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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.
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:
- 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)
- A a sceptical attitude towards the things you're told, regardless of who you're talking to
- And a keen eye.
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.
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.