Maureen O'Sullivan

Maureen O'Sullivan Ph.D.


So you want to be a professional lie detector?

A lie catcher? Don't quit your day job!

Posted Jun 22, 2009


Following the success of the Fox TV show “Lie to Me,” I have received many requests from people who believe that they have very good people-reading skills and would like a job like the one held by Torres, the “natural” lie detector, on the show. On the show this character is given a briefcase full of money to join the Lightman Group, a lie detection company.  She has no education and gets to do interesting people-related work wearing cool clothes and hanging out in a fabulous, high-tech office.

Sad to say, that dream job is just a dream. I know of no business that is devoted exclusively to lie detection. In real life, Paul Ekman (the model for Dr. Cal Lightman) is a retired research psychologist.  He consulted with police agencies and taught many kinds of law enforcement what he knew about behavior and deception.  But he did not do investigations himself. That is TV reality, not real reality. And he did research for 40 years before his contributions received the recognition they now have.

A variety of professionals (police, lawyers, therapist, dispute mediators, arbitrators, behavioral researchers) require lie-detection skills or knowledge to do their jobs, but they are paid to do their total job. Lie detection is just part of it. And the notion of a “natural” lie detector is also unlikely. (


I have been studying expert lie detectors for nearly 20 years and the vast majority of them are educated. Only a few do not have a college education.  Some of the Truth Wizards, who were already known to be good lie detectors and good interviewers, went back to get doctorates when they were in their 30’s and 40’s.  But where can you start - if you want to get a job that uses your lie detection or people reading skills?


1) Pick a relevant occupation (your day job!).


2) Get educated in that job, either through a relevant college major like psychology or criminal justice, or through getting a job in the field and finding someone to mentor you.


3) Travel. Expose yourself to a wide variety of people of all ages, social classes and ethnicities. One of the differences between Truth Wizards and others is the diverse life exposure they have had.


4) Be passionate about the truth and about understanding people.  You can be a good athlete without making it to the Olympics. To be an Olympic athlete, you need to be fanatically motivated and dedicated.  To be a Truth Wizard, you need to be open to your biases and limitations, to seek feedback and to practice, practice, practice.


5) Read everything you can about lie detection and behavioral observation. Take workshops and courses.


There are many paths to becoming an expert lie detector, but you must choose one with heart. Relaxing in your arm chair and commenting on the passing parade of humanity won’t do it.



About the Author

Maureen O'Sullivan

Maureen O'Sullivan was a professor of psychology at the University of San Francisco.

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