Whether we like to admit it or not, most of us have told a white lie or two throughout our lives.
White lies vs. pathological lying
However, there is a difference between telling white lies to protect those we love and pathological liars.
And more to the point, is it possible to tell when someone is spinning us a lie?
There are plenty of well-researched articles and statistics around liars and ‘how to spot if someone is telling the truth’ (or not as the case may be).
A readers digest poll showed that as many as ninety-six percent of people admitted to lying at some point.
Another study conducted in 2009 surveyed over one-thousand American adults and found that over 60 percent of participants claimed they didn’t lie at all.
The research concluded that around half of all lies got told by just five percent of all the participants.
The above suggests that while the propensity for people to tell little lies varies, there likely exists a small cohort that is pathological liars.
Research from Verywell Mind highlights how difficult it is for people to spot a single tell-tale sign of when someone is lying.
In one particular lab study around the subject of lie detection, only fifty-four percent of people could accurately detect lying when in a laboratory setting.
The psychology of lying
Researchers have long attempted to understand and uncover different ways to detect lies.
While there may be no simple explanation or a specific tell-tale sign of lie-telling, there are some valuable indications to help people spot when someone’s lying to them.
Due to the complexities of human body language, it can be a difficult task to decipher a blatant lie from the truth.
Words can be deceiving, and a conversation from one person to another doesn’t necessarily reveal whether someone is lying or if they are full-blown truth-tellers.
Forensic psychiatry and behavioral analyst
Psychologists and body language experts often get utilized in criminal cases where law enforcement and CIA officers get tasked with distinguishing between truth-telling and lie-telling in criminals.
A team of researchers at UCLA analyzed the subject of lie detection to develop insight and recommendations for those training in law enforcement.
According to Verywell Mind, the conclusions from the research have gotten published in the American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry.
Obvious signs of lying
There are several ways to tell whether someone is lying or telling a half-truth.
Verbal and non-verbal cues
Although there are many variables to how people lie, according to body language experts, there are consistencies in lie-telling, such as verbal and non-verbal cues that give people away.
- Repeating a question before answering it
- Speaking in fragments or using nonsensical language
- Grooming behaviors such as a person playing with their hair, touching their head, or pressing their fingers to their lips
- A lack of eye contact (or forced eye contact)
- Strained facial expressions
- A subtle change in someone’s voice (high-pitched or too low)
- A person constantly clearing their throat.
- Being vague; offering little details about a story or event
- A person constantly touching their mouth.
- Failing to provide specific information on an event or story when challenged
An article published on ‘Psychology Today’ highlighted additional tell-tale signs that someone might be lying.
Jack Shafer Ph.D. explains that ‘ We often miss subtle non-verbal cues that indicate someone is trying to deceive us. ‘
Five subtle signs that someone is not being honest
Shafer suggests that as well as the more apparent signs mentioned above; we should also look out for:
- Eye-pointing: According to body language experts, our eyes point to the direction that the body wants to go in. Shafer explains that liars often look toward the nearest exit, which may indicate their desire to physically and psychologically escape the anxiety caused by telling lies.
- Lack of empathy or well-meaning gestures: People who have lied and liars, in general, tend to lack the emphatic gestures that other people possess. For example, liars may use finger-pointing, forward head movements, and light hand tapping on a table.
- Backward head movements: Shafer’s research found that liars tend to move slightly backward when telling a lie. Such a subtle gesture is a way for liars to distance themselves from the source of their anxiety.
- Feet – pointing: Similar to eye-pointing, liars often point their feet towards the nearest exit, indicating their desire to leave a situation or group of people that make them feel uncomfortable.
- Protecting or touching the Suprasternal Notch: Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Shafer’s research was around the Suprasternal Notch, that vulnerable part of the body (the neck) where any violation to the area can interfere with breathing.
According to Shafer, liars who feel threatened, particularly women who wear necklaces, tend to fiddle, grab, or tug at their chains as a way of protecting the Suprasternal Notch.
In addition to the above, a body language expert highlighted that people tend to lean towards the objects and people they like and distance themselves from things and people they dislike.
A lie vs. telling the truth
According to the literature, there are additional techniques to tell when someone is lying or telling us porky pies.
As well as mouth-touching, talking in low or high-pitched tones, touching the throat, and getting their words all jumbled up, there are other ways to spot if someone is telling the truth.
Telling a story in reverse
Since lie-detection may get seen as a passive process, it is easy for people to presume that body language and verbal and non-verbal cues are the best way to spot a liar.
While some evidence leans heavily towards the above indications, there are other ways to get a liar to respond in a way that allows the truth to get revealed.
According to Verywell Mind, some of the research suggested that getting people to report their stories in reverse order (instead of chronological order) helps increase lie detection accuracy.
People who are lying tend to experience more cognitive overload in reverse story-telling
Distinguishing between lie-telling and truth-telling becomes more discernible as the person’s cognitive load elevates.
Harder to convince
Essentially, lying takes up more mental and emotional energy than telling the truth.
Behavioral cues become more transparent by adding more cognitive complexities (for example, through reverse story-telling).
Lie-telling is much more cognitively demanding, and liars tend to spend a lot more energy monitoring and tracking the responses of others.
Most liars are concerned with how they come across to others and how credible their stories are.
However, by adding reverse-storytelling into the mix, subtle white lies and cracks in the story are likely to become more evident.
Doctor Lillian Glass
Body language expert and behavior analyst Doctor Lillian Glass is renowned for her work within forensic psychology and has worked with the FBI to detect signs of lying and deception in criminals.
According to Doctor Glass, to understand when a person is lying, we must first get familiar with their body language and facial expressions, even when telling the truth.
That way, it is easier to notice a shift in behavior when a person is telling lies.
Doctor Glass came up with several tell-tale signs of a liar. They include:
- Repeating words and sentences during a conversation
- A change in breathing patterns
- Covering some parts of the body while telling a story
- Waving and pointing hands excessively to prove a point
- Going into detail when answering a question
- Staring without blinking the eyes
- Difficulty speaking
- Being unable to tell the story again
Of course, on the other hand, a person’s ability to lie depends on many variables such as unique personality traits, genetics, life history, and physical and mental health.
There are many subtle cues to tell when someone might be lying, but demonstrating compassion and empathy for those who may have a problem with lying can be helpful in an individual getting the help they need.
Contact our specialist team today for more support and information.