Forensic psychologist Leanne ten Brinke’s UBC PhD degree turned into a career pursuing truth and trust
August 13, 2018
Leanne ten Brinke
Okanagan (Kelowna, BC)
PhD, Psychology, UBC Okanagan (2012)
BSc Honours in Psychology, Dalhousie University (2007)
Antigonish, Nova Scotia
“Students have access to experts in diverse fields, and a modern research facility that allows for close work with peers and professors.”
FINDING THE TRUTH in the face of a liar is alumna Leanne ten Brinke’s specialty.
During her PhD studies in Forensic Psychology at UBC’s Okanagan campus, ten Brinke meticulously coded, frame-by-frame, the televised footage of 78 people pleading for the return of a missing loved one, half of whom were actually responsible for the death of the missing person.
She analyzed speech, body language and emotional facial expressions to determine the behavioural consequences of extremely high-stakes, real-life deception relative to real-life sincere displays.
What ten Brinke discovered is that genuine emotion is hard to fake, and if you know what to look for, you can find the tell-tale signs.
“Lying is difficult, and controlling all aspects of your behaviour is nearly impossible,” says ten Brinke, currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Denver, where she directs Truth and Trust Lab.
“Deceptive pleaders were more likely to express happiness and surprise, where people who are genuinely distressed don’t show these kinds of emotions.”
FROM CRIMINAL TO THE EVERYDAY
ten Brinke’s findings have been used to educate legal professionals across Canada and around the world, in the hope of improving lie detection when it matters most. However, lying is not exclusive to criminals. She says spotting the signs of deception could save people from being conned by a shady salesman or being duped by a cheating spouse.
During the end of her PhD research, ten Brinke began to explore related topics outside of the criminal justice system.
“I was interested in how we detect lies in our everyday life, exploring if psychopathic personality traits appear in contexts outside of prison walls, and if there are professions in which psychopaths might thrive.”
To further her research, ten Brinke spent time at the London Business School where she examined the effect of inappropriate emotions in corporate apologies on stock market performance. She then joined the Haas School of Business and the Department of Psychology at University of California, Berkeley, where she continued her research on behavioural cues to deception and deception detection, before her stint at the University of Denver.
“To anyone considering graduate studies in psychology, I would say consider UBC’s Okanagan campus,” says ten Brinke, who was the first Psychology PhD to ever graduate from the campus.
“Undergraduate and graduate students have access to experts in diverse fields, and the Centre for the Advancement of Psychological Science and Law—a modern research facility that allows for close work with peers and professors.”
She is grateful for Paul Davies and Stephen Porter in the Psychology Department at UBC Okanagan—for their mentorship, advice and encouragement.
“They set me on a path that led to four years at UC Berkeley as Postdoctoral Fellow, where I got to broaden my research interests and connect with more respected researchers in the field. The guidance and support of these mentors has also led me to my current position, where I have the opportunity to lead my own research lab and train future students to conduct psychological science.”