Spotting a liar – body language tricks

Spotting a liar – body language tricks

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal the signs and secret to spotting a liar; how to know if he or she is lying to you.

First a quick update:

How to connect with anyone”
Watch the two-part TV interview I gave to The Morning Show WSFL about the ways we communicate and the techniques and strategies to build instant rapport and connect with anyone.

“Valentine’s Day and personality test”
Wondering if your Valentine is the right one? Take the personality test and find out if you are perfectly matched, truly mismatched and which is the most suitable personality type for you.

Now, let’s talk about how to tell when someone is lying.

Diogenes was a social critic and philosopher who lived in ancient Greece and chose to give up possessions and instead to live in poverty. Diogenes was a cynic; possibly the father of cynicism. Diogenes was famous for lighting a lantern in broad daylight and walking through the streets of Athens waving his lantern and exclaiming that he was looking for an “honest man”.

Diogenes’ cynicism and his search for an “honest man” would be just as appropriate today, if not more, than it was centuries ago. Former Senator John Edwards is one such example. Senator Edwards lied about having an affair and then he lied a second time when he said he was not the father of the unborn child of his mistress Reille Hunter.

But was it obvious that John Edward’s denials were lies? What were the signs that screamed that he was lying? I will answer that in a moment. But first, here are some interesting statistics about lying:

  • 42% of adults think it’s OK to lie sometimes
  • Only 54% of lies are accurately detected
  • 37% of adults think it’s OK to lie about your age
  • 2/3 of adults think it is OK to lie sometime to avoid hurting someone’s feelings
  • 98% of teenagers lie to their parents
  • 40% of parents think it’s OK to lie to their children about the trouble they got into when they were younger
  • In a conversation, the average person lies 3 times every ten minutes
  • 44% of adults will exaggerate when they tell a story to sound cooler (i.e. be accepted)
  • University students lie to their mothers 50% of the time
  • We lie in one-third of our conversations with our romantic partners
  • We tell the most serious lies to the people we care about the most

We have grown to become cynical when we speak of politicians and honesty. And yet from the statistics above, it is obvious that we all lie. Scientists claim that by the age of four we have all learned to lie. Why do we lie? To protect ourselves and others, to protect others’ feelings, and to get what we want and need – whether or not that is something tangible or intangible such as approval, love, acceptance, validation, and so forth.

As I have written the in past, I believe it is best to speak your truth with compassion and even avoid the white lies:

“Are you coming out with me Mary?”

“Oh, I can’t come out because I am busy John…”

But maybe, if you had no fear, you would have said “I am choosing not to go out with you John!”

So what are the signs of lying?
There are seven universal emotions that are easily recognizable on people’s faces regardless of their culture, age or background:

  1. Anger
  2. Contempt
  3. Fear
  4. Disgust
  5. Happiness
  6. Sadness
  7. Surprise

Whenever we experience an emotion, it is reflected in the expression on our face i.e. our brain sends a signal to the muscles in our face. Some of those expressions are very small – known as “micro-expressions” and last a fleeting moment. Many of us have tried, at one time or another, to hide the way we feel, and as such, we might try to change the expression by forcing a smile or grinning. However, we cannot hide our involuntary micro-expressions.

I have explained before that 55% of all of our communication of feelings and attitudes is done non-verbally (body language – facial expressions, etc.); 38% is the tonality of our voice and only 7% is the actual content – the words. Thus, our body language is the reliable source of what we really intend to say, and not our words. We can speak the words but actually intend a completely different meaning or simply be lying.

For example, when we feel sad or defeated – it is first reflected in our face and the stoop of our body and then in the way we speak. Powerful emotions are hard to hide or disguise. And incidentally, sadness is the most difficult expression to fake. Sometimes, we can try and change the way we feel by changing our posture and body language. However, something interesting happens when we lie, our body automatically expresses the real emotion or the truth: we try to consciously lie and override the truth but our subconscious mind overrides the lie and expresses the truth in our body language.

So for example, if someone tells a lie, they will unknowingly and involuntarily do something else with their body, cough, curl their mouth, wrinkle their nose, touch their nose, and so forth. These are signs that there is also involuntary guilt, shame, regret or some other suppressed emotion. It is as if the brain is rebelling against the lie and it is doing so via the body.

The key to determining if there is deception or truth is to look for congruency – when a person tells the truth or something they believe to be the truth, their body, voice and words match – all three are in sync.

Let’s look at some of the key signs that tell you that someone is lying; When a person is lying or engaging in deceit, regardless of their gender, they will:

  • Nod their head in a manner opposite to what they are verbally saying (nodding yes but saying no)
  • Use their fingers to block their mouth almost immediately after they have spoken their words
  • Claim innocence but then gaze down (as if in shame or guilt)
  • Touch or rub their nose or eyes or pull on their ear lobe
  • Blink their eyes at an extremely fast rate
  • Cough
  • Curl their mouth or wrinkle their nose
  • Fidget with their feet or kick out with their feet
  • Their pupils dilate due to increased tension, excitement or concentration
  • Never answer the actual question; instead they deflect or ask another question
  • Try to change the subject and relax or become happier when the subject is changed
  • Respond with deliberate, carefully delivered answers
  • Respond very quickly (if they have had a chance to rehearse their answer)
  • Respond very slowly if they are caught by surprise
  • Less hand gestures that are usually used to illustrate a speech or point (when you choose your words carefully, your hand movements go down or decrease)
  • Shift their gaze and won’t look you in the eyes or if they are brazen liars they stare you in the eyes for far too long
  • Fake a smile in an attempt to deceive (a real smile reveals the teeth and crinkles the corners of the eyes, almost showing ‘crow’s feet’)
  • Put their hands in their pockets (a gesture that indicates the desire to hide something or escape)

It’s also important to note here that the above signs to do not apply to a person that really believes their own lie, because they will be acting subconsciously as if they are telling the truth and as such, their body language will reflect that they are telling the truth.

Scientists and other research psychologists will also tell you that there is not one single way to determine if a person is lying, but I disagree. With the exception of those people who believe their own lies, you can tell when someone is lying by listening to your own intuition, by following your gut. When something doesn’t feel right, it almost always is not.

Pamela Meyer is the author of the book “Liespotting” and is a Certified Fraud Examiner and Harvard MBA. Meyer claims that research reveals that:

  • Extroverts lie more than introverts
  • Men tell more “self-oriented” lies (lies to protect their own feelings)
  • Women tell more “other-oriented” lies than men (lies to protect someone else’s feelings)
  • Married people lie less frequently to their partners than unmarried people do
  • When married people tell lies to their partners, the lies tend to be grand and significant lies
  • People feel less guilty when lying to someone who they perceive as a wrongdoer

Finally, I said I would reveal the signs that John Edwards was lying from the beginning about his affair and the child to his mistress. Of course, if you refer to the signs of lying that I revealed above, then the answers are also obvious. If you watch the interview John Edwards gave to Nightline, he says. “I would welcome participating in a paternity test, be happy to participate in one…happy to take a paternity test…” Every time he uses those words, his head nods the opposite way, thus revealing he doesn’t want the test.

If you would like to comment on this newsletter, do so below.

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & Clinical Hypnotherapist

Facebook Comments



8 replies
  1. Avatar
    Tiffany Newman says:

    Where did you find the statistics you quoted?
    As a polygraph examiner and psychology professor, I would like to say that this article does a great job of simplifying a complex issue. Thanks!

    • Avatar
      Patrick Wanis says:

      Dear Tiffany,
      thanks for your compliments. I am glad you enjoyed my article on “spotting a liar.”
      The information and statistics came from Dr. Paul Ekman – the world’s leading expert on lies and deception and micro-facial expressions.
      Paul Ekman received his Ph.D. in psychology from Adelphi University in 1958, and was then drafted into the Army, serving as 1st Lt., chief psychologist at Fort Dix, N.J. until 1960. He was a post doctoral research fellow at UC San Francisco, and then became a professor from 1972-2004. His research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health for 43 years. During that time he authored or edited 15 books, two of them about deceit: TELLING LIES (4th edition, 2009) and WHY KIDS LIE (1986). He is the co-discoverer of micro facial expressions, the co-inventor of the only tool for measuring facial …FACS), the pioneer scientist in the study of facial expression and gesture, and renown for his breakthrough study of a stone age culture in New Guinea that established the existence of universals in facial expression. He currently directs the Paul Ekman Group (PEG), which provides training to diverse groups ranging from NYPD-Counter Terror to Apple Corporation, and consults regularly with all of the major animation studios.

      I hope the above helps. Dr. Ekman also has an online training program F.A.C.E. Training (and CD-roms)
      All the best,

  2. Avatar
    Amanda says:

    What about children who lie constantly…habitual, pathological liars? Do they have the same tendencies?

    • Avatar
      Patrick Wanis says:

      Dear Amanda,

      what is the age of the child how is lying constantly? And what do you mean by “Do they have the same tendencies?”

      Most children that lie are taught to lie. Maybe they are copying an adult or maybe they simply learned that the way to avoid confrontation, criticism or pain is to lie your way out. For children to be taught to tell the truth, they must be taught that it is OK to tell the truth and they must feel safe to tell the truth. They must learn that they will be accepted even if you do not agree with their opinion or behavior. Then you can discuss their “truth” openly. if they do not feel safe to express themselves then they will learn to lie and never be able to trust in a relationship.

      Also, if a child is criticized everytime they give their honest opinion or say something others don’t like, then the child will begin to lie. In other words, embrace the truth when your child speaks it – even if it is something you don’t like. I recently counseled a client to tell her husband the truth about how she feels and what she needs. I told her “if you don’t do it now, you will do it when you find yourself in divorce court. Do it now and you might save your marriage.”

      One more final point, pathological liars usually are not able to feel or express compassion. It is vital to teach the child compassion by showing him or her compassion and by spending time with the child to help them understand their own feelings, show concern for their feelings and explain the consequences of our behavior on others.

      I hope this helps.
      All the best,

  3. Avatar
    Jennifer Rodriguez says:

    Patrick, You have outdone yourself again! Great blog post. You are right about the seven emotions that can be expressed in any culture. Where I live in Japan, the Japanese express these emotions even though they are infamous for hiding their emotions. In fact, they express those 7 emotions in far more nuanced ways than we Westerners do. But they express them despite the fact that their cultural mores dictate that they “hide” them as best as they can.
    I have often noticed those “microemotions” you talk about in the post, even in the Japanese but before reading your post, I used to think I was just “seeing things”, “inventing stuff” or “making up stuff to feel better” because maybe I was disappointed about the outcome of the situation. But now that I’ve read your post, I feel much better and know that I was not “seeing things” or “inventing stuff” nor even “making up stuff to feel better”.
    I agree with you about intuition. My intuition has often told me that someone was lying but I would then take myself to task for being “judgemental” of them, only to later discover that my intuition was right.
    Thank you Patrick for this blog post because it makes me feel better about my ability to know when someone is lying. I often used to notice the “signs” and even “microemotions” that you point out in your blog post but I would then second-guess what I had observed or just doubted myself altogether. Now I know better.
    This has been really helpful in learning to trust myself more!
    Jennifer Rodriguez

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