Look for Illustrators to See the Truth

Seeing is believing.

Posted Feb 24, 2018

Vadim Guzhva
Source: Vadim Guzhva

by Michael Zack

Illustrators can signal truthfulness. Truthful people tend to use nonverbal gestures that sync with the activities they are describing. Liars must choose their words carefully, which causes stress. Under stress, liars seldom think to coordinate their speech with their nonverbal gestures because they did not perform the activities they are talking about. Generating a baseline of illustrator usage when an individual has no reason to lie is critical to detecting deception. Any deviation from the baseline may signal deception. Therefore, monitoring a person’s illustrators may indicate veracity. 


Illustrators consist of nonverbal gestures that accompany the spoken word. When people tell the truth, they tend to act out what they did using the appropriate nonverbal gestures. Since liars do not actually do what they say they did, they typically omit the accompanying nonverbal gestures associated with the actions they are describing.  Illustrators can include facial expressions and both upper and lower body movements. For example, when a person talks about the time when they bowled a perfect game at the local bowling alley, hand movements mimicking the crashing of the pins and a surprised facial expression should be present if the person is telling the truth. These illustrators will typically be absent when a person is lying about bowling a perfect game. When people speak, look for illustrators. The lack of illustrators does not necessarily signal deception, but the presence of illustrators is a strong indicator of truthfulness.

Incidence of Illustrators

The incidence of illustrators varies greatly from person to person. This variation makes detecting deception difficult when first meeting an individual. Establishing a baseline for illustrators is necessary, so that detecting deception is possible. When individuals are under stress, including the stress of being caught in a lie, illustrator use typically drops. This tendency can expose liars. However, illustrator use can decrease due to other factors not related to deception. A person may decrease indicator usage due to being in an uncomfortable situation or remembering an unpleasant memory (Hutchins, 2014). Nonetheless, illustrators may indicate deception if deviations from the baseline occur.

Cultural Significance of Illustrators

Cultural norms can influence an individual’s use of illustrators. In Latin-based cultures, illustrator use is extensive and is used to make speech more vibrant and expressive. This type of illustrator use is displayed with the Italian stereotype of pervasive hand talking. If an individual from one of these cultures does not use illustrators often, listeners may consider the speaker to be disinterested in the conversation. Anglo-Saxon cultures view illustrators as unnecessary and unprofessional in business, using illustrators less than their Latin counterparts. On the spectrum of illustrator usage, Asian cultures use illustrators the most infrequently of cultures. If a speaker uses illustrators frequently in front of Asians, they will likely consider the speaker to have low intelligence (Philip, 2013). Nonetheless, if the speaker deviates from their baseline, no matter how many gestures the speaker displays or does not display during normal speech, it may provide a barometer for veracity. 


Illustrators have the potential to identify truthful people. An individual’s illustrator usage can be affected by an individual’s society and culture. Illustrator usage tends to decrease when under duress, including when a person aims to conceal a lie. A baseline must be produced when a person does not desire to lie to verify if the decrease is caused by an attempt to deceive. Therefore, illustrators can signal duplicity when a baseline of behavior is broken.

Caveat: Deception cannot be accurately determined from one nonverbal indicator. Characteristically, clusters of nonverbal deviations from the baseline allow for the deduction that a person is dissembling. The most accurate way to ascertain one’s candor is to assess what an individual says against verified facts.

For more tips and techniques to detect deception refer to The Like Switch: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over.


Hutchins, R. M. (2014). You Can't Handle the Truth! Trial Juries and Credibility. Seton Hall Law Review, 27.

Philip, C. (2013, March 5). Illustrators: To Color Language. Retrieved from Body Language Project: http://bodylanguageproject.com/the-only-book-on-body-language-that-everybody-needs-to-read/illustrators-to-colour-language/