— July 31, 2019
As we said in The Truth About Why Lying in Business is so Common, humans are born liars. Being able to detect if someone is lying or being less than truthful is a powerful skill to have. When your employee says “Sorry boss I was late because my car would not start.” Is he telling the truth or did he just oversleep? What if a customer says “I paid your invoice last week!” Is she telling you the truth or is she making an excuse to cover up that she has cash-flow problems?
Wouldn’t it be nice to have your own personal lie detector to recognize if someone is being less than truthful? Well, there is a science that has identified ways to detect if a person is lying or being less than truthful just through observation. Experts say that to be a good lie detector you have to focus on the science and throw away some commonly held ideas about lying that are not true.
Liars focus more on their words
Have you ever been running late to a meeting? If you’re like most people, you mentally rehearse what you will say when you make your grand entrance and someone asks why you were late. You might blame it on traffic, your car, or a host of other excuses.
The key point is that liars will mentally practice the words they will say. However, while liars will focus most of their energy on the words they will use, they rarely have the mental bandwidth or the forethought to consider how their own gestures will often betray them and signal to others that they are lying.
When it comes to detecting deceptions, one needs to look at the other person’s body language for clues that their words are not truthful.
“Your actions speak louder than words”
How Gestures and Body Language Can Betray a Person’s Words
An indicator of deception is that liars will frequently freeze their upper body when they are lying. While they may spend more time crafting their words and look for ways not to reveal their deception through their body language, they tend to freeze their upper bodies more so than normally. Of course, when observing someone’s gestures and body language you must have a good understanding of their baseline behaviors, and look for actions that are outside the norm.
Detecting Lying Gestures and Body Language
According to her book Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception, the author, Pamela Meyer, has defined three types of gestures and body language.
Emblems are standalone gestures like a thumbs-up to signal agreement, or cupping one’s ears to signal that you can’t hear well. Emblems only involve gestures that are not accompanied by any words, and have a specific agreed upon meaning. Generally speaking, these gestures are international in nature and require no translation. In fact, there are approximately 60 of these gestures.
To detect if someone if lying, their emblems are commonly only half-hearted where normally in the baseline, they are more frequent and impassioned. A halfhearted thumbs-up many mean that the other person is not completely on board with your idea or flipping the bird (middle finger) to show disagreement.
Illustrators are different from emblems as they are gestures that correspond to and enhance something that is being said. Examples of illustrators might be somebody rubbing their stomach while they’re saying they’re hungry, or using their hands to show the size of something. Illustrator gestures do not have universal meanings and are largely involuntary so they are good indicators of lies.
To detect if someone is lying, compare their use of illustrators to their baseline behaviors. Liars often reveal their deception by not using as many illustrators. For example, someone who uses many hand gestures and then speaks with an absence of hand gestures could be concealing a lie.
Mirroring is the act of copying somebody else’s gestures. When they lean forward, you lean forward, when you look them in the eye, they look you in the eye. Mirroring is also often unconscious and shows that people are in sync with each other. In fact, dating tutorials recommend that you should consciously attempt to mirror your date to show rapport.
The liar’s mind is often so focused on maintaining their deception that even their subconscious mind stops mirroring the other party, or at least their mirroring is haphazard compared to their baseline behaviors.
Other Physical Clues to Detect Lying
Eye Contact – According to Susan Carnicero, a former CIA officer and one of the authors of the book Spy the Lie, a liar is apt to spend more time looking you in the eyes than normal trying to overcompensate. In contrast, some liars will engage in gaze aversion or breaking off eye contact as a way to reduce the guilt of lying to your face.
Blink Rates – As a result of their longer-than-normal gaze, studies have shown that when a person is lying, they will blink less often, but their blink rate will speed up significantly afterward. This is not the case with people telling the truth, who are more apt to maintain a more constant rate of blinking.
Inappropriate Facial Response – If you watched the pre-arrest interview with Chris Watts, he was the guy that admitted killing his wife and kids then placed them in an oil tank, when he is talking about his wife and kids being missing, he smiles during the interviewer questions. Smiling when talking about a family member who you suspects that harm may have befallen them is pretty inappropriate behavior.
Inappropriate Head Gestures – Susan also points out that head gestures, such as shaking your head no while you say yes, is often an unconscious behavior. In an interview on Nightline Former presidential hopeful, John Edwards said he did not father an illegitimate child while his head shook no, which revealed clues of his deception.
Excessive Anchor Point Movements – She also shares that other gestures and body language to look for are what she calls anchor points that connect the person to the world. Anchor points include a person’s feet, hands, and butt. Liars try desperately to control their body language, but their anchor points often escape their control. They may uncontrollably tap a foot, attempt to reposition themselves in their seat or tap their fingers,
Excessive Scratching – When a liar feels trapped, it stimulates their fight or flight instinct and the body directs blood flow away from their skin tissue. As a result, a person’s face and hands will begin to itch. Liars will often scratch their nose, eyes, ears, and their hands, providing clues of their deception.
Frequent Grooming – Grooming behaviors like fixing a tie or messing with their hair are a few more clues that there may be deception in their responses.
In the end, a person’s gestures and body language will very often betray that a person is lying.
How will you use gestures, body language, and inappropriate behaviors to detect lying?
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