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Detecting Deception: The Behavior You Need to Look For

Updated on April 2, 2012
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Some people are better at lying than others. These “born liars” can look people in the eyes with complete sincerity and tell them what they know to be falsehoods. Sometimes, born liars are even able to iron out subconscious tell-tale signs that they are lying. Fortunately for honest people everywhere, very few people are natural liars. If you ever suspect someone around you is fibbing, here are some signs that in the proper context can confirm your suspicions.


For the vast majority of people, lying brings discomfort. The stress of concocting a story, sticking with it, and the constant worry of being found out makes people uneasy. When telling a lie, people will often betray their discomfort with specific behavioral patterns, easily noticeable if you know what to look for. You’ve probably already heard about fidgeting and avoiding eye contact. Here are some more subtle signs that someone is trying to take you for a ride:

1)Timing and emotions

When emotions are being faked, you know someone is trying to mislead you. If someone says “Thank you,” and then smiles, the timing between words and expression is off because the facial expression is being manufactured. In general, the expression of emotion is slightly delayed, lasts a little longer than normal, and then disappears suddenly. And speaking of smiling, you know a smile is genuine when the skin around the eyes crinkles. Any other smile is forced.

2)Attitude

Liars are often defensive when they are questioned after telling a falsehood. While innocent people will often go into detail about their story and their claim, liars are anxious to pass their fib as the truth and then change the subject. If you suspect someone is trying to sell you a story, try changing the subject. If the person quickly follows, it may mean he or she is nervous and grateful for a change in subject. Honest people are more likely to be resistant to the sudden change in subject.

3)Subconscious actions

A basic human instinct, when we are feeling nervous or threatened, is to place objects between ourselves and our perceived interrogator. If I’m sitting across from my professor, and don’t want him to know I cheated on an exam, I might hold a book in front of me as he starts to ask uncomfortable questions. If someone does this in a conversation, odds are they’re hiding something.

4)Deviations from normal speech

False statements often lack the typical inflections of honest, everyday speech. Liars may speak in a monotone, or they speak more slowly or quickly than usual. Of course, this is a test only for people you know well.

Most of these signs have something to do with the nervousness that usually comes with lying. For people who don’t feel this nervousness, the natural liars, the tests are almost useless. There’s also another important caveat; sometimes people who are telling the whole truth exhibit this behavior. This is because of something called the Othello Error, which is the mistake of taking the honest person’s fear of not being believed and interpreting it as signs of guilt.

The truth is that even the most elaborate lie detector tests can be fooled. Polygraphs won’t hold up as evidence in court because of their unreliability. Even professionals at catching liars (law enforcement, psychologists, etc ) have only been shown to accurately identify liars at most 73% of the time.

In short, context is everything. These telltale signs to look for only can be applied to the people whose behaviors you are already familiar with. Because there is no foolproof way to detect lies, short of proving the falsehood itself, it’s best not to use these behaviors to condemn anyone. Unfortunately, this means that if you come across a natural liar, you may have to find out about them the hard way.


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    • Mark Sparks profile image
      Author

      Mark Sparks 6 years ago from Charlottesville, Virginia

      Thanks, Marcy! I hope you caught the guy before he did too much mischief. And I just reported it.

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 6 years ago from Planet Earth

      Mark - great hub here - and you've definitely mentioned some key ways to catch a liar. You're absolutely right about some being so good at it that they don't give themselves away (I have met one world-class liar; he was incredibly gifted at it).

      FYI - report the abuse of your copied site to this email address: abuse@softlayer.com

      That is their hosting company and they are trying to address the complaints. There is a long forum thread about it on the Forums, too. In your email, mention DMCA violations. The forum thread has some info on what to do.

      Meanwhile, voted up, useful and interesting!

    • Mark Sparks profile image
      Author

      Mark Sparks 6 years ago from Charlottesville, Virginia

      thanks man. I'm still learning the ropes at hubpages, so i appreciate the info. imitation is not the finest form of flattery this time

    • TFScientist profile image

      Rhys Baker 6 years ago from Peterborough, UK

      take a look on the forums and they detail how to file a DMCA complaint - there is also something on the learning centre

    • Mark Sparks profile image
      Author

      Mark Sparks 6 years ago from Charlottesville, Virginia

      Well I do appreciate you letting me know. It's not a good feeling when someone copies and pastes your work. Is there any way to report this?

    • TFScientist profile image

      Rhys Baker 6 years ago from Peterborough, UK

      Forums let us know and then I hub-hopped your hub

    • Mark Sparks profile image
      Author

      Mark Sparks 6 years ago from Charlottesville, Virginia

      Wow, you're right. How did you find out about this?

    • TFScientist profile image

      Rhys Baker 6 years ago from Peterborough, UK

      Hi Mark, just to let you know, your content has been stolen at the following site

      http://education.big ezine.com/detecting-deception-the-behavior-you-need-to-look-for-141725.html

      delete the space to follow through.

    • Apostle Jack profile image

      Apostle Jack 6 years ago from Atlanta Ga

      You said well.

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