While plenty of relationships are built on trust, sometimes people tell lies in an effort to get what they want. Sure, it’d be easier to spot if all liars turned into Pinocchio at the end of the day, but sadly that isn’t the case.
In a University of Massachusetts study, researchers discovered 60 percent of adults can’t have a ten minute conversation without lying, averaging three lies per every 10 minute session. Those numbers are not only shocking, but seemingly worse for those whose parents were compulsively lying growing up. According to Psychology Today, by the age of four, 90 percent of children have grasped this sneaky distrustful concept, and it only gets worse from there.
Do you know you know how to spot a liar? Though we can detect lies about 54 percent of the time accurately (coin flip, anyone?), we think it's valuable to know a few more reliable ways to catch a liar.
Joe Navarro, founding member of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit and author of the international bestseller, What Every Body is Saying, advises to pay close attention to body language since there is never one dead giveaway. Instead, liars illustrate multiple behaviors indicative of psychological discomfort, anxiety, or distress when asked a question. Research also suggests that because the muscles in our face are not under complete conscious control, certain muscles will betray the liar, especially in highly emotional situations.
When our lips are pursed, it often illustrates information trying to be held in. Indicative of extreme anxiety, withholding aggression or anger, our mouths say a lot when we’re nervous. As they become dry, liars find themselves licking their lips and swallowing more than usual as they struggle to find the appropriate words.
Body & Hands
When someone is lying, they will begin to fidget—a lot like a child sharing tall tales. Signs of insecurity include touching the nose and eyes, turning the body away, turning feet toward an exit and lowering or hiding thumbs. Sometimes liars might even unconsciously place objects between the two of you in an effort to move away.
While breaking eye contact is not a real indicator of lying, liars will often avoid looking people in the eye. However, if they maintain an abnormal amount of solid eye contact, they’re working harder to maintain the lie. Conversely, if the person has darting eyes, it’s a sure-fire signal of distress and subconsciously looking for an escape route.
A Harvard study discovered people who lie tend to use a lot more language than those who tell the truth. This is because of a need to convince the listener of what is said, rather than telling them directly. Researchers call this the “Pinocchio Effect”—the length of a sentence grows with a lie.
In addition to taking a guarded tone and perhaps telling their story in a strict chronological order, liars won’t use contractions in their denials, but they will either avoid or confuse pronouns. While giving very specific negations (“I never cheated on anyone in my entire life”), liars also tend to overemphasize their truthfulness with qualifying language like, “Honestly,” “To tell you the truth,” or “I swear.”
In addition (unless professional actors), liars will usually stutter or hesitate when they speak, and answer questions with a question, while keeping things very brief.
In the case of online relationships, Brigham Young University discovered an easy way to spot dishonesty in digital messaging is—wait for it—the pause right before a lie is sent.
Tips for Confronting a Liar
TED speaker Pamela Meyer shares that while these behaviors are not entirely proof of deception, they are major “red flags” to an underlying issue. When we see these deceptive behaviors in clusters—that’s our signal to dive in. Whatever happens, don’t go all Olivia Benson because aggression doesn’t work.
1. Ask the unexpected: Catch them off guard.
2. Focus on your feelings: Be complaisant with dialogue.
3. Gut feeling: Trust yourself and the situation.
4. Look for inconsistencies: Pay attention to them.
5. Watch micro-expressions: Be cautious of the flashes on a person’s face in that fraction of a second.
6. Rearrange questioning: Don’t be afraid to ask all over again.