How To Tell If Someone Is Lying: Body Language Tells You What They Won’t

Updated February 6, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Almost nobody likes being lied to. Unfortunately, sometimes it can be hard to tell when someone is telling the truth - especially if they're good at lying. The good news is that our faces and bodies can exhibit little signs when we lie. That's because our subconscious knows that we are deceiving someone. Our conscious and unconscious mind controls our bodies, so even people who are pretty good at lying usually have "tells" that give them away. Learning what tells to look for can help you know when you're being deceived.

Get To Know Them

Do You Or A Loved One Lie Often?

There are 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, as we will discuss in the next section, tells for when people are lying are similar to or the same as quirks that they may show when they're nervous. 

Body language isn't an exact science, so some of the tells that will be discussed in this article may be things that a person regularly does or does for other reasons. As a result, it may not be best to completely assume that the following behaviors are a sign 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. 

Sometimes, what might seem like lying might actually be something else. Taking an empathetic approach even when speaking to someone who is being deceitful may help you reach a productive solution. After all, lies can stem from a place that isn’t malicious, whether it be genuine fear, discomfort, or low self-esteem.

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 universal changes in body language.

One of the biggest examples has 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 trying to seem more confident than they are, or even trying to intimidate you.

Again, be wary when using basic body language around people that you don't know. Some people naturally sit or stand in different postures, 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 are 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 collars, can help give them away. If these changes aren't noticeable enough, watch their skin. Another part of the stress response involves redirecting blood away from internal organs toward the muscles, which can lead to the skin turning more of a pink or a red than it was before.

Watch For Any Change

Even if you don't know someone very well, you may be able to tell when they're acting strangely because their 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 can notice when they're behaving strangely - and so maybe lying.

You can even do a little litmus test. If you think someone is lying, try changing the subject to something that they are comfortable discussing truthfully. If their body language changes, they may have been lying before.

Watch The Face

The face is the most expressive part of the body. Its changes are also likely to be the most subtle. However, watching for these "micro-expressions" can be very important. These include flaring the nostrils, biting the lip, or blinking more than usual.

The eyes may also shift around. According to one theory, this is because the eyes move subtly toward the side of the brain that is being utilized. When someone is lying, they need to manage the truth and the things that 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.

"Signs Of Thought"

Another non-verbal cue, or rather set of nonverbal cues, are those that we associate with thinking. These are called "signs of thought." Think long pauses in the story or before responses, frequent touching of the face or hair, putting the fingertips together, etc. 

Watch How They're Standing

Someone very aware of body language may try to prevent giving away that they are lying actively. This can result in standing completely still, often with their hands at their sides, or not making any facial expressions. Watch for a blank gaze and unblinking eyes. If they're 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 Tell

Unfortunately, sometimes, body language doesn't give away lies. Some people are 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.

Where To Go Next?

Do You Or A Loved One Lie Often?

If you know someone who lies often or do so yourself, it can be helpful to try and understand why. Most people lie because they need help or are afraid of something, not because there's something wrong with them. Encouraging them to tell the truth, can help them to solve the underlying problem so that they can live happier, healthier, and more truthful lives.

In many cases, frequent lying is a habit that’s hard to break. The underlying cause may be a desire for attention, a skewed sense of self, or craving the ability 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. 

One way that seeing a therapist or counselor can be more affordable is to speak with one through the web. Traditional therapy can be cost-prohibitive for many, but because you won’t need to contribute to things like overhead costs or transportation expenses, online options can save you a lot of money.

Research supports the effectiveness and the affordability of online therapy, too. One review of several studies analyzing the efficacy of online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) noted that online treatment is more cost-effective for patients than in-person treatment. It also found that online therapy could treat mental health symptoms just as well as in-person therapy could.


Changes in body language, like an inability to stand still or make eye contact, speaking with a lot of thought and detail, or showing signs of nerves can point to deceit. But lying doesn’t always equal specific behaviors; some people may be comfortable enough lying to be virtually undetectable, and others might seem to be dishonest even though they aren’t. If you believe someone is lying, it may be best to simply ask them about it – you may be surprised to learn the true reason behind the fib.

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