Can you Detect Deception? 

Six ways to know when I am lying

There is no sure way to tell if someone is lying - but plenty of myths. Wisdom eschews quick answers from pop psychology, like an averted gaze or shuffling of feet. In fact, the more that “every smart person knows” something, the more likely it is that the liar will know it too, and control that aspect of their behaviour.
But this does not mean that there are no "tells" that, together, give you clues if you are wise enough to patiently assemble the evidence. Let's look at some of the myths and facts behind the language of lying.

1. Eyes

Let's start with the eyes: liars don't look you in the eye. Wrong, wrong, wrong! In fact it is so wrong that the opposite is true. Liars know this rule and exploit it so that, if anything, they will look you in the eye more. There is no reliable correlation.

But eyes do convey information. If you ask a simple closed question where the answer should be obvious, a truth-teller may look away for a fraction of a second, but a liar may look away longer while concocting a story to justify their answer. There is some evidence that people systematically look in one direction (most often to their left: your right) when accessing a memory and in the other direction (more often to their right: your left) when fabricating a story.

Fear is a bigger factor for a liar than for a truth-teller too, so you can expect the physiological responses of fear - wide eyes and dilated pupils - to be more evident. But beware - dilated pupils can also indicate attraction or just low light levels.

2. Sort of...

Liars want to limit their lies, so will qualify them with words like "sort of", "maybe", "I think". This is their way of persuading themselves, subconsciously, that they are not completely lying.

And, when you are listening carefully to the words people use, liars use fewer contractions when lying, saying things like "cannot" rather than "can't" as if trying to appear deliberate. But this too can let you down: some regional and cultural speech groups make greater or lesser use of these contractions too.

3. Fidgeting

When we are nervous, we fidget, and you would expect liars to be nervous. Liars know this too. What we actually see is less movement in posture, particularly in the head, upper body and arms. They will often grip their hands together, or onto an object, to control unconscious movement. On the other hand, truth-tellers will be free and fluent with their gestures, which will closely mirror the sense of what they are saying.

4. Voice

Another example of a physiological response is the raising of the pitch of our voices when we are stressed. If you put a liar under stress, their vocal tone will go up, and they will run out of breath more often, causing more hesitancy. But how can you distinguish this from the nervousness anyone would feel if their story were being tested? The best way is to listen carefully and ask relevant questions. Truth-tellers will find your focus on interesting detail relaxes them: it will do the opposite to liars.

5. Covering the mouth...

to stop the lies getting out. Hmmm.

This is another old chestnut that "everyone knows", including liars. It is possibly another reason why liars hold their hands still: to avoid this impulse. The fact is that the eyes and forehead will tell you more. Look out for unexpected facial asymmetry as a sign of deception, such as fleeting smile on one side of the mouth while the other grimaces. This is less prone to conscious control and a sure sign that something is not right.

6. Lack of richness

When we tell remembered stories naturally, they are full of rich and irrelevant detail, picking up on things we noticed and emotions we felt. In this sense, the stories of liars are often more impoverished, focusing only on the salient points of the fabricated story. But beware: liars often find odd bits of extra detail to throw in, to fool the unwary listener.

Smart to Wise is the latest book by Dr Mike Clayton. Learn more about the journey from Smart to Wise at and sign up for daily wisdom tweets @smart2wise.

Author's Bio: 

Mike Clayton has been searching for wisdom for all of his life. He is fascinated by all branches of knowledge, from management theory to theoretical physics, from linguistics to psychology, and from history to philosophy. Learning is more than an objective, it’s a life-long mission.