It’s a common perception that a liar is unable to hold someone’s gaze when they are fabricating falsehoods. A shifty and nervous liar will stare at the ground as they mumble a made-up story or their eyes will dart about as they avoid answering a question directly. As a result, they will often be asked to look their audience in the eyes so that the truthfulness of their statements can be confirmed.
However, a practiced and compulsive liar is aware of this concept and will overcompensate by maintaining eye contact in order to trick you into thinking they are telling the truth. Attempting to remain plausible and consistent requires a considerable amount of effort, so they will keep a fixed look because they are trying hard to concentrate on keeping their made-up story straight.
As well as remaining poker faced, research has shown that liars blink less while they are putting all their mental effort into fabricating a lie5. In contrast, as energy is released, and they can relax after trying so hard to control their behavior and movements, they may blink up to eight times more rapidly once the lie has been told.
A nervous liar will find it difficult to keep their hands still. They will fidget by rubbing them together, drumming their fingers on a table or playing with a ring on their finger. In addition, to make a lie more believable, some liars will over gesticulate, making exaggerated movements with their hands and arms.
If a liar starts to feel that they are about to be caught out, they can become angry and hostile. This may lead to pointing as a defense mechanism, drawing attention away from the lie and making another individual or object the focus of the conversation instead.
As well as hand gesticulation, you should keep an eye on a liar’s feet. If they are shuffling, this indicates that the person is nervous and uncomfortable. Shuffling feet, or feet turned towards an exit, may also be a subconscious sign that the person wants to walk away in order to remove themselves from a difficult situation.
However, if they are more defensive, a good liar may also stand unusually still. This is their body under stress preparing itself for confrontation or fight, so they are ready to protect themselves if they get caught out in a lie.
When someone is telling a lie, they may try to hide their face to cover up the deceit and this can take the form of touching their mouth. This may involve placing the whole hand over the mouth or just touching fingers to the lips.
The mouth may also twitch as the liar inadvertently shows an aversion to their own lies. This might also result in them biting their lip, either through nerves or as they are attempting to stop themselves from continuing in the lie and saying something that they shouldn’t.
One of the body’s reactions to stress is to reduce the flow of saliva, making the mouth dry. So, if someone starts to purse or lick their lips, or they appear to have trouble getting their words out, then this too could indicate that they are lying.
One of the most common signs of lying is the touching the nose. When we are feeling stressed, blood pressure rises and vessels in the nose dilate. This can make the nose feel itchy and so causes the anxious liar to scratch or rub their nose.
Touching the nose is generally seen as a response to stressful and negatives thoughts. Of course, anyone who feels uncomfortable lying, and acknowledges that what they are doing is wrong, is likely to become stressed and so touch their nose. If, on the other hand, they are comfortable telling a lie and don’t care about the consequences, then this won’t happen.
Observations have been made on the correlation between head movement and telling lies. When asked a question, before answering, a liar might make a sudden head movement, bowing forward, jerking back or tilting to the side indicating that they have been taken by surprise.
Another clue in spotting a liar is nodding. When people are telling the truth, they may involuntarily nod their head as they agree with themselves. However, a liar might be caught out because they shake their head in disagreement as they speak, giving away the fact that they are lying.
Telling lies often means making up a story about an event, experience or person that doesn’t exist. If a liar is expecting to cheat and is well-prepared, they will have a tendency to over compensate with details and convoluted language. This is because they will have rehearsed their story in order remember every step and cover all bases. They may also use unnecessary phrases such as ‘if I’m honest’ or ‘to tell the truth’ in order to convince you further that they are not lying.
In their desire to get all of this information out without forgetting any of their story, they may end up talking must faster than usual. This may also be an attempt to finish the lie and remove themselves from the situation as quickly as possible.
As well as providing too much detail, some liars may give vague and general answers to questions. This will happen more if they have not had time to prepare a good story and are caught off-guard. They will talk in generalized expressions instead of answering directly with ‘yes’ or ‘no’. They may try to shut down a conversation prematurely or change the subject completely.
Long pauses and using filler sounds like ‘um’ and ‘ah’ could be an indication that the liar is having to think up a story before they can answer. Delaying in this way gives them a bit more time to finalize what they are going to say. Another stalling technique used by liars when being interrogated is to ask a vague question back, such as ‘Why do you want to know?’. As you answer, they gain a few more seconds to come up with a believable response.
Poker players are well known for attempting to control their gestures and facial expressions, and examining those of their opponents, in case they give anything away about the value of the cards in their hand.
Some players simply can’t sit still and will fidget in their seat. This could be because they are anxious, but it may also be because they are a bad liar, unable to control their nerves. You will only know for certain if you see a pattern developing, but holding their breath, biting their nails or playing with their chips could all be signs that a poker player is bluffing.
When we know people well, it becomes easier to tell if they are lying to us because we are familiar with their usual mannerisms and habits so, when these habits change, we are alerted to the fact that what they are saying may not be true.
After a few hands of poker, it becomes clearer which player is better at bluffing and which one lets nerves get the better of them.
Lying often causes nervous behavior. This is a stress response activated by the fight or flight mechanisms in the body. By telling a lie, someone is putting themselves at risk of being found out, which in certain circumstances they know could have serious consequences, and this in turn makes them anxious and uncomfortable.
During times of stress, the sympathetic nervous system triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol which causes changes in the body5. Heart rate quickens, body temperature changes, blood pressure rises and respiration rate increases. It is these physiological responses that are measured with a lie detector test.
So, if the person you are speaking to becomes flushed or sweaty, wipes their brow or tugs at their collar, and starts taking short, shallow breaths, you will have a good idea that they may well be lying to you.
Of course, a practiced liar may still be able keep cool and collected even when telling a lie, and it is this often contradictory behavior that can make it difficult to determine if someone is lying or not.
However, by being aware of the deliberate gestures, involuntary mannerisms and ways of speaking that have been proven to show someone is lying, you should be able to spot a liar quite quickly. If you combine looking out for these signs and tells with listening to your own instincts you may avoid being tricked by a clever, compulsive liar in the future.