We were all shocked to find out that Lance Armstrong had been involved with illegal substances throughout his seven Tour De France wins. His interview with Oprah, sadly, showed more anger, pride and defiance than sadness and regret.

lance armstrong, oprah, lying, body language

Overall, he did show some nerves, but very little sadness—which is the emotion he should have been feeling if he was truly sorry for his cheating and lying. He also showed anger at the accusations, contempt at the questions, and defiance, which leads me to believe that he still thinks his actions were justified.

Let’s look at Lance Armstrong’s specific body language and microexpressions throughout his first interview with Oprah to see what he was really feeling.

1. The Confession:

lance armstrong

As Armstrong answers Oprah’s direct questions about taking banned substances, there is a distinct lack of sadness (see my guide to the sadness microexpression). In fact, the first real microexpression we see is when Oprah asks Armstrong “Did you ever take the banned substance EPO?” He answers and then narrows his eyes in anger—a small leak to his true feelings.

lance armstrong

Oprah then asks him if he believes you need banned substances to win the Tour De France. He says yes and then smiles. This is a clear explanation about why he was angry at the EPO question–he believes you need to dope to win. Immediately following the smile, he shows contempt. Again, he is irritated that he is being asked these questions.

lance armstrong

Not only are sadness and sorrow missing throughout the interview, his body actually shows dominance. For example, he is seated in the open leg cross. This is the position Western cowboys sat in–it signifies confidence and aggressiveness. It also takes up more physical space than sitting in a neutral position or a closed cross, which is a way to claim territory. 

Another prideful gesture is when Armstrong refers to himself in a traditional ‘chest pound’ which only confident, alpha males do. If he felt bad for his actions, he would not be showing such dominant behavior.

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 2. Why Now?

Oprah asks Armstrong about why he has been telling lies up until now. Armstrong says, “This story was so perfect for so long.” And then shows a small smile, which is also known as duping delight. It pleases him that he got away with the story for so long and he liked it when it was perfect–of course, he was doping, winning and getting away with it.

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lance armstrong3. Doping Scheme

When Oprah asks Armstrong, “How did it all work?” He pets and scratches his head for longer than needed. This is one of his few signs of nerves. Petting or scratching the head is a nervous and self-soothing gesture. Like a parent pats a child’s head before bed, we do this to calm ourselves down. I think he was nervous about answering this question–whether because he is ashamed or still hiding something, I think is answered a little later in the interview.

I do not believe that Armstrong feels remorse or guilt for his doping. Not only does he say in the beginning that he believes you need the drugs to win, but when he says to Oprah, “My cocktail was only…” Using the word only implies he still does not think that what he did was that bad. He also flat out says he justifies taking testosterone because of his cancer.

The final evidence for Armstrong’s lack of remorse is when he is explaining the ‘generation of doping’ and says, “I didn’t create it, but I didn’t stop it. And that’s what I have to feel sorry for,” and then does a one sided shoulder shrug–one of the most typical body language leaks of liars. I do not believe he feels sorry at all.

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4. Anger and Holding Back

Throughout the interview, Armstrong purses his lips together and raises his chin. This has a double meaning: first pursing your lips usually means you are withholding information. Since I believe Armstrong feels justified in his actions, I believe he is holding back all of his justifications for what he did. And the chin raise is part of the microexpression for anger. (see my guide to microexpressions)I think he is angry that he has been caught and having to answer the questions.

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5. Suing Shame

lance armstrong

The one time I think Armstrong shows shame is when he is talking about suing people who he knew were telling the truth. Not only does he touch his face much more during this segment–a self comforting gesture we do when we are nervous, but he also uses distancing language because I think he is ashamed. He says, “It’s a major flaw. It’s a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome.” He refers to himself in the third person because I think he is ashamed he did it and wants to distance himself from those actions.

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6. Contempt At Recklessness

Armstrong shows great contempt at his reckless period. Whether this is because he regrets his behavior, or because he regrets being reckless which led to him being caught–we can only guess. From other clues in the interview, I would say he is more regretful of being caught.

Lance Armstrong’s body language does not match his verbal content. I think his lies caught up to him and he is confessing and saying sorry because he has to. Stay tuned for my analysis of the Part II of the Oprah / Armstrong interview.

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About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author & founder at Science of People. Her groundbreaking book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People has been translated into more than 16 languages. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma. She regularly leads innovative corporate workshops and helps thousands of individual professionals in her online program People School. Vanessa works with entrepreneurs, growing businesses, and trillion dollar companies; and has been featured on CNN, BBC, CBS, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur Magazine, USA Today, the Today Show and many more.

16 replies on “Lance Armstrong’s Body Language with Oprah: Defiance, Not Regret”

  1. Karla

    Wow I’m a bit speechless at his lack of remorse. However, maybe he was purposefully acting this way, perhaps he didn’t want to be completely vulnerable, which is what the public needed, but when you had been held so high for so long It could be hard to show everyone you are beaten down.

  2. Luis

    Thank You for the really great analysis. I would never have even come close to this. I hope I can get this good soon.

  3. Dan

    Awesome article and great for training in body language and spotting nonverbal cues. Thanks for the breakdown of this interview here and in the courses of yours.

  4. Nikki Thornton

    Someone like him being in the public eye, you would think that he would be aware of how to carry himself and how to act. He knew this story was breaking news at the time and that the spotlight would be on him for a while, yet his body language says something completely different!

  5. Drishti Narang

    Just another example of public figures creating a false image. What would be interesting, Vanessa, is if you analyzed the body language of politicians with the upcoming presidential elections!

  6. Lauren Freeman

    I can’t believe he had lied to and tricked everyone through all those years. I wonder if he’s trying to use his anger and contempt to cover up for any vulnerability he may feel deep inside? It must be hard to be hated by so many. I also just don’t understand how he thinks what he did was right.

  7. Liam Hayes

    Seeing how his words don’t match his behavior does seem to indicate that he’s not telling the truth. This makes me wonder, had he not doped, could he still have won?

  8. Bella Perennis

    In the article it seems so easy. I watched the video and the cues were really hard to catch sometimes. Reading body language in action is truly a form of art.

  9. Andrew

    It would be tough to be in Armstrong’s position because he still had to fight and put his heart out to win the competitions. When you are questioned though it is usually best to be honest no matter what the consequences are

  10. Robby Smith

    It’s a shame that people like Lance Armstrong, who are in the spotlight don’t take the right approach on how they can influence people. We are human and all fall short, but is in those shortcomings that truly define the person you will become. Will you repent and turn away? Or will continue with your actions like nobody is watching?

  11. frugihoyi

    Hi Vanessa, your course on Creative Live was fantastic! This stuff is so interesting. I’m watching the video of Lance Armstrong on YouTube. Take a look at 6:25, when he says “it was definitely professional.” He covers his mouth, laughs AND shrugs his shoulder!

  12. Danielle McRae

    Lance Armstrong used be a role model in so many households- a champion, a cancer survivor, and a leader of a successful non-profit. Now, everyone associates his name with being a cheat. If he had been honest upfront, there still would have been backlash, but not near as much as now. We, as a society, want to look up to people. It’s sad and disheartening to be let down.

  13. Robert

    I think he thinks this is all unreasonable because in his mind everyone was doping so he was competing on a fair playing field, and is restraining himself from pointing fingers and calling everyone out. I think he would love to make a point and through cycling as a sport under the bus, but for some reason is refraining for doing that. Maybe the cycling authorities made an under the table deal with him to not implicate others?

    Something is going on that the public is not privy too in regards to Lance spilling the beans on everyone and I look forward to all the details coming out eventually. I doubt we have seen the last of the deceit in the cycling world.

    1. Vanessa Van Edwards

      Hi Robert,

      I totally agree with you. I think he is trying to cover something up and that is why he is not whistle blowing on everyone…im just not sure what and why. But he certainly wants to and think it is justified since ‘everyone dopes’ in his industry from what media reports have been saying.

      Best,

      V

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