfort in more formal situations. They may also increase and not be a sign of discomfort in occasions where the person performing the manipulator act is comfortable and around friends. Unlike emblems, they are much like illustrators in that they alone do not necessarily have a specific meaning. It’s the frequency that should be noticed in comparison to the subjects typical body behavior that the “lie catcher” should try to define a base for before deciding that a manipulator shown is a clue to deceit. Ekman has made a point to warn that a manipulator is “NOT a reliable sign of deceit, but people think it is”. Three warnings are made to support this (quoted from Telling Lies):

    1) People vary enormously in how many manipulators and what kinds of manipulators they usually show. This individual difference problem (the Brokaw hazard) can be countered if the lie catcher has some previous acquaintance and can make behavioral comparisons.
    2) The Othello error also interferes with the interpretation of manipulators as deception clues, since manipulators increase when people are uncomfortable about anything.
    3) Everyone believes that showing many manipulators betrays deceit, and so a motivated liar will try to squelch them…manipulators are fairly easy to inhibit.

    More accurate signs of deception to be studied are things like ‘reliable’ facial muscles in facial expressions, emblems, illustrators (to be treated similarly to manipulators), and micro-expressions. Speech patterns are another avenue but require further study as well as a familiarity to the subject.

    I hope I have shed some light onto the other angles that should be looked at when diving into the art of deception detection. I would be delighted to hear any other research that you have come across if you disagree with the statements I have made, and obviously the source from where you have obtained any such new information.

    ~Jeff Cavanaugh

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