Let’s face it: Most of us lie every day. A study by a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts found that “60% of people lied at least once during a 10-minute conversation and told an average of two to three lies.”
Few of us are good at spotting a lie. And science so far hasn’t done much better. Polygraph machines (popularly referred to as lie detectors) aren’t a reliable measure of lying and aren’t used in most courts.
Even so, knowing a few things about lies and their tellers might someday help you.
Here are some of the more popular techniques that researchers and experts in law enforcement recommend for trying to spot a lie. A note of caution: No single clue in this list is a sure sign that someone is lying. But they can be a clue to pay closer attention to the possibility.
1. Vocal tipoffs
Changes in a person’s normal behavior can betray discomfort of some sort and might be a tipoff to lies. For example, says VeryWellMind, a publication focused on mental health, if a speaker appears to be uncertain, unsure or even insecure, they can at least seem hard to trust.
As with most signs of lying, spotting whether someone is lying to you depends a lot on the context. Vocal signs — a change in someone’s speech or voice pattern — are most helpful when you are observing someone you know well because you’re more likely to notice a departure from their typical behavior.
Detail is one of the ingredients that make speech vivid and believable; when someone appears to be deliberately omitting important details and facts, it’s possible they are lying, VeryWellMind says.
Another possible tipoff: Someone who repeats your question before answering it gives the appearance of stalling or buying time and this, too, may be a sign of lying.
Some people fidget when nervous, behavioral analyst Lillian Glass told Business Insider. People fidget for all kinds of reasons, but if you suspect lying, you can ask yourself, is there a reason for them to be nervous?
Some people do the opposite, though; they cope with stress by standing still or freezing, Glass explains.
4. Grooming behaviors
Grooming behaviors — someone running her hand through her hair, playing with a strand of hair or pressing her fingers to lips — all can be tipoffs to lying, says VeryWellMind.
All the same, it’s difficult for untrained amateurs to finger a liar by analyzing behaviors. What’s often more effective, researchers have found, is just believing your gut and letting go of the temptation to confuse things with too much thinking.
5. Eye movements
Lying is thought to be stressful for most liars. They have to think about what’s true and concoct a story that departs from the truth, causing a level of strain that, even when it’s subtle, may be observable.
This stress can show up in unconscious gestures. Liars are said to look away, or perhaps glance at an exit, betraying a desire to escape, says Psychology Today.
Liars sometimes point their feet or even move their bodies in the direction of the exit. Rapid blinking could be another giveaway.
6. Touching the mouth
People who hold their hands around their mouth, covering it or touching it, are unconsciously betraying the fact that they’re lying, Glass says:
“When adults put their hands over their lips, it means they aren’t revealing everything, and they just don’t want to tell the truth,” she says. “They are literally closing off communication.”
It’s important to recognize, though, that cues like these are only possible signs of dishonesty — not certain proof.
7. Throat clearing
When you are talking with someone who clears his throat repeatedly or continues swallowing hard, see if you can figure out the reason for it.
He might just have something stuck in his throat, but be aware that stress can make your mouth dry, forcing a liar to try to relieve the condition, Psychology Today says.
8. Fixed staring
Blinking, looking away and the inability to look you in the eye are supposed to be signs of evasion with some people.
Others, though, may look you right in the eye and lie — but they can give themselves away by staring too intently or failing to blink, Glass says.
This brazen behavior might be the sign of a more-accomplished liar. Financial scammer Bernard Madoff, “like most con men, overcompensated and stared at people longer than usual, often without blinking at regular intervals,” Glass tells Business Insider.
9. Signs of nervousness
Nervousness betrays many liars. Signs of nervousness aren’t hard to spot. For example, someone who is nervous may experience changes in their breathing tempo.
Under stress, a person’s shoulders rise and fall, and his or her voice rises, says Glass.