Whether it’s Ricky Gervais discovering that he’s the only one in the world who can tell a fib, or the entire spectrum of lies that everyone deals with every day (everything from little white lies to stonking great ones), humans are a species and a culture for whom lying is despised and yet something virtually everyone does at some point every single day.
Is it an evolutionary instinct? A psychological response? Or maybe people just don’t want to admit they cheated on their New Year’s resolutions and binged on an entire KFC meal. Whatever it is, humans have lied and lied and lied for centuries, ever since Adam turned to Eve and implied they should keep the old apple-eating on the down-low.
Lying is such a mainstream fascination of daily media – consider all the TV shows, films, and media devoted to catching unfaithful spouses or philandering partners – that it’s no wonder that more people than ever are desperate to discover the truth about how to weed out the truth. There’s so much to be garnered from learning to read people and how to tell when they’re trying to pull the cotton over your eyes.
So, if you fancy brushing up your lie-sensing skills in order to become a human guilt detector, or if you want to learn what you might be doing when you’re trying to get away with something, then check out this list of the ten sneakiest, smartest ways to tell when someone is lying.
1. Shifting Eyes
It is such a cliche it has been parodied in every single movie genre you can think of – and The Simpsons. However, cliches aside, there is plenty of reason to use the old ‘shifty eyes’ technique to assess if someone is lying to you. A lot of analysis and research into how humans lie as a species has found evidence that people find it hard to make eye contact with people they’re lying to, possibly as a throwback to a survival tactic.
In our evolutionary past, homo sapiens learned the power of group dynamics and that surviving in a pack of people was much smarter than trying to survive on your own. However, group dynamics found that telling the truth to your pack members – about the environment you were living in, the food you were gathering, what you found out when you were scavenging – helped keep them informed and alive, and helped your pack survive. We still subconsciously feel ‘wrong’ about lying – hence why you can find it incredibly hard to look the other person in the eye; perhaps because you feel that they can ‘sense’ when someone is lying.
Facing someone eye-to-eye and lying right to their face can be an incredibly daunting and difficult task. Keep that in mind when you’re trying to interrogate someone. After all, sometimes the old cliches are the best ones.
2. Sweating Palms
No longer just the feeling that you get from being too close to that rather attractive person you like, having sweating palms is one of the biggest indicators out there. Okay, so a lot of it can be rooted in the kind of common-sense logic that anyone with a functioning computer can Google with success, but there is a genuine scientific basis behind why sweating palms equals lying.
Sweating palms are usually caused by a change in the body’s metabolic rate, in turn caused by the person’s heart rate starting to increase. Think of it like this; when you’re running, your heart is clocking up some serious BPM mileage, causing you to sweat in order to cool your body down. When you’re lying, your heart rate increases and you start to sweat from your palms. This method of observing guilt is so well-known that polygraph detectors measure it when someone takes a lie detector test. That’s something handy to note when you’re trying out a lie, or bingeing out on several episodes of Jeremy Kyle back-to-back…
3. Too Many Unnecessary Details
The devil really is in the details, then, huh? It turns out that one of the best ways to check to see if someone’s lying is to actually listen in deep to their story and see how much they’re actually telling you. Why? Well, because unless your friend/lover/spouse/relative is one of those rare but especially verbose and chatty people who seem to populate every conversation with details, when someone is elaborating, unprompted, with details about their day… it usually means they’re lying their butts off.
Something in human behavior seems to trigger this, suggesting that humans need to cover their tracks by creating such a watertight alibi or imaginary day that is so plausible and believable that the victim of their lie will never suspect. Cheating on a partner? You spent the day at work, and give them an hour-by-hour account of what you and the annoying guy in Accounts did. Lying about not quitting your smoking habit? You spent your lunch hour with your work friends discussing a myriad of topics you’re able to accurately recall. Keep an eye out for an abundance of details; it might just be the case that someone’s recycling the truth with you.
4. Gesturing Too Much
Okay, some people are naturally adept or inclined towards gesturing when they talk. It’s fine, it’s a quirk that a lot of people have to demonstrate what they’re saying. However, going over the top with gesturing or fidgeting is, in fact, an indicator that someone is overcompensating for lying throughout their speech. Research has found that rather than the stereotypical image of a twitchy liar unable to stop with the little movements, a liar is much more likely to rein in those smaller moments and go for the big, unconscious guns.
Anything and everything from using their hands to convey every single point, to over-emphasizing even smaller details with physical gestures and details, can be a tell-tale sign that the person in question is telling a big fat fib. So, if you’re trying to get away with a hell of a lie, maybe try and keep your physical gesturing down to your usual amount. Sure it might take a little more concentration, but isn’t it worth it compared to flailing and being caught almost instantly?
5. Responding Incorrectly To Leading Questions
One of the more proactive and more dangerous ways of trying to discover a lie is to try your hand at some leading questions. Leading questions are, in of themselves, methods examined through psychological research, and are ways that people can consciously or unconsciously lead others on in conversations. However, one of the best ways that can help you uncover the truth is to use leading questions to try and catch the suspected liar in a trap.
In a situation when you know certain things, try dropping a leading question such as ‘Boy, you must have hit all that traffic coming home’, when you know that their route home was very clear and easy. If they lie to your face and go along with your falsehood, it can suggest that they are attempting to go along with you, rather than provide an accurate re-telling of events. Does that necessarily mean they’re out-and-out lying? Well, it’s not looking good, let’s put it that way.
6. Reduced Use Of First Person Pronouns
Me, me, me. No, this isn’t the Twitter biography – or, hell, let’s be honest, the actual autobiography – of some of the world’s stars. It’s one of the best ways to check to see if the person you are having a conversation with is actually being straight with you. Studies into lying and the way humans do it have found that, etymologically, there’s one major thing that occurs when humans are trying to pull of a lie: the liar doesn’t us first person pronouns as much.
Basically, they stop saying ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’, and ‘mine’ as much when they’re telling a lie. The reason behind this? Psychologists have suggested that humans stop using the first person pronouns when they’re lying in order to try and distance themselves mentally from the lie they’re telling themselves. Human beings tend to try and think of themselves of good people; so rather than deal with the fact that they’re lying, they try to make it about other people, or from a more objective point of view. It does explain why there are so few ‘I totally slept in’ excuses, and tons more ‘the traffic was insane’ ones that you probably run into on a daily basis.
7. Check Their Head Position
Okay, now you’re moving into more expert territory here, but if you can crack these babies, you’ll be a veritable lie detecting machine. One of the best ways to spot someone lying is to check their head position. Seriously, watch their head.
When someone is lying, they’re much more likely to keep shifting or changing the position of their head, much like when you’re trying to avoid the subject of why you haven’t settled down with that special someone, or why you haven’t called your parents in a month. Lying induces a subconcious feeling of guilt in the vast majority of people, and so they adjust their head more often as an unconscious way of not having to face their guilt head on. Look at how so many people, when lying, don’t even look at their victims in the eye. A lot of power lies in unconscious movements, and the way your face and head react are telltale signs that you’re guilty as charged.
Microexpressions. They’re the stuff of Sherlock Holmes, ‘Lie to Me’, and every pseudo-psychological publication worth their salt. A lot of modern research has been conducted into just what microexpressions are – although the name does give you a massive clue. Microexpressions are the tiny, fraction-of-a-second-long expressions that are, more often than not, done unconsciously . In the grand scheme of things, this can give you a premium, VIP seat into what even the most stoic individual is feeling at any one time.
Examining these microexpressions may seem a little bit too advanced for any basic lie detector in training, but they’ve been proven to be a useful tool in examining what people are really thinking when they let their guard down. Isn’t that worth doing a little bit of hard work and practice in? The best thing? Training in recognizing and analyzing microexpressions is becoming rapidly popular all over the world – and an hour’s worth of good training is probably coming to a city near you.
9. They Cover Their Mouth
One of the most well-known ways of examining someone’s you believe is telling a fib is to examine what they do with their mouth when they’re talking. Yes, alright, aside from talking that is, which, in itself, is important. However, when someone covers their mouth a lot whilst telling you a story, it can be a massive indicator that they’re spinning you a none-too-reliable yarn.
What is it about covering your mouth that means ‘lie’?” Psychologists have suggested that this behavior comes from an unconscious desire to close off information in case it turns out to lead to the lie being found out. Basically, it boils down to the liar wanting to shut down their information channel (i.e. mouth) and trying to avoid the situation altogether, particularly when the person they are lying to insists on bringing up more questions and information that can potentially threaten the integrity of the lie. Next time your partner tells you about their day with half their hand covering their mouth, you can begin a bit of investigation. After all, they might just be trying cover up one heck of a lie.
10. Trust Your Gut
All platitudes aside – this lie detecting technique is one of the most underrated, and yet most innately valuable.
Trust. Your. Gut.
Okay, so it is a little bit of a cliche, but still, when you’re trying to suss out a lie, sometimes you already know the answer. Your gut instinct isn’t a thinly-veiled euphemism for your spiritual essence or soul; it’s a biological instinct developed through generations and generations of survival. Humans have this instinct in order to understand, analyze, and consider threats to themselves and those they care about. While lying might have evolved somewhat since the days of kill-or-be-killed, it’s still a threat rooted in biology.
When you’re facing off against someone you suspect of lying, listen to that little voice in your head telling you that something is wrong. More often than not, you have a reason, unconscious or otherwise, that you think that someone is lying. You’re much better at reading people and intuitively knowing that something ain’t quite right than you even know. It doesn’t mean you should go in all guns blazing. After all, everyone’s wrong at one time or another.
So, the real question is whether or not you can trust your gut when you’re dealing with a potential liar. It might just be worth trying out sometime – after all, you can’t rely on wooden noses growing all the time.