Why do people lie? It’s human nature. We do it to protect ourselves, or someone else. We lie to avoid conflict, or to escape punishment. There are also those who do it out of pride or to manipulate the situation and we will say we hate liars, but the truth is, we just hate it when we’re the ones being lied to.
Although the reasons why people lie varies, the signs of lying are somewhat universal. In general, there are two basic types of lies. The first and the more common is the “white lie” We all do it once in a while to save face or to prevent someone from getting hurt – like saying your girlfriend looks good in her dress even though it’s a little too revealing for the first meeting with your family.
But there are also strategic lies – deceptions meant to mislead other people or to put the blame on someone else. These lies are less common but definitely more destructive. Fortunately, a recent research from the University of California suggests that humans have pre-set instincts in detecting liars, although these are often outweighed by our conscious minds.
The following are tips we have gathered from several experts who have mastered the science of lying.
1. Establish a baseline. Know how a person typically behaves.
If you’re not familiar with how they act when they’re telling the truth, there’s a lower chance of you identifying uncharacteristic expressions when they’re lying. Meaning, it is much easier to detect lies from a relative or a friend, as compared to a complete stranger.
But that doesn’t mean you have no means of finding out if an unfamiliar person is indeed lying. The key is to ask a few questions that have safe and typical answers – such as what their name is and where they live. That way, you will be able to identify the changes in their behavior when you start asking more challenging questions.
2. Pay attention to their body language
One thing you’ll immediately notice is that they stand very still. A person who’s lying will try to pull his arms and legs in toward his body. Studies say that this could be a sign that the body is preparing for a possible confrontation.
In a normal conversation, it is natural for us to move in a relaxed and subtle manner, which is for the most part unconscious. When someone is holding a very rigid stance, that almost always means that something is off.
The same goes for the total opposite – when a person fidgets a lot, a tell-tale sign that he is nervous. He will repeatedly touch his nose, rub his lips, or tug on his clothes. When a person is lying, he would be too uncomfortable to stay in one position for a long time. So bottom line, a liar could either be too tight or too loose. If he has nothing to hide, he’ll be able to act comfortably and naturally.
3. Watch for facial movements and expressions
When a person is lying, you will find a lot of clues in his face. First up, the eyes. According to multiple scientific studies, a person who’s recalling an actual visual or auditory memory tends to look to the right.
For example, someone who’s trying to remember what he had for lunch will unconsciously look to the right to picture that salad. While a person who’s still constructing answers and imagery tends to look to the left, like when you’re imagining what you want to have for dinner.
It is important to note though that the contrary is to be observed from a left-handed person – who will tend to look to the right when he’s lying, and to the left when he’s recalling real events.
One more thing to observe in the eyes is whether a person is trying to avoid your gaze. For someone who deems lying as wrong, looking at another person in the eyes takes too much toll on one’s emotional and cognitive energy and could overload one’s senses. And so we try to reduce our guilt by not holding eye-contact.
But if a person is a proud liar, he will not be ashamed to look you straight in the eye while he tells his lies. A practiced liar will maintain an uncomfortable eye contact, that could last up to 70% of your conversation. Studies say maintaining eye contact 50% of the time is considered normal. An expert con-man will even use a cold and steady gaze to try to intimidate and take control of the situation.
A person who’s telling the truth will not be afraid to look you in the eye once in a while, but will also naturally shift his eyes around and look away from time to time. From the eyes, look down to the lips. A highly stressful situation often causes the mouth to dry out. If the person is excessively licking his lips, there’s a great chance that the lie is stressing him out.
Also, when a person of good morals lies, he will touch his nose when he says the lie. Studies show that a person touches his nose when he believes something bad has happened. When a person gets a negative feeling, the blood capillaries in the nose contract, making him feel the need to touch or scratch it. Note that this particular sign applies only to people who consider lying as wrong.
4. Observe language and speech patterns
Stuttering and stammering are the two most common evidence that a person is lying, especially if he was caught in the act. But if he was given the time to calm down before being questioned, take note of hardline pauses. This is a telltale sign that a person is still constructing his story, and is pausing to think of what to say next.
You will also notice that the person will start talking slower. While a liar is thinking hard to get the facts straight in his head, the brain will subconsciously slow down his speech patterns. Repetitive throat-clearing and hard-swallowing may also mean that a person is being untruthful. Scientific studies say this is our body’s fight or flight stress response, which causes the moisture usually in our throat to reroute to our skin in the form of sweat, and we sweat a lot during stressful situations. So watch out for that too.
Be mindful of changes in the tone and voice as well. A liar would typically answer denials in a high pitched voice, as compared to a calm tone when he absolutely has no idea what you’re talking about.
5. Listen to what the person is actually saying
Mainly, a liar would have an answer to everything. We all have a lot going on in our lives, that it’s so easy to forget what we even had for dinner last night, much less what we did at 3:00 PM last Wednesday.
If a person has an answer to everything you ask, then that only means he has anticipated your questions and has prepared a corresponding answer to cover up his tracks. When a person has zero hesitation when answering a question, that’s already a dead giveaway.
Liars think that being more specific gives you less chance to see holes in the story. They will embellish details, even those that are not necessary – like the color of the car they used, or the amount of cheese put in their burrito. A liar would drone on and on, and answer questions even before you ask them.
The good thing is that you can actually use this to your advantage by scrutinizing every single detail, and analyze if the story does check out. You can also ask the person to repeat the whole story. Or better yet, backward. If he’s lying, he should drop a few details or add information that was not previously mentioned.
Any deviation from the original story may mean this person is lying. Another thing to note is that a liar would be very repetitive in his answers. A study says there are three possible reasons why a liar does this.
One, and the most obvious – to convince the other person that what he’s saying is true. He believes that insisting he didn’t eat the last donut, even though there were only two of you in the room, might make you think that it was the dog that did it.
Two, to validate the lie in their minds and eventually convince even themselves that the lie did happen.
And three, to buy time while trying to gather their thoughts and invent a story. Saying “it wasn’t me” 10 times would indeed give you enough time to think of an excuse.
Most commonly, a liar would repeatedly say the words “honestly”; & “to tell you the truth”; and their many variations. Also, observe the shift in the use of pronouns. You will notice that a liar will try to communicate with lesser personal pronouns, and talk in a strangely impersonal manner.
He is less likely to use the words “I” & “me” or “mine” in an attempt to distance himself from the actual events. A liar would rather use third-person pronouns like “she & “he” or “they” to try and shift the blame onto other people. He would keep it simple, in able to repeat the story if necessary.
Using only one method will not help you detect a lie. And even doing all five could guarantee you only 90% accuracy. But even so, these should provide you with much-needed initial defense against deception. Remember that despite fully understanding the signs, nothing beats a concrete evidence to dispute a lie. Otherwise, you might be creating an unnecessary rift with possibly innocent people.