You might be shocked to learn that more than 80 percent of lies go undetected. However, when you think back to being a young child, it shouldn't surprise you that lying is such a prevalent behavior. When quizzed about eating a piece of candy before dinner, most kids are guaranteed a chiding if they admit to the transgression, while lying provides a much lower probability of a punishment—that is, if they don’t get caught.
This opportunity-cost process that children go through to avoid getting in trouble sets the foundation for a pattern of lying in the future.
While people will always get away with lying, most lies are pretty easy to spot if you know how to read the signs. Here are a few techniques to determine if someone is telling the truth or not.
1. Start by asking neutral questions.
By asking someone basic, nonthreatening questions, you are able to observe a response baseline. Ask them about the weather, their plans for the weekend, or anything that would elicit a normal, comfortable response. When they respond, observe their body language and eye movement—you want to know how they act when they are telling the truth. Do they shift stance? Glance in one direction or the other? Or look you dead in the eye? Make sure you ask enough questions to observe a pattern.
2. Find the hot spot.
Once you move from neutral territory to the “lie zone,” you should be able to observe a change in body language, facial expressions, eye movement, and sentence structure. Everyone will give different subconscious clues when telling a lie, which is why it’s important to observe a normal baseline prior to entering the lie zone.
3. Watch body language.
Liars often pull their body inward when lying to make themselves feel smaller and less noticeable. Many people will become squirmy and sometimes conceal their hands to subconsciously hide fidgety fingers. You might also observe shoulder shrugging.
4. Observe micro-facial expressions.
People will often give away a lie in their facial expression, but some of these facial expressions are subtle and difficult to spot. Some people will change their facial coloration to a slighter shade of pink, others will flare their nostrils slightly, bite their lip, perspire slightly, or blink rapidly. Each of these changes in facial expression signifies an increase in brain activity as lying begins.
5. Listen to tone, cadence, and sentence structures.
Often when a person is lying they will slightly change the tone and cadence of their speech. They might start speaking more quickly or slowly, and with either a higher or lower tone. Often, the sentences they use become more complex as their brain works on overdrive to keep up with their tale.
6. Watch for when they stop talking about themselves.
People who are lying will also sometimes start removing themselves from their story, and start directing the focus on other people. You will hear fewer me’s and I’s as liars try to psychologically distance themselves from the lie that they’re weaving.
Remember: Everyone has different “lying behavior” so there is no one guaranteed lie-detection method. It’s most important to be able to compare a liar's baseline behavior to the body movement, facial expressions, eye movement, and verbal cues that they use when they are telling a lie.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 29 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.