Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Throat-Clearing May Indicate Deception

Watch for an Adam's apple jump along with throat-clearing.

By Trent Smith

Throat-clearing accompanied by an Adam’s apple jump tends to signal deception. Throat-clearing along with an Adam’s apple jump indicates stress and anxiety. Liars experience cognitive overload and the fight-or-flight response. In order to accurately determine whether throat-clearing or an Adam’s apple jump is a sign of deception, a baseline must be established during times when the person being interviewed has no reason to lie. Any deviations from the baseline may indicate deception.

Cognitive Load

Cognitive load causes the brain to concentrate on a problem, issue, or memory to the exclusion of other thoughts. Cognitive overload occurs when too many external stimuli are placed on the working memory. Liars experience cognitive overload. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) research concluded when motivated people lie and face consequences upon detection, clues to deception emerge and appear as leakage across multiple channels such as facial expressions, gestures and body language, voice, and verbal style (Matsumoto, et al., 2011). Liars must ensure their story sounds convincing while maintaining proper illustrators and verbal and nonverbal cues. Liars must also monitor the expressions of their lie target to ensure the person believes the lie. The added emotional stress tends to manifest in the form of nonverbal expressions and gestures, including throat-clearing, which tends to signal deception.

Fight-or-Flight Response

The fight-or-flight response often triggers when people lie. “The fight-or-flight response is typically experienced through a combination of physical, mental, and emotional reactions. When this response is initiated, the sympathetic nervous system releases stress hormones, adrenalin, and cortisol” (Star, 2016). The fight-or-flight response causes accelerated heart rate, activated sweat glands, increased blood flow, and reduced saliva flow. During the fight-or-flight response, the moisture typically present in the throat is redirected to the skin in the form of sweat to enhance survivability. The fight-or-flight response prompts a need for throat-clearing, thus throat-clearing serves as a good indicator of deception.

Research Limitations

Limitations are placed on the experiments performed by researchers. The FBI concluded studies involve randomly selecting a sample of people to tell a lie or tell the truth. Within these studies, participants experience no personal, financial, or emotional investment in the lie and have limited or no fear of exposure to sanctions if caught. No stakes or fear are involved, and no consequences will result for getting caught (Matsumoto, et al., 2011). In real-life circumstances, liars emotionally invest in their lies. In real-life circumstances, liars experience fear. In real-life circumstances, liars experience the fight-or-flight response. In real-life circumstances, liars experience cognitive overload. In real-life circumstances, liars face consequences. Therefore, throat-clearing remains a good indicator of deception.


Throat-clearing accompanied by an Adam’s apple jump occurs as a result of cognitive overload and the fight-or-flight response. Liars tend to clear their throat due to the effects of cognitive overload and the flight-or-flight response. Therefore, throat-clearing, accompanied by an Adam’s apple jump remains a good indicator of deception.


The author of this post is a student in my Spring 2016 Police Report Writing class at Western Illinois University. He submitted the winning entry in the in-class, best-written, end-of-semester paper competition. The blog post was edited for content and formatting.


Bruzzese, A. (2012, October ). Tips from the CIA for Detecting Lies. Retrieved from Intuit:

Matsumoto, D., Sung Hwang, H., Skinner, L., & Frank, M. (2011). Evaluating Truthfulness and Detecting Deception. FBI Law Enforcemnt Bulletin. Retrieved from…

Givens, D. B. (2010). Retrieved from Center for Nonverbal Studies:

Star, K. P. (2016, April 13). What is the Fight-or-Flight Response? Retrieved from Very Well:

Schafer, J. R.., & Navarro, J. (2010). Advanced Interviewing Techniques. Springfield: Charles C. Thomas: Publisher, LTD.

More from Jack Schafer Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today