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.”
Most of us are not very 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. Brain researchers keep trying to unravel the mechanism of lying but as of yet, they have come up with nothing definitive.
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. No single clue in this list is a sure sign that someone is lying. But they can alert you to pay closer attention to the possibility.
1. Voice changes
Changes in a person’s normal behavior can betray discomfort of some sort and might be a tip-off to lies. These departures from normal behavior are most useful when you are observing someone you know well and are familiar with their normal patterns, and any departures from those patterns.
If you don’t know your subject well, spend time paying attention to how she or he normally talks and acts when relaxed. Is her speech normally slow or quick, loud or soft? What is the quality of his voice usually like? Then, watch for distinct, but not subtle, changes from the normal pattern, retired FBI criminal profiler Gregg McCrary tells Real Simple.
Some people fidget when nervous, behavioral analyst Lillian Glass tells Business Insider. And so ask yourself, is there a reason for them to be nervous? It could be a tip-off to lying, although of course people fidget for all sorts of reasons. But guilt and anxiety often make us restless, therapist Barbara Mitchell tells Real Simple.
Some people do the opposite, though; they cope with stress by standing still or freezing, Glass explains.
3. Vowing honesty
Liars often work too hard to demonstrate their honesty, and that can be a giveaway, Joseph Buckley, whose company trains law-enforcement investigators, tells Real Simple.
They’ll make too much use of vows and expressions like “to tell the truth,” “to be perfectly honest,” and rely heavily on religious oaths like, “I swear on a stack of Bibles” and “as God is my witness.”
4. 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 give-away.
5. Throat clearing
When you are talking with someone who clears his or her throat repeatedly or continues swallowing hard, see if you can figure out the reason for it. The person might just have something stuck in their throat, but be aware that stress can make your mouth dry, forcing a liar to try to relieve the condition, Psychology Today says.
Liars, at least unskilled ones — and we can all hope that the liars in our lives at least aren’t very good at it — may try to create a distraction by offering much too much information. New York school administrator and teacher Julia Chung tells Real Simple:
“When I call a child into my office and he seems totally rehearsed—there’s zero hesitation before he answers a question—well, that’s a dead giveaway.”
If you find yourself wondering why you’re getting all this unnecessary detail, sit back, watch and listen. Then, ask yourself what’s going on.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
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