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Look at People's Hands to Determine Veracity

Hand gestures may reinforce the truth or signal deception.

Key points

  • Illustrators (hand gestures) may be an indication of deception.
  • Changes in the frequency, timing, or intensity of illustrators can reveal deception.
  • Illustrators should be interpreted within the context of the entire interaction.
Cottonbro Studio/Pexels
Cottonbro Studio/Pexels

Non-verbal signals, such as facial expressions, body language, and illustrators, provide a wealth of information about a person's true intentions and emotions. Among these non-verbal indicators, illustrators, also known as emblems or adaptors, hold particular significance in revealing deception.

Illustrators emphasize or clarify verbal messages, regulate emotions, or communicate social attitudes. Illustrators, often unconscious and spontaneous, can provide valuable insights into a person's internal state of mind, offering clues about their honesty or deception. One of the most prominent indicators of deception is a decrease in the frequency of illustrators.

When people tell the truth, they often act out the actions they are talking about with corresponding hand gestures. Deceivers are preoccupied with concealing their true intentions and may subconsciously suppress their illustrators because they did not actually perform the actions they are talking about, which leads to a reduction in the overall number of illustrators they use.

Another key indicator of deception is the synchronization between illustrators and speech. While honest individuals typically coordinate their gestures with their verbal statements, deceivers often exhibit disfluencies or inconsistencies in their gestural patterns. These synchronization errors reflect the cognitive dissonance experienced while attempting to deceive.

Several specific illustrations have been identified as potential indicators of deception. These include:

  • Emblems: Emblems are deliberate and culturally prescribed gestures that have a specific meaning, such as the "thumbs-up" or the "okay" sign. When used incongruously with the verbal message, emblems can signal deception.
  • Adaptors: Adaptors are self-manipulative gestures used to regulate emotions or cope with stress. An increase in adaptors, such as touching the face or fiddling with objects, may indicate underlying deception.
  • Illustrators: Illustrators are gestures that accompany and reinforce verbal statements. Changes in the frequency, timing, or intensity of illustrators can reveal deception, particularly when they contradict the verbal message.

While illustrators can provide valuable clues about deception, exercising caution and avoiding oversimplification is crucial. Illustrators should be interpreted within the context of the entire interaction, considering verbal cues, environmental factors, and individual differences.

Moreover, individuals with certain personality traits, such as introverts or those with social anxiety, may naturally exhibit fewer illustrators, making it challenging to draw definitive conclusions based on gesture patterns alone.

The ability to detect deception by monitoring illustrators has potential applications in various fields, including law enforcement, criminal investigations, and business environments. By recognizing deceptive cues, individuals can make more informed decisions and protect themselves from manipulation.

Illustrators are a subtle yet powerful non-verbal indicator of veracity. By carefully observing and interpreting illustrators, provides insights into a person's true intentions and emotions, enabling us to make more informed judgments, protect ourselves from deception, and build stronger, more authentic relationships.


Reid, I. D., Gozna, L. F., & Boon, J. C. W. (2017) From tactical to strategic deception detection: Application of psychological synthesis. Journal of Strategic Security, 1, 81-101

Vrij, A., Granhag, P. A. & Porter, S. (2010) Pitfalls and opportunities in nonverbal and verbal lie detection. Psychological Science in Public Interest, 11, 89-121

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