How To Tell If Someone Is Lying To You

Think You Know How To Spot A Liar?
Henrik Sorensen via Getty Images

How many times have you told a fib today? According to Robert Feldman, author of The Liar In Your Life: The Way To Truthful Relationships, it’s probably more than you think.

Based on three decades of research into lying and everyday deception, one of Feldman’s most disconcerting findings was that new acquaintances will lie to each other about three times during the course of a ten minute conversation.

Although these little white lies are often told with the best of intentions – like saying “I’m fine” when really you’re having a terrible day or “I love your dress” when really you’re just trying to fill an awkward silence – Feldman suggests these everyday fibs can pave the way for bigger deceptions and breed a culture of dishonesty and mistrust.

So, if lying is rife, how do we know when someone is trying to pull the wool over our eyes?

Many of us like to think we can just tell. When we suspect someone isn’t being straight with us, we narrow our eyes and scrutinise them – as though the more intently we watch them the more likely we’ll be to blow their cover and unveil the truth.

Conversely, many of the classic traits associated with lying could be sending us even further from the truth, according to consultant psychiatrist and HuffPost blogger, Dr Raj Persaud.

“One of the commonest mistakes is that liars increase their body movements – the famous shiftiness, gaze aversion and fidgeting of a dissembler,” he writes in his HuffPost blog.

“In fact scientific research on this demonstrates the opposite is more true, liars more often decrease their body movements and tend to hold your gaze.”

So, short of hooking up our suspect to a lie-detector machine, can we really spot a liar with our eyes alone?

Research suggests even a highly trained eye would have little more success at detecting the truth than someone taking a wild stab in the dark. A review of 39 scientific studies by Professor of Applied Social Psychology, Aldert Vrij, a world authority on the science of deception, reveals an average accuracy rate of just 56.6%.

But don’t sack your inner detective just yet. Although we might not be able to prove our partner has been cheating or our colleague stabbing us in the back, without the hard evidence to back it up, there are still a few clues that could help us in our quest for the truth.

In his book, Detecting Lies and Deceit: Pitfalls and Opportunities, Vrij outlines a number of psychological strategies that could help us become better lie detectors, such as the ‘baseline method’ and the ‘devil’s advocate question’.

Dr Sandi Mann, co-author of Would I Lie To You? and psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire, agrees that traditional traits we associate with liars could be leading us down the wrong path but also concurs there are alternative techniques that could prove more fruitful.

Read more about their findings and expert techniques below then be ready to test it out the next time your partner says he was “working late” or your daughter swears she’s done her homework...

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The 'Baseline' Method

How To Tell When Someone's Lying