An ex-FBI agent on deception, espionage, interrogation, and reading people.

The Truth About Lie Detection

Deception is something we live with every day and we seek to detect it in order to protect ourselves as well as to get to the truth of a matter. Here is a look at how well we can detect deception and what are some of the more serious implications of getting it wrong from the view of the practitioner as well as the researcher. Read More

The only way to really know the truth

Ask the "delusional" Identified Patient. Of course, their "reality" and your "reality" might not match because Current Leads or Lags Voltage in Reactive Circuits. Ours might because you were probably the IP" in your family. May I have this dance?

I like you Joe Navarro. You are paranoid. I am paranoid. Yay! We have a common synchronous bond! Are you paranoid because I am? Am I paranoid because you are? That's my example of a "Reactive Circuit". http://www.ict4us.com/r.kuijt/en_current.htm

'Satir...saw the identified patient as manifesting an outward sign of the intrapsychic and interpersonal problems within the family system...preserving - while paradoxically revealing - the family's secrets, agendas, and processes'


Clever Hans (in German, der Kluge Hans) was an Orlov Trotter horse that was claimed to have been able to perform arithmetic and other intellectual tasks.

After a formal investigation in 1907, psychologist Oskar Pfungst demonstrated that the horse was not actually performing these mental tasks, but was watching the reaction of his human observers. Pfungst discovered this artifact in the research methodology,

wherein the horse was responding directly to involuntary cues in the body language of the human trainer, who had the faculties to solve each problem. The trainer was entirely unaware that he was providing such cues.

In honour of Pfungst's study, the anomalous artifact has since been referred to as the Clever Hans effect and has continued to be important knowledge in the observer-expectancy effect and later studies in animal cognition.


The observer-expectancy effect (also called the experimenter-expectancy effect, observer effect, or experimenter effect) is a form of reactivity, in which a researcher's cognitive bias causes them to unconsciously influence the participants of an experiment. It is a significant threat to a study's internal validity, and is therefore typically controlled using a double-blind experimental design.


P.S. If (and when) justice goes and peace flees then I got my Winged Icarus Nike Running Shoes. Do you have yours?

Good lie detection...

... happens when you know the person well (like family members) that you see often. Many times the lie teller gives him or herself away by tells or you have enough information about the person and their life to figure out/suspect when that person is lying. Now this does not apply to all kinds of lies, we only usually need to detect lies around information we find relevant.

Asking someone on the spot or in information poor situations of course human beings are going to be bad at it.

Detecting lies comes from needing to spend enormous amounts of time knowing a person or having a large enough experience of certain situations where you can detect CERTAIN kinds of lies.

I think the whole question is ass backwards, for instance instead of detecting just whether what someone says is false they should focus on certain lies based against a persons experience or knowledge in some area.

Good Lie Detection

I would agree that spending a lot of time with someone helps so you get a baseline of behaviors. In the end, you can assess someone for discomfort and then the question is, why, why did they react this way? thank you.

Movie Reference: Clear and Present Danger

Jack Ryan: I didn't sign up for this. This is someone's bullshit political agenda. Who authorized this? Cutter?

Ritter: Cutter couldn't tie his own shoes without permission.

Jack Ryan: If I go down you're coming with me.

Ritter: Wrong again. I have an *autographed get-out-of-jail-free card*! "The President of the United States authorizes Deputy Director of the CIA Robert Ritter to conduct 'Operation Reciprocity' including all necessary funding and support. This action is deemed important to the national security of the United States etcetera, etcetera, etcetera." You don't *have* one of these, do you Jack?
[as Ryan walks away]

Ritter: Gray! The world is gray, Jack!

Wanna have some adolescent fun?

Kelly (Clint Eastwood), a former lieutenant who has been demoted to private as a scapegoat following a disastrous assault some time earlier, captures Colonel Dankhopf of German Intelligence. When Kelly notices his prisoner has a gold bar in his briefcase, he gets him drunk to try to get information about the gold. Before he is killed by an attacking German Tiger tank, the drunken Dankhopf blurts out that there is a cache of 14,000 gold bars (worth $16 million) stored in a bank vault 30 miles behind enemy lines in the town of Clermont (most likely Clermont-en-Argonne).

Kelly recruits the rest of his platoon, including skeptical Master Sergeant "Big Joe" (Telly Savalas), to sneak off and steal the gold.

Eventually, others have to be recruited (or invite themselves) into the scheme, such as an opportunistic supply sergeant "Crapgame" (Don Rickles); a proto-hippie Sherman tank commander, "Oddball" (Donald Sutherland) - who spouts a number of counter-culture lines such as

"Always with the negative waves Moriarty, always with the negative waves."

A number of stereotypical G.I.s presented as competent but war-weary veterans who are as much fed up with their incompetent or self-serving superiors as they are with the Germans.


You would make a great "Big Joe"! => Telly Savalas as Master Sergeant "Big Joe", the platoon's de jure leader.

Welcome to my "delusional" apophenia world Big Joe Navarro!

Clint Eastwood rocks!

I want your help Big Joe! It's the iceburg sinking the Titanic!

Look through my eyes:

Siege [We Are]

What are YOU going to do about it?

the problem is lie detection is 'sexy'...

I loved your article Joe and I am a big fan of Ekman as well. In my job I coach or give workshops on communication skills, and body language is a popular subject! The funny thing is, when I mention that lie detection is really a 50/50 chance, maybe close to 70% with serious training, the audience lets out a sigh and then slump into their chairs. What they want is some 'expert' to teach them a few tricks so that they can catch someone close to them or at work in a lie. They don't want to hear the reality that where your eyes look to doesn't matter and that micro-expressions are not indications of lying (at least directly). Don't worry Joe - I do not give in to temptation. I just present the facts. But the challenge is that lie detection is 'sexy' for lack of a better word, and people chase the formula. The simpler the better. (Remember the book Body Language by Julius Fast? Everyone read that and suddenly became an 'expert' overnight by reading simplified science with massive generalizations.) Anyway I just wanted to say thanks for the article.

Lie Detection is Sexy

Ric thank you so much for your comments, it sounds like you have reasoned this properly with due caution to all claims and I am glad to hear that. I wish you could have seen the tripe they drilled into us at the police academy about nose touching and mouth touching and "kinesics". Uuugh. Anyway it sounds like you have a firm grasp on it and I am glad to hear it. I do remember that book by fast and how people still think crossed arms is a blocking behavior rather than a self hug. Very kind of you to tell me your thoughts, I thought i would absolutely get hate mail and maybe they are sharpening their claws out there but I just felt that the truth should get out, the streets are not the lab. thank you. Stay in touch. Joe

lie detection is sexy

Hi Joe,

Let me first note that, YES I am certain they are sharpening their claws getting ready to attack! However, I believe their are certain things that are just too much when it comes to lie detection. I mean from own personal experience you can discredit some things that have been said. I mean I cross my arms very often just because I don't know what to do with them at some point...it's as simple as that but it doesn't mean I am being defensive. And I love the way you explained as being a self-hug!
As for what Rick has said, I agree, Lie detection as a topic is intriguing and Secy. Everyone wants a piece and everyone wants it to be something it's not. I believe as you said in your book in one of the 10 commandments that "observing in context is key"!

lie detection is sexy

Jessica, thank you for your thoughts and I agree, lie detection is so very complex.

Absolutely so....

Hi Joe
I absolutely agree that we cannot know when someone is lying and I'm interested that you quote Aldert Vrij as I have also referred to his work in my own writings about this. It is very seductive to think we don't have to actually engage with someone to know what they are thinking and that we can just 'look at them' and 'observe their body language', but this is more of an indication with discomfort with verbal communication and/or wanting an 'easy way' of convincing ourselves of our beliefs about someone. I wrote this about the very same things you are referring to: http://www.communicationandconflict.com/interpreting_body_language.html

There simply cannot be a 'scientific' way of knowing if someone is lying and if you look at much of the research that has been done on this its outcomes have either been wildly misquoted such as the "Mehrabian Myth" that 'only 7% of our communication is through our words and the rest is tone of voice or body language' - Mehrabian himself says he cringes when such misquotes of his work are stated as if they are 'facts'. Alternatively the very basis of such research is incredibly unscientific and lacking in rigour in how the experiment is set up.

Only provable facts can show if someone has lied, not 'looking at their body language' to see if they are lying when they communicate. As Vrij points out in his work on lie detection, for any apparent behaviour that 'indicates' lying, there is other research that contradicts it, thus negating it as an objective scientific 'fact'.

Absolutely so

Well said, unfortunately many professions seek a magic answer or Pinnochio effect when in fact there is non.

The truth about lie detection

Thanks Jo, so glad this is being challenged as for me it is one of the major obstacles to effective communication, the belief in 'body language' being factual or 'scientific', in that people then project what they want to believe or, often, what is actually more true about themselves, onto others and thus don't feel any impulse to communicate directly with the other person to find out what they think or feel. As a consequence people in unresolved conflict live parallel lives rather than convergent ones and live with painful beliefs about others that are purely self-created. But then 'blame' their pain on the other. With respect to lying, the belief you can 'tell' from body language is not only dangerous and unjust in court situations as you described but deeply damaging to personal relationships as well.

Thanks again for bringing this up.

Born and Bred for Detecting Deception.

Mr. Navarro,

I am a Mentalist & Consultant, and not the 'magician who uses mental presentations' kind. A real Mentalist. I have been called by newspapers 'The Man Who Knows Too Much' as well as 'The Real Sherlock Holmes.' However the reason for my success is why I've come to leave this comment.

I was raised by professional psychic readers, charlatans. I was able to read people and spot deception by the time I was 15, with scary accuracy.

Since then of course I've spent my life studying all the methods you can imagine one would dive into, in regards to Mentalism. That includes for me, everything YOU have ever written. Having a near eidetic memory didn't hurt either. While I've received a lot of attention for my abilities and methods, most of the time I cannot explain myself, certain abilities are just ingrained into my psyche if you will, from childhood.

Do you think it is possible to be 'bred' to detect deception.

I mean this, wholeheartedly. Thank you Mr. Navarro.

Your work is a endless inspiration to mine.

-Joe Riggs

Born and Bred

No but you can be taught to improve your ability to observe and to look for deception, but there are limits. Bred, no, even identical twins diverge in certain abilities.

Looks like the sharpened claws never came out....


I think people must be aware, at some level, that detecting lies is very difficult. Given the statistics on how much people lie, even the ones wanting the magic formula for lie detection have to know how many lies *they* got away with. Also, how many people have the spine to confront someone directly even if they did spot a lie? Social fears are strong enough that many people won't confront anyone.

I recently watched a mother lie to her two boys, then order her mother to lie to them, too, so it would look like she wasn't lying. Her boys KNEW she was lying, but they didn't call her on it. They just got angry and walked away.


Everyone likes to believe what they see in movies - i.e. Sharon Stone. Let's face it - it's not like that.

I liked your article; Not being in the field precisely, I thought the data and references were interesting to back up what you have experienced. In my mind, that's what makes people good at what they do. While nothing objective may be available, subjective cues and experience might help investigators to ask the right questions - more of a "game" of Clue so to speak.

On that note, what is the data/experience related to what criminal suspects verbalize? Inconsistencies?

Thank you!

Use your Intuition!!

The ONLY way you will be able to tell a liar is through your intuition or your gut instincts!! People who are very deceptive or true liars have been doing this for years. They are professionals! They have learned what to do to convince you they are telling the truth. It's funny because we had a guy that was hired for our team that was the nicest, most charming guy around. He talked about how much he knew about our services and what he was going to do for the company and ended up doing nothing! Generally speaking, people who lie know how to throw the charm on so that you never really know they're coming. Then when you get close to them or their secrets..poof..they're gone!

I've come to realize..a lot of this is spiritual...so the only way to fight against it is to use your intuition. Your gut instincts won't ever lie to you!

How then would you explain

wrongful conviction? Wrongful conviction happens when people fail to detect the truth, and not just at one level. Whoever is investigating fails to detect the truth, and the court and jury also fail to detect it.


There are some very interesting comments on here.

This is outdated a bit compared to the Chase hughes thing that came out for lie spotting. I just read that site this morning. Ekman is supposed to be writing a new book too.

Joe Navarro,Chase Hughes and Paul Ekman are probably the most widely regarded in my opinion.


Thank you. I am very familiar with Paul, I've never heard of Hughes, but thank you.

I so appreciate your honesty

Joe, it's so rare to hear any acknowledgment of the flimsiness of the basis for any psychological theory. It's especially impressive in that you would stand to gain by asserting you know how to detect deception.

When a person is saying something where lying would help him, I note if his behavior changes from baseline. Are you saying I'd be wise to abandon that practice?

I so appreciate

All we. Can do is look for behaviors indicative of psychological discomfort and determine why by asking more questions. All we can do is detect changes from baseline but it's up to us to determine why. Thank you for your question.

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Joe Navarro is a former FBI Counterintelligence Agent and is the author of What Every Body is Saying. He is an expert on nonverbal communications and body language.


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