Body Language: Can you tell if someone is lying?

Body Language: Can you tell if someone is lying?

As an officer I often find myself speaking with people who I think are lying to me (can you believe that?). There are some specifics I look for when I’m trying to see if what I’m being told is a lie, but just how easy is it to tell? I’m not talking about if a statement or excuse completely makes no sense; I’m talking about when it comes down to body language. Is the person just a bit too fidgety, or is breaking eye contact just too much. Maybe they keep looking up and off to the side, or they begin sweating when they talk to me. Either way, it can often be tough, based on body language and non-verbal cues, to tell if someone is lying.

It’s been argued that non-verbal cues of deception can be very misleading and often do not prove anything at all.

The general belief behind non-verbal cues is that deception often shows because:

  • lying takes more mental effort than telling the truth
  • emotions give people away when lying
  • lying causes more stress and anxiety

What does that mean? Basically, people expect non-verbal cues to not only occur, but to be obvious and happen frequently because of the effort it takes to lie.

So what does the research reveal?

When lying, people are more likely to:

  • offer shorter responses
  • make more speech errors – more um’s, er’s ah’s…
  • blink more
  • fidget more

One thing that is interesting, however, is that some studies show People do NOT break eye contact when lying.

Liars as well as truth-tellers are, on average, just as likely to “look you in the eye.”

Honestly, depending on what research you read and who you talk to, some say deception can clearly be identified through body language while other’s say it’s nearly impossible to detect.

I believe, however, that there are some signs. Below is a list of some indicators that I’ve personally seen while interviewing and interrogating suspects.

Emotional Gestures & Contradiction

• Timing and duration of emotional gestures and emotions are off a normal pace. The display of emotion is delayed, stays longer it would naturally, then stops suddenly.

• Timing is off between emotions gestures/expressions and words. Example: Someone says “I love it!” when receiving a gift, and then smile after making that statement, rather then at the same time the statement is made.

• Gestures/expressions don’t match the verbal statement, such as frowning when saying “I love you.”

• Expressions are limited to mouth movements when someone is faking emotions (like happy, surprised, sad, awe, )instead of the whole face. For example; when someone smiles naturally their whole face is involved: jaw/cheek movement, eyes and forehead push down, etc.

Interactions and Reactions

• A guilty person gets defensive. An innocent person will often go on the offensive.

• A liar is uncomfortable facing his questioner/accuser and may turn his head or body away.

• A liar might unconsciously place objects (book, coffee cup, etc.) between themselves and you.

Verbal Context and Content

• A liar will use your words to make answer a question. When asked, “Did you eat the last cookie?” The liar answers, “No, I did not eat the last cookie.”

•A statement with a contraction is more likely to be truthful: “ I didn’t do it” instead of “I did not do it”

• Liars sometimes avoid “lying” by not making direct statements. They imply answers instead of denying something directly.

• The guilty person may speak more than natural, adding unnecessary details to convince you… they are not comfortable with silence or pauses in the conversation.

• A liar may leave out pronouns and speak in a monotonous tone. When a truthful statement is made the pronoun is emphasized as much or more than the rest of the words in a statement.

• Words may be garbled and spoken softly, and syntax and grammar may be off. In other
words, his sentences will likely be muddled rather than emphasized.

The Bottom Line

Some people are just good liars. They can pass polygraphs and hide their emotions, stress levels and non-verbal cues. Most lie detecting experts agree that a combination of body language and other cues must be used to make an educated guess on whether someone is telling the truth or a lie. But non-verbal cues and body language alone may not be enough. I’ll leave it to you to decide if someone’s lying… have you experienced anything mentioned here, or do you have any useful tips to help identify deception?

Resources: How To Detect LiesNonverbal Signs of Lying.

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