Spot a Liar

One of the biggest advantages of learning to read body language well is being able to judge when someone is lying with a fair amount of accuracy. Your intuition is never going to be 100% accurate, but with a little practice you can become more aware of when you’re being fed a load of crap. It’s very important to recognize what kind of lies you are actually detecting. The techniques we’re going to discuss in this section correspond to big lies—the lies people tell when they are uncomfortable or afraid of the truth. These skills will get you almost nowhere in detecting white lies, small lies of omission, and what people do most often: exaggerate. Those types of deception are very hard to detect, and it’s important to remember that, regardless of the type of untruth, you’ll never know for certain. You can, however, pick up on common cues so you know when to hold a healthy suspicion about what a person is saying.

Liars often exhibit much of the behavior you’d find in any other uncomfortable person, but with a few very specific additional traits.

1. Fake smile
2. Stiff upper body – no movement
3. Too much eye contact
4. Rub neck and eye and look away to the side
5. Offer more details in their story, often contradicting

Ok, now we can clarify the points one by one.

1. Fake smile
People are bad at offering a genuine smile when they’re lying. In fact, a genuine smile (often referred to as a Duchenne smile), is often said to be impossible to fake. This is why many of us end up with awkward family photos. We may think we look like we’re smiling, but to most anyone it looks like we’re faking it. This is because your smile is in your eyes, or, more specifically, the wrinkles around them. You display a few crows feet when you smile genuinely because your smile pushes up your cheeks which bunches up the skin near your eyes. It’s fairly hard to fake this. You need to feel some sort of genuine happy emotion at the time to do it, and when you’re uncomfortable this is next to impossible. This is why a non-genuine smile can be a helpful indicator of a lie in progress.

2. Too Much Eye Contact
Liars like to overcompensate when they’re lying, and so they’ll often try to remain still and offer eye contact. This will often result in so much eye contact it’s often a little unsettling, and their body will become stiff because they’re attempting not to fidget. Normally, people move and do not hold eye contact for extended periods of time. When uncomfortable, however, people will often rub their neck or eyes and look away to the side. Rather than exhibit the positive body language that would imply comfort, liars tend to opt for doing very little. This, in and of itself, is an indicator. Look for tense shoulders and an unusually high amount of eye contact and you’ll be more likely to spot a liar.

3. Context and Paired Behaviors
In addition to all these non-verbal cues, you’ll need to pay attention to the context. Liars will often offer more details in their stories, suggest punishments for the “real culprit” if they’re being accused of something, and answer you questions with a question to give them time to fabricate an answer rather than provide you with the truth. These behaviors, when paired with standard negative body language and the previously mentioned cues that liars exhibit, give you the right mix of untrustworthy behavior. Separately they may not mean much, but together they point to dishonesty.

It’s important to remember, however, that some people are just awkward and exhibit this kind of behavior with regularity. You should take the way a person normally acts into consideration as well. Watch their mannerisms and eye movements when you know they’re telling the truth and compare that to the times when you think they’re lying. When you see consistent change when certain statements are made, you’ll know how this specific person acts when they’re thinking of what to say rather than recalling information. Again, this or anything else previously mentioned isn’t sufficient in detecting lies. You have to look for multiple cues or what you’ll just discover that you’re fooling yourself into believing you know the difference between fact and fiction.


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