Deception Detection: How to Tell if someone is Lying to You

Following the Fox network's release of the successful television program Lie to Me* back in 2008 in which a truly audacious Brit in the U.S runs a firm that works with individuals, companies and security organisations to catch liars by studying their body language and facial expressions, I've had an almost unhealthy obsession with 'deception detection', or lie-spotting, as it's more commonly known, and it's a lot easier than most people (even professionals) would have you believe. All you need is a basic understanding of body language, a keen eye, a sceptical outlook and some common sense.

A loss of eye contact and looking down during conversation is commonly associated with lying
A loss of eye contact and looking down during conversation is commonly associated with lying | Source

Introduction, Clichés and Misconceptions

The truth is, we all have the ability to tell when someone is lying to us, it doesn't require a degree in Psychology or even any specialist training, most people just simply don't know how to do it, I mean let's face it, you never knew how to tie your shoe laces until you were taught, did you? And if you ever were caught lying to your parent(s) as a child, the following article will more than likely explain how they did it! It's not particularly difficult unless you're dealing an exceptionally good liar, albeit there are some out there. You know what they say: Practise makes perfect.

Professionals and probably also some academics in Psychology, and especially Applied Psychology will tell you that deception detection accuracy is near enough impossible to achieve, even with professional training (Governements have been known to deliver such training to certain, selected individuals in the Military, FBI and other government organizations). However, I'm here to tell you that it's easier than you and a lot of the professionals think. Having said that, it's not entirely a case of "if the person looks down they're lying to you", either. What if the person looked down as something caught their eye? It's a little more scientific than that.

In order to catch a lie(ar) effectively you need to have these three things at the very least:

  1. A liar with something to lose if caught out, or a liar with something to gain if not (it is considerably more difficult and can almost be impossible to catch a trivial lie as the liar has a much easier time telling a lie that probably won't get him/her in any trouble if found out anyway)
  2. A a sceptical attitude towards the things you're told, regardless of who you're talking to
  3. And a keen eye.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
AngerContempt - This painting by Louis-Léopold Boilly appears to imply a business exchange between a wealthy gentlman and a prostitute, the prostitute shows disdain at the inadequacy of the financial offer presented by the gentleman.HappinessFear - Notice the straght mouth and narrowed eyebrowsSurprise - Indicative of a lowered jaw, slightly parted lips and raised eyebrows.
Anger
Anger | Source
Contempt - This painting by Louis-Léopold Boilly appears to imply a business exchange between a wealthy gentlman and a prostitute, the prostitute shows disdain at the inadequacy of the financial offer presented by the gentleman.
Contempt - This painting by Louis-Léopold Boilly appears to imply a business exchange between a wealthy gentlman and a prostitute, the prostitute shows disdain at the inadequacy of the financial offer presented by the gentleman. | Source
Happiness
Happiness | Source
Fear - Notice the straght mouth and narrowed eyebrows
Fear - Notice the straght mouth and narrowed eyebrows | Source
Surprise - Indicative of a lowered jaw, slightly parted lips and raised eyebrows.
Surprise - Indicative of a lowered jaw, slightly parted lips and raised eyebrows. | Source

Think you know your facial expressions? Try the University of Berkeley's Emotional Intelligence quiz and see what you score.

Body Language, Microexpressions & Speech Irregularities

If you're familiar with acclaimed american Psychologist Paul Ekman, chances are you're already familiar with the term 'Microexpression', for those however who are not, Microexpressions are suppressed and involuntary facial expressions. Microexpressions will typically last no longer than half a second and can be as short-lived as 0.25 miliseconds, they exist because of people's inability to conceal their emotions towards something or someone from others around them. These emotions can include but are not limited to: Anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surpise.

Further to Microexpressions, overall body language can also be a major indicator as to whether somebody is lying. Lying is an unnatural human trait, and as such, most people struggle to completely conceal lies, especially when there are high stakes involved (i.e something to lose if caught lying likewise something to gain if uncaught). More often than not, involuntary body movements, miniature shrugs, excessive hand movements and fidgetiness are all possible indicators of attempted deceit.

Speech Irregularities

Accurate judgement of Body Language, Microexpressions and Speech Irregularities together should allow you to determine with fair accuracy as to whether or not a person is lying to you or to anyone else for that matter. Irregularity in speech is another factor to consider when trying to detect deception, speech hesitation, stuttering, over-explaining and deliberate, obvious over-exaggeration are all things to look out for.

Misinterpretations of Deceit & Conclusion

Going back on what was stated in the last section of this article, although all the indicators listed above can indeed be indicative as an attempt to conceal deceit, it's very easy to misinterpret them, when they are in fact, just nervorsnouss. For example, speech irregularities in a police interview doesn't necessarily mean the person is lying, it's equally if not sometimes more likely to be nervousness over anything else, having said that a completely innocent person is more likely to remain calm under scrutiny, if, they have nothing to hide.

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Comments 5 comments

teresapelka profile image

teresapelka 4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

I wouldn't see much quotient about lying - you seem a bit appreciative, saying that most people don't know how to do it and that practice makes perfect.

I wouldn't try to blame one for a stammer or stutter. Despite a speech defect, you can be telling the truth - it's enough you feel 'like you gonna sneeze with this fresh spring air' and you're done: the broader the context, the longer the conversation - the more likely you become to lie? ;)

'Lie to me' is a television show. People get paid to have it going. Take this with the truth conditions. :)

Lying obviously can have the psychological consequence of losing someone's trust. Before you try, think about this effect.

On the other hand, I'd defend 'white lies'. Probably, everyone may feel a bit better if someone says the jumper is sweet, or the flowers in the room smell really lovely (mind not to sneeze ;)). No one would demand to be told 'the truth only, no pleasantries' :)


ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 4 years ago from Midwest

I agree with much of this, but also there is a lot of room for misinterpretation here also. As an introvert, I get nervous when I have to talk to people I don't know well and I am prone to fidgeting or wringing my hands. This doesn't make me dishonest - but I can see how if people go by this I could appear that way. I definitely go more by what and how people deliver what they say than I do necessarily by body language alone. Another thing to consider also is the direction the eyes move when one is talking as it can also indicate if they are "making something up" inside their head etc. This too, leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation of course. Informative and interesting hub - voted up.


teresapelka profile image

teresapelka 4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

@ChristinS

Keeping eye contact could be a good theory - not even a bearable theory to me, however. Do you imagine looking someone in the eyes all the time like a maniac to be honest?

I believe you could be telling the truth and behaving uncertain if you define yourself as an introvert - 'speech-shy' you'd be saying really in the context. There are many ways to strengthen your 'speaking self'. :)


ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 4 years ago from Midwest

no it's not about looking in the eyes the whole time - goodness that would creep me out too lol. There is info on it that shows the natural directions the eyes shift to when we are recalling information vs when we are creating something in our head. It's interesting reading. If memory serves up and to the right means you're recalling and down is making something up... dont' quote me on it it's been awhile since that psychology class where we discussed it, but it was very interesting. I actually did do a public speaking class and it did help somewhat, but I still find it difficult to have conversations with those I don't know well.


teresapelka profile image

teresapelka 4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

@ChristinS

That thing - on eyes and directions. What if someone is a translator. The regular habit is to have books (dictionaries, thesauri, etc) both to the left and the right of the visual field - myself, I would translate on a carpet with books all around at times.

Probably, translation gives you some bad habit... ;)

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