How can you tell if someone is lying to you? Is it even possible to discern this behavior? The reality is people tell lies and tell them all the time. There’s a big difference between an innocent lie that doesn’t influence the trajectory of other people’s lives and a lie causing massive damage to other people’s life experiences.
Some people have a natural ability to sniff out lies, while others are easier to deceive. Some people believe it’s impossible to detect when people are lying, but experts will tell you a different story. Liars are easy to spot with the right training.
We put together this series, “How can I tell if someone is lying?” to improve your innate “BS” radar. We all have the ability to detect when people are lying, and this series unmasks the techniques you need to master your internal lie detector.
In this first installment of the series, we look at body language. What is body language, and how can it help us identify deception in others?
Understanding Body Language and How It Relates to Lying
“Body language” defines a set of physical movements we make to show signs of our emotional state. These movements are subconscious behavior, meaning we don’t realize we’re making them, and there’s nothing we can do to consciously stop this behavior.
For instance, if hearing a piece of news makes you happy, you don’t have to consciously think about smiling. The feeling bubbles to the forefront of your conscious mind, and before you know it, you have a grin from ear to ear.
Experts uncovered that we make a bunch of unconscious movements in our body, face, and eyes when we lie. This body language is impossible to repress. Let’s take the game of poker as an example. “Bluffing” is an important part of the game. Players will bluff to make the other players at the table think they have a good or bad hand, depending on the scenario.
However, what novice players don’t realize, and what advanced players understand, is that people who bluff give away their behavior by leaving a “tell.” A good example of this behavior comes from the movie “Rounders,” starring Matt Damon as a college poker player involved in a high-stakes game.
Matt is playing a game against “KGB Teddy,” a notorious player that’s hard to beat. However, Damon figures out Teddys “tell.” Teddy, played by John Malkovich, cracks an Oreo cookie in a specific manner when he’s bluffing. Damon figures this out and uses it to his advantage to win the pot.
When Teddy realizes Damon knows his tell, he loses his temper, and he loses the game. It’s a classic example of body language giving away a person’s intentions, despite doing their best to conceal them.
Source: Movie clips (YouTube)
What is the “Baseline” in Body Language?
A person’s body language “baseline” defines a set of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors they usually go through during the day when responding to external stimuli. Our baseline is unique, and no two people are the same, but we can observe similar traits in people across large behavioral groups.
For instance, someone feeling depressed might walk around with their shoulders lumped, a frown on their face, staring at the ground. Or someone feeling happy might keep their chin up, with a smile on their face, making eye contact with other people around them.
People have different body language reactions to different situations. To understand a person’s true body language baseline, you’ll need to observe them in heated emotional states and relaxed conditions. By observing their behavior in several states, we’ll find it easier to pick out inconsistencies in their body language.
While this might seem like an easy strategy, it’s easier said than done. So, we need to gather information from data points by analyzing the current situation where we’re trying to “read” the other person.
Essentially, you’re looking for any inconsistencies in their normal behavior that seems “off.” You can use a simple and fast method to detect aberrant behavior you find suspicious using their body language.
If you notice any shift from their normal behavior, or “baseline,” you’ll find there are non-verbal cues they leave that give away their attempt at deception. There are six things to look for in people’s baseline body language to tell if they’re lying or feeling uncomfortable. In this case, you’re looking for three to five changes in their body language to understand if they’re attempting to be deceptive.
No one piece of body language can tell you if sies lying unless you have a very good understanding of that person. However, by looking for multiple instances of shifts in body language, you can start building a case for deceptive behavior.
Here are the six things to look for in other people’s body language to see if they’re lying to you.
- They don’t make eye contact with you when speaking or after they finish speaking.
- They tend to touch their face.
- They start to fidget.
- They avoid directly answering questions and try to divert the conversation.
- They talk fast to try and wash out the conversation and move on to another subject.
- They change the topic of discussion.
Next, we’ll look at what to look out for in specific parts of another person’s body language to determine if they’re lying.
Body Language & Lying – The Face
Some liars try to make a conscious effort to monitor their speech or body language that people might try to focus on to detect deception. So, for instance, they might try to hone in on their speech when answering someone with a lie.
Since listening to people’s speech and words is possibly the most challenging aspect of catching out a liar, it’s better to focus on other parts of their physiology to look for clues of deception. The face is probably the best place to focus your attention on the task of “unmasking” deceptive behavior.
The nerves and muscles in the face connect to an area of the brain that autonomously controls our emotional responses to external stimuli. That means we have no way of controlling it. A great example is how Adin Ross gets Andrew Tate to break character in the following clip, causing him to smile and make a facial expression he can’t control.
Source: Cup of Twitch (YouTube)
Do We Touch Our Face When We Lie?
Touching your face when you lie could be a sign of deception or an indication of you being in
a high-stress environment. We sometimes touch our faces to calm us down and help us think clearly. Experts call this behavior the “pacifier” or “regulator” in body language terms.
Facial touching is a component of deceptive behavior we must watch for when looking at body language. It’s important to remember that one piece of body language isn’t enough to give us confirmation that someone is lying to us.
Do We Blush When We Lie?
People often blush when they feel shy, ashamed, or embarrassed about something. It’s another data point we can add to our observations of the person’s behavior. Adding blushing with facial touching gives us a combination of data points, making it more likely the person is trying to be deceptive.
Do We Yawn When We Lie?
Yawning is a facial expression people make when they unconsciously want to avoid replying or engaging with someone. They make it a sign of boredom to show they’re done talking about something. In deceptive behavior, yawning shows contempt or frustration with someone else asking them penetrating questions they want to avoid.
Body Language & Lying – The Eyes
Have you heard the adage, “The eyes are the windows to the soul?” Well, they also provide a window into discovering deceptive behavior in others. For instance, people will look to the left to access their memory banks when recalling information. That’s a clear indication they’re telling the truth.
The eyes give many subtle clues for identifying deceptive behavior. Let’s look at a few examples of body language relating to the eyes and how you can use it to determine if someone’s lying to you.
Looking for Changes in Eye Movement
Many inexperienced liars will avoid making eye contact when they’re being deceptive. However, experienced liars realize this behavior and can stare you right in the face while lying to you without blinking or shifting their eyes.
Changes in Blinking Rate
An increase in blinking rate is the biggest indication of deceptive behavior. We tend to blink more when we’re under stress, and this autonomous function is hard to control, especially if you’re unaware of it being a sign of deceptive behavior.
The average person blinks eight to twenty times a second. So, you can create a baseline for someone’s blink rate and use that to identify deception when asking them a question. If they start blinking more, they’re probably lying to you.
Is Crying an Indication of Lying?
People cry when they are under emotional stress. Some people may use tears to distract people from their behavior. If a person starts crying genuinely, you can pressure them into admitting they were lying by telling them that you won’t judge them and that revealing the truth is okay.
Looking To the Right
Looking to the right is the opposite of looking to the left. If you ask someone a question and they look to the right before answering, they’re accessing the creative side of the brain to invent a lie. Like the blinking rate, this is a powerful autonomous reaction we can’t get around.
If you ask a person a question and notice their pupils dilate as they think about the answer or reply, it’s another indication of deceptive behavior. This is another autonomous brain function as the sympathetic nervous system activates the “Fight-or-Flight” response. The pupils widen to let in more light to help us identify an escape route.
Body Language & Lying – Movements
Our bodies will unconsciously move when we tell lies. Look for these signs of body movements indicating deception in others.
Is Nodding of the Head a Sign of Lying?
People often give themselves away with their body language without realizing it. For instance, they might answer “no” to a question but unconsciously start nodding their head. A good example of this behavior was when Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez was questioned about his possible PED use during his baseball career. While A-Rod answered “no,” he did so while nodding his head in agreement.
Is Fidgeting a Sign of Lying?
Some people may start fidgeting with things in their hands or around them when they lie. For instance, if the person is sitting at a table and they have a pen nearby, they might pick it up and start fidgeting with it. They might click the top of the pen, withdrawing and extending the tip.
Is Shifting in Your Seat a Sign of Lying?
Most people feel uneasy when lying. They’ll start to shift in their seat or transition their weight from one leg to another when standing. This is why polygraph examiners often use a pad on the examinee’s seat to detect this movement during a lie detector test.
Is Shrugging Your Shoulders a Sign of Lying?
Unconscious gestures are a big sign of deceptive behavior. If the person shrugs one of their shoulders slightly while answering your question, it signifies possible dishonest behavior.
Body Language & Lying – Key Takeaways
Understanding body language gives us clues to uncovering deceptive behavior in others. While no single body language indicator is good enough to confirm deception, we can use a combination to confirm our suspicions of the person lying to us.
You can look for clues in how a person moves their body when they answer your question or how their eyes behave in response to your inquiry. Their facial expressions also provide insight into what they are really thinking and their true intentions.
By fine-tuning your ability to detect body language cues, you make it harder for people to lie to you. Study these examples in the people around you, and you’ll find it surprising how many you see people make every day.