Did you know that just 54 percent of lies can be accurately spotted? Extroverts also tell more lies than introverts and at least 82 percent of lies go undetected, according to the scienceofpeople.com website. The good news, however, is that people can improve their lie detection abilities, increasing them to near 90 percent accuracy. But how do you get started?
One of the very first steps, according to the Science of People website, is becoming familiar with how someone typically acts. This is the process of establishing a baseline. “A baseline is how someone acts when they are under normal, non-threatening conditions. It is how someone looks when they are telling the truth,” the website reads. In other words, it may be difficult to tell when someone is lying if you don’t know how he or she acts when they are telling the truth, which of course makes perfect sense.
However, the strategies used to spot a lie can sometimes be confusing or even conflicting. Because of that, before making an accusation, be sure to think twice – or even three times – about doing it unless, of course, it’s really important to find out what happened to that last donut. Here, in no particular order, is a list of top 10 signs that someone is lying:
1. A change in their voice
According to Gregg McCrary, a retired FBI criminal profiler, a person’s voice or mannerisms of speaking may change when they tell a lie, as reported on the Real Simple website. He first takes the strategy of identifying a person’s regular speech patterns and mannerisms by asking typical, easy questions, such as what their name is or where they live. This allows him to see any changes in speaking or mannerisms when he asks more challenging, interrogative questions.
2. They may try and be still
It seems weird, but being perfectly still or being very still may be an indicator that a person is not telling the truth. As Reader’s Digest points out, such a person may keep their movements minimized or even pull their arms and legs in toward their body, mostly as a result of being tense or nervous. Think about it – when things are normal, people are generally more relaxed and may exhibit more fluidity and movement in their body, but when something is awry, including having to tell a white lib or a huge fib, they may become stiff or rigid in body movement.
3. Their bodily expressions may not match what they are saying out loud
Ever seen a person tell someone else that everything is fine when his or her body language and expressions clearly say something different? This may be a sign that they are not telling the truth, even to themselves! As the website bifaloo.com points out, when someone is lying the timing between what they are saying and what they are expressing may be off or their expressions may be mismatched to their words — just think of a flat ‘thank you’ accompanied with a frown for a big bouquet of flowers – something is off! Other signs of a mismatch include a person shaking their head ‘no’ while replying yes to a question, reports ScienceofPeople.com.
4. Their language can change
They might use distancing language to separate themselves from the truth, even changing their selection of pronouns as they speak. “I misplaced her money,” might became “I misplaced the money,” all in an effort, subconscious or otherwise, to show less connection to an object or objects or to what is being discussed.
5. Direction of their eyes
Sometimes people who are not telling the truth may look to the left because they may be constructing answers or imagery in their head. This may be opposed to looking to the right or up and to the right, where people’s eyes often head when they are trying to recall an auditory or visual memory. However, as bifaloo.com points out, these eye directions may be reversed for the typical left-handed person. And udemy.com reports that eye direction may not be most reliable indicator of a lie.
6. Covering their mouth or eyes
Many people want to literally cover up a lie or hide themselves from the reaction to it, which may be why they put their hands over their eyes or mouths when letting an untruth out. Others may even actually completely close their eyes when telling a lie, according to an article posted on communitytable.com, particularly when its in response to a question that does not require a lot of reflection.
7. Unusual gesticulating
Think about what a kid does when you ask them where the last cookie went. They may lick their lips, look at their nails, or even shake their hands – and then tell a big whopper of a lie. What’s really happening is that their anxiety-response has kicked in it, causing blood to be withdrawn from their extremities, according to communitytable.com. They may be unconsciously trying to calm that anxiety response or at least get the blood flowing back to their extremities, all of which could point to nervousness about telling a lie.
8. Taking that hardline pause
Liars may pause a lot as they work to construct details or stories in their head or to explain their actions using a storyline that really didn’t occur. Lifehack.com reports that paying attention to these pauses can be important because it may mean that an individual is making up events as they talk. Prevention magazine additionally says that people who pause, who seem to be thinking hard, or who show gaps in their conversation may be exhibiting behaviors consistent with people who lie.
9. Improvising with the details
Since a liar may make up things as they go, they may also have a tendency to add excessive detail to better convince themselves or others of what they are saying. They may also embellish with details that a person who is telling the truth wouldn’t think of adding. For example, a poster on AllWomensTalk.com, said that her mom could always tell when her brother was telling a lie because her brother would just talk on and on when questioned.
10. Pointing their fingers (literally)
The act of pointing at or toward something or someone else may signal a desire to take a focus off of an individual and onto someone else, according to therichest.com. Of course, knowing if that person normally gesticulates or finger points frequently can be a helpful baseline. Additionally, if they point their finger in a different direction than the way their eyes are looking, they could also be telling a lie, according to The Student Eye.
Finally, there may be different techniques to use when trying to detect someone who may be lying to you on the phone or even lying in an e-mail. None of the techniques listed above, however, should be used alone as a hard and fast strategy for catching someone in a lie. However, if you are truly interested in learning more, you may want to consider working toward a degree in investigation, or enrolling in Udemy’s “How to Become a Human Lie Detector” course. As of February 2015, some 8,896 students had enrolled in the class, taught by behavioral investigator Vanessa Van Edwards, suggesting that people certainly want to learn more about how other people tell lies.
BA in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
MS in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice (MSCJ)
Post-Master's Certificate - CJ Behavior Analysis
Barry is Managing Editor of ForensicsColleges.com, operated by educational web publisher Sechel Ventures Partners LLC, which he co-founded. Barry was previously VP for a financial software company, and currently sits on the board of a K-8 school and lives with his wife and daughters in the San Francisco Bay Area.