How To Tell If Someone Is Lying: Body Language Tells You What They Won’t
Although body language cannot be consistently relied upon to determine whether a person is lying, it can offer some clues. For instance, a person whose body language differs greatly from its baseline may be lying. Signs of nervousness and the stress response may also arise in people who are not telling the truth. To learn more about nonverbal communication or to address a lying habit, it can be helpful to work with a licensed therapist.
Get To Know Them
There can be some common tells that people are likely to exhibit when lying, largely because body language is usually a universal dialect. However, individual people often have their unique tells as well. In many cases, tells for when people are lying can be similar to the quirks they may show when they're nervous.
Body language isn't necessarily an exact science, so some of the tells that will be discussed in this article may not be 100% accurate for all people. As a result, it may not be best to always assume that the following behaviors are signs of deceit. Instead, it can be helpful to be on the lookout for things that seem out of the ordinary and communicate your observations to the person in question.
Know The Basics
As was briefly mentioned above, people might not always give away that they're lying, but they might give away that they are nervous. Nervousness is one feeling that is often expressed by a few common changes in body language.
One of the biggest examples may have to do with stance. When we are confident, we tend to take up more space. When we're nervous or afraid, we may shrink down or try to blend into the background. If someone is sitting with their knees together or standing with their arms folded, for instance, it could be a sign that they are nervous.
On the flip side, if someone is seemingly standing or sitting in a way that makes them look unnaturally large, they may be attempting to seem more confident than they are, or even trying to intimidate you.
Again, it can be best to remain wary when using basic body language interpretations around people you don't know. Some people naturally sit or stand in different postures, often making it harder to tell whether a posture is natural to them or not. What may be significant are changes to what you typically see from someone.
Note The Stress Response
Some tells that can point to dishonesty can be the result of the stress response. During the stress response, breathing often becomes faster and shallower, and a person’s heart rate can skyrocket. While these things may not be visible on the surface, small signs, like a tug on a shirt collar, can give them away. If these changes aren't noticeable enough, you might look at a person’s skin. Another part of the stress response can involve redirecting blood away from internal organs toward the muscles, which can lead to the skin turning pinker or redder than it was before.
Watch For Any Changes
Even if you don't know someone very well, you may be able to tell when they're acting strangely because some experts believe body language can change when we lie. This change can happen so quickly that even if you don't know someone, you might notice when they're behaving strangely—and, perhaps, lying.
You can even conduct a litmus test: If you think someone is lying, you might try changing the subject to something that they are comfortable discussing truthfully. If their body language changes, they may have been lying before. However, this is not a foolproof method of determining whether someone is lying.
Look At Their Face
The face is typically the most expressive part of the body. Its changes can also be the most subtle. However, watching for these "micro-expressions" can be very important. These may include flaring the nostrils, biting the lip, or blinking more than usual.
The eyes may also shift around. According to one theory, this can be because the eyes move subtly toward the side of the brain that is being utilized. When someone is lying, they normally need to manage both the truth and the things they are making up. This may, according to the theory, cause their eyes to dart around the room. They may also be hesitant to make eye contact or look at you for too long.
Notice Signs Of Thought
Another set of nonverbal cues can be those we normally associate with thinking. These can be called "signs of thought," such as long pauses in the story or before responses, frequent touching of the face or hair, and putting the fingertips together.
Look At How They're Standing
Someone who is very aware of body language may try to prevent cues that may indicate they are lying. This can result in standing completely still, often with their hands at their sides, or not making any facial expressions. You might watch for a blank gaze and unblinking eyes. If a person is unable to stand completely still because they are too nervous, they may do little things, like regularly shift their weight from foot to foot or shake their feet.
When Body Language Doesn't Give You The Answer
Body language doesn't always give away lies. Some people may be more comfortable lying than others, and sometimes, mental health disorders may lead an individual to lie more often, even to the point that they believe themselves.
Pathological liars, for instance, may know deep down that they are lying, but because they often lie impulsively, it may seem natural to them to do so.
If you know someone who lies often or do so yourself, it can be helpful to try to understand why. Many people lie because they need help or are afraid of the consequences that telling the truth could lead to. Encouraging them to tell the truth may help them address any challenges they may be experiencing so that they can live happier, healthier, and more truthful lives.
In many cases, frequent lying can be a habit that’s hard to break. The underlying cause may be a desire for attention, a skewed sense of self, or the need to control other people’s perceptions of ourselves, among other things. Working with a mental health professional can help you understand why you tend to lie and what you can do to change your habits.
Benefits Of Online Therapy
Traditional therapy can be cost-prohibitive for many, but because you won’t usually need to contribute to things like overhead costs or transportation expenses, online therapy platforms can save you a lot of money. You can also customize the online therapy experience by choosing between video call, phone call, and online chat, as well as selecting the time and location for your sessions.
Effectiveness Of Online Therapy
Research generally supports the effectiveness and affordability of online therapy. Although more research may be needed regarding the efficacy of online therapy for pathological lying, a growing body of evidence suggests that online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy.
What are the common body language signs of lying?
While investigations into whether one can tell that someone is lying are ongoing, scientists do know that some people experience a reaction known as the "stress response" (also known as "fight-or-flight") when they lie, triggering a process in the body that creates physiological cues that one may see externally.
Still, this type of body language can vary significantly from person to person, and people may exhibit these behaviors for different reasons, such as nervousness, individual personality traits— even cultural differences. It's essential to establish a person's baseline behavior and consider a cluster of signs rather than relying on any single indicator that someone may be lying.
Some common body language signs that someone may be lying to you include:
- Glancing away or avoiding eye contact while telling the lie can be an indicator, but some people take care to deliberately maintain eye contact to appear more convincing.
- Some people may unconsciously hide the lips by rolling them inward, or they may purse them.
- Covering the mouth or touching the face, especially around the mouth or eyes, can indicate a desire to hide the truth.
- One's complexion may flush or pale as blood vessels react in the face.
- Some people sweat on the upper lip, forehead, or chin when they feel tense. A person may blink rapidly, lick their lips, or swallow hard as the mouth or eyes go dry if they're lying.
- Restlessness and fidgeting are other cues. Tapping fingers, bouncing legs, or toying with items can signal discomfort and nervousness. Remember, for some, this type of behavior may be typical. That's why establishing a person's baseline behavior is so important.
- Contradictory hand gestures or body movements might accompany a lie. For instance, nodding "yes" while verbally denying something.
- While it isn't body language, strictly speaking, sudden change in voice pitch, speed, or hesitation in speech can suggest a person is fabricating or concealing information.
- Stiffness in posture, crossed arms, or closed-off body language can be a defensive response indicating deception.
What are the warning signs of someone lying?
In addition to those listed above, there are more red flags to look for to detect whether someone is lying to you according to body language experts:
Best-selling author Traci Brown says to pay close attention to a person's body language when they begin to speak. When people converse under non-threatening conditions, their gestures flow naturally before speaking, while someone lying may begin gesturing after they've started their sentence. It may be an even larger indication if the person frequently interrupts you with bold gestures.
Vanessa Van Edwards, keynote speaker and Facebook icon has some tips on detecting a lie by paying close attention to a person's language during your conversation. For example, she states that when someone inflects the end of a sentence as if they're asking a question (ends the sentence on a high note), uses excessive contractions, and avoids using personal pronouns, you may want to probe further.
Criminal justice consultant Dr. Lillian Glass says to notice the person's head movements when asking a direct question. If they cock or tilt the head to the side, bow the chin, or jerk the head back, it may be a red flag that they're lying to you.
What are the tell-tale signs of a person who is lying?
While it may not be the best approach to assume there are "tell-tale" signs of lying, there are other things to watch out for when speaking to a person you suspect is being deceptive:
They give unusually short answers.
Someone who's lying may give more minimal answers to your questions than someone who's being honest.
They avoid providing specifics.
While it's normal to forget the specifics of an event or situation (especially if it's in the past), people who lie may steer clear of giving detailed answers. This is especially the case when asked for answers about specific times, events, locations, people's names, and conversation details.
Repeating your question before they answer.
Sometimes, people will repeat your question because they're "buying time" to develop a believable story or conjure details.
They speed up their answers as they're talking.
Some people who lie begin their story slowly with more sustained pauses; then, once they're more confident in the lie, they'll speed up the pace.
They'll repeat the story oddly precisely.
While people who are telling the truth often have no problem delivering the specifics of a story, people who are lying often regurgitate the same exact story with the same exact details in the same exact order, no matter how many times you ask them to repeat it.
What are the nonverbal signs of deception?
The body language of a person lying often contradicts the words coming from their mouth, so it's essential to pay close attention to both nonverbal behaviors and the words they use to tell the story.
Nonverbal behaviors may include how one moves the body— for example, fidgeting, quick head movements, excessively touching the face, wringing the hands, and irregular eye contact.
Nonverbal signs of lying may also be found in an individual's facial expressions. These may include biting their lips, pursing or drawing the lips inward, blinking rapidly, tightening the jaw and forehead muscles, and excessive sweating on the face.
Research on micro-expressions reveals that even facial expressions lasting for a fraction of a second can give away a person's dishonesty. Micro-expressions are often spontaneous reactions and typically convey strong emotions including, but not limited to, disgust, anger, fear, surprise, sadness, and enjoyment.
Remember— body language cues are helpful, but only within the context of the person's baseline behavior and in clusters with other signs of deception. For example, although people who lie often fidget, some may not because they're trying to control their body language to appear less deceptive. Also, some may avert their gaze and avoid eye contact, while others deliberately hold your gaze to try and interpret your reactions to their story.
Where do people who lie look when lying?
In the past, experts believed one could detect whether a person was lying by using neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). They posited that dishonest people typically look up and to the right when asked to recall details, while people telling the truth glanced up and to the left. However, a 2012 study from the Public Library of Science One (PLoS One) journal debunked that theory.
How do you catch someone lying?
There are things you can do to "flush out" someone you suspect is lying to you, including:
- Establish their baseline behavior and get familiar with what they look like when they're telling the truth, then look for variations in that baseline behavior.
- Watch for signs of anxiety or uneasiness.
- Note inconsistencies in their story, particularly when recalling behaviors that contradict common sense.
- Test their responses by asking an unexpected question you suspect they won't be prepared to answer.
- Note contradictions between their words and body language.
- Pay close attention to how they express their emotions. If their facial expressions contradict the emotion they're conveying with words, you may want to probe further.
- Look for micro-expressions that might convey their genuine emotions.
- Consider the level of detail they provide in their answers. Most people naturally give more casual answers when telling the truth, omitting unnecessary details. Someone who's lying will sometimes provide excessive details that "prove" they aren't being dishonest.
- Take your "gut feelings" seriously. Even if you aren't sure what it is about what they said or did that makes you think they're being dishonest, take note of it.
What do you do when you know someone is lying but they won't admit it?
It can be highly stressful and frustrating if you know someone is lying but refuses to "come clean" about it.
- First, take a moment to consider the possible reasons they may be lying— this can help you understand why they lied in the first place, but also why they're so reluctant to admit it. Some people lie to get what they want or achieve something. Others may lie for no good reason. Still, other people may lie because they have a mental health condition in which compulsive lying is a symptom, like histrionic, antisocial, or narcissistic disorders.
- If possible, establish proof of the lie before you approach the individual. With proof, your next course of action should be clear, even if they continue to lie.
- Don't "confront" them; simply approach them. Try to stay calm and avoid reacting emotionally when engaging the person. This may be difficult while they're lying to your face, but it's essential.
- If you know they're lying, don't support the behavior by pretending otherwise. Let them know you know they're lying and disengage from the conversation if they continue to do so.
- While walking away may be the best approach when someone continues to lie, in some circumstances, it may be prudent to make yourself clear about what will happen if they don't respect your boundaries by continuing to lie.
How do you tell a lie without getting caught?
Everyone tells "white lies" occasionally because we want to protect another person's feelings when the truth is hurtful. But lies are seldom acceptable when someone lies for personal gain or deceives someone to avoid "getting caught" doing something they know is wrong.
While it isn't recommended under those circumstances, if you feel the need to deceive another person, consider the typical behaviors people exhibit when lying. Stay as close to your baseline behavior as possible and try to move your body naturally. Avoid "tells" like fidgeting, excessively touching your face, or twisting your lips.
Think about how you converse when you aren't lying and stick to those verbal patterns as closely as possible. Keep your answers short but not too short, provide just the right amount of detail, and watch your tone and inflection.
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