How Can You Tell When Someone Is Lying?

Updated on October 2, 2018
mireland19 profile image

Owner of MommyDaddyKids and mother of two, Meagan is passionate about her family and sharing real-life advice with everyday people.

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Can You Tell When Someone Is Lying?

Nobody likes being lied to. We feel betrayed when we place our trust in another's hands only to have them break it. After a while, you'll start to mistrust even the most sincere of people.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could skip all of that entirely? To know in an instant when someone was lying to us? That is exactly what R. Edward Geiselman, professor of psychology at UCLA, has been studying for years.

Geiselman believes there are universal signs that a person can watch for to determine when somebody is lying. These characteristics are what he teaches the top investigators in the world to look for, and now you can learn them too.

Check out the telltale signs of lying below and rest easy knowing it will be much harder for anyone to pull the wool over your eyes.

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Eye Contact

Eye contact is a double-edge sword in the world of lies. Usually, when a person lies — especially to someone they care about — they cannot look their victim in the eye. Then on the other side we have a special type of liar. The one who thinks staring at you like you're a hot fudge sundae on a ninety degree day will make you magically believe them.

Both staring too long and not keeping eye contact are signs that a liar is present. Trying to determine between the two can be difficult. As a general rule, people maintain a good balance when they're telling the truth. If the person you're talking to will not look at you the entire conversation, or looks at you without breaking eye contact at all, you're probably being lied to.

It's important to remember that this is just a guideline and cannot speak for the actions of everyone. Some people truly have a hard time looking others in the eye even when they're being honest. This can sometimes be a sign of low self esteem, low confidence, or shyness.

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Which Hand do They Write With?

The next time you believe someone is pulling your chain, find out if they are a lefty or a righty. According to professional interrogators — who have spent their lives perfecting the ability to detect when someone is lying — which hand a person writes with makes a big difference in how they act when they lie.

Right-handed people tend to look right when they are concocting a story. Researchers believe it's because the right half of your brain is the half responsible for imagination.

Left-handed people act much differently. If a left-handed person looks down and darts to the left a lot, they may not be telling you the whole truth.

What if a person is ambidextrous? When in doubt, watch for both of the signs above.

Repeating Questions

When someone is being asked a question they don't want to answer truthfully, they will often repeat the question back first. This could be a diversion but it's more likely they are doing it to buy time to think of a good lie.

It's not unusual for someone to repeat a question when they need to clarify if they heard it correctly. This is especially true in high-pressure situations. So while this is a good thing to watch for when you suspect somebody of lying, it does not always mean someone is a liar.

Elaboration

Most of us get suspicious when someone embellishes their story with details, but that's exactly what investigators want to see. According to Geiselman, people who keep their answers short and simple have something to hide.

This is likely our instinct for self-preservation kicking in. When we tell a big, elaborate lie, there are more details to remember or create. Keeping it short makes it much easier to avoid being tripped up in the future.

Please remember that this is assuming someone is completely fabricating a story to cover the truth. In some cases — like fishing stories — people will add details to the truth, but the lies are in those details.

Speed

Lying is much like walking through a field of land mines. You must choose your steps wisely to avoid being blown up. One wrong move and ... bang.

You don't run onto the field. You walk slowly. Once you have a good idea what direction you want to go, you pick up the pace. As soon as you see the end is near, and think you are safe, you might even run a little. The same can be said for lying.

When you first walk into the lie, you tread with caution. You might talk slowly while choosing your words cautiously. Once you have a clear idea what direction you want your lie to go, you may start to speak a bit faster. As soon as you think the end is near and your lie has been believed, you run.

"Truthful people will not dramatically alter their speech rate within a single sentence." - Geiselman

If someone is lying, they may initially speak slowly and precisely. This is likely when they are trying to get their story straight in their mind. Once they have their thoughts in order, their story will come out much faster. When someone has nothing to hide, they don't feel the need to watch what they say and so their rate of speech remains level.

Be careful not to confuse excitement — which can also cause someone to talk with more enthusiasm — with lying.

Pronouns

When someone lies they will often refer to people vaguely rather than specifically. Instead of saying, "Mr. Green did it in the study," they would instead say, "he did it in the study."

This could be because they don't want to implicate someone innocent in their lie, but it's more likely they do not want to give names of people who could be asked to corroborate the story.

If the person you're talking to avoids saying "I," you probably have a liar in your midst. Instead of saying, "I didn't hit Mrs. Scarlette with a hammer," they might instead say, "no one here would ever do that do her."

It's not an exact science, but something to watch for when trying to uncover a lie.

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How To Catch A Liar

Occasionally you'll come across a superb liar. These people have become good at manipulating their words and body language to match their lie. This makes it hard to determine when someone is lying or when they are telling the truth. Still, there are ways you can catch even the most skilled of liars.

  • Ask them to repeat their story backwards. When someone knows they have done something they will be asked about later, they rehearse their lie. The story becomes embedded in their head, but they only memorize it in one direction. Asking them to flip it around will confuse them. "So Jeff dropped you off, but tell me again what happened right before that?"
  • Ask them to answer again, but at different spots in the storyline. "What happened after Jeff dropped you off." Having to pick the story up at random starting points could cause them to contradict themselves.
  • Ask the same question in multiple different ways. If they don't give identical answers each time you'll know there's something more going on.
  • Ask a lot of questions. Start with broad, easy to answer questions first. Get more precise as time goes on. If they have a hard time answering the specific queries, they might not be telling the truth. People who make-up stories rarely think about every little detail. Asking for details might throw them off and reveal their lie.
  • Let them talk without interruption. When you ask a question, allow them to give their answer, but don't be too quick to ask the next question. Pause in between like you're waiting for them to say more. Often times this will make a liar nervous, and they will ramble. Long pauses make people anxious when they are not being honest, and when people get nervous, they get chatty.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Meagan Ireland

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      • mireland19 profile imageAUTHOR

        Meagan Ireland 

        2 months ago from Maine

        It's funny, as I was writing this I was thinking about multiple people who had lied to me in the past. I could match every single one of these with a liar. The staring thing is ridiculous. I don't know why people think that staring at you makes them more believable. Maybe it's a form of intimidation. Thank you for reading and commenting. It's nice to hear from another's point of view.

      • hallucinogen profile image

        Lucy 

        2 months ago from Leeds, UK

        Great article and advice; it's highly disconcerting to come across a brazen liar, and sets our psychological alarm bells ringing. Anyone who gets a kick from regularly constructing elaborate lies is either deeply insecure (and desperate to appear more interesting) or very manipulative and malevolent.

        I like your point about staring, and have dealt with people who employ the "intense eye-contact" tactic myself. I find that they are normally easy to spot, as their gaze is almost uncomfortably strong yet strangely blank. It appears very different to someone who is genuinely enthused or wide-eyed.

        While some people are better and more shameless liars than others, NO liar likes to be asked follow-up questions, so your last points are spot on. It's always funny to see someone's story unravel (and them panic) upon them being thrown some questions!

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