Whether little white lies or great big whoppers, humans have been lying to themselves and to one another since the first liar realised they could communicate something other than the truth; and be believed! Being lied to can cause a huge amount of pain and misery, but there are ways to know when someone is not being honest.
Detectives, psychologists, and even Poker players have learned to recognise telltale signs of dishonesty, such as body language, verbal indications, and facial expressions. According to FBI agent and author Mark Bouton, he used tells when identifying Oklahoma bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh. In his book, How to Spot Lies Like the FBI, he explained that being able to spot signs of deceit can be as helpful in everyday life as it can be in a police investigation.
How to Begin
Learning to spot a lie is not as difficult as it may sound, and you certainly will not need to spend years in a police academy. It helps to be familiar with the person you think is lying, so that you do not mistake a normal behaviour of theirs for a tell, or the other way around.
Tells obviously are not something people do consciously, so what causes them? Are we actually hardwired to be honest? According to Bouton, some of the signs are caused by chemical reactions within the body, and others are caused by physical reactions. The person’s nervousness may also cause various indications that they are being dishonest.
If the person is not someone you know well, Bouton suggests observing them for a few minutes. Engage them in small talk and ask innocent questions so you know how they usually react. Later, if you ask pointed or forthright questions and you see them react in a way they did not react earlier, you can be sure they are not telling the truth.
Getting Hot and Sweaty
The FBI agent said excessive sweating is another telling sign that the person is lying. Their sweat will most likely be noticeable on their forehead and their cheeks, but they will also start sweating on the back of their neck. They may even draw attention to it by trying to wipe it off.
The sweating may or may not be accompanied by blushing. The familiar flushing of the neck and face is a response to adrenalin released as part of the fight-or-flight response activated by the sympathetic nervous system.
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Saying Yes, Meaning No
Whether the person nods or shakes their head while talking to you can also indicate a lie. Bouton explained that, when someone tells the truth, they usually nod their heads in agreement unconsciously.
However, when people lie, they tend to shake their heads in disagreement. If it looks like their own body is disagreeing or disbelieving what they are saying, their words are not worth believing.
Hands and Faces Tell the Real Story
Another chemical reaction that happens when people lie makes their faces itch. If they keep scratching or touching their face while talking to you, they are probably lying. While watching their face, take note of their mouth. If they keep pursing their lips, or making a sucking motion, it may be because they are being dishonest. Just as faces get itchy, so too do mouths get dry.
Eyes Are Windows
Of all the different tells, the most indicative of all are those communicated by the person’s eyes. The various reactions and responses are physiological responses to feeling trapped by questions they wish they were not being asked.
According to Bouton, if they blink 5 or 6 times rapidly, in succession, rather than 5 or 6 times in a minute, it can indicate dishonesty. However, blink rate can also be affected by conditions such as schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease.
You can tell if their smile is genuine by looking at the skin around their eyes. If it is bunched and wrinkles, also known as laugh lines, appear at the corners of their eyes, the smile is real. If they are smiling with their mouth only, it is not genuine.
You also can spot a liar if they close their eyes for a couple of seconds while talking to you, or as soon as they have finished speaking. Bouton described it as a defence mechanism, as the average blink takes between 100 and 400 milliseconds.
If you ask a right-handed person a question about something they saw, and they look to the upper left, they really are recalling a memory. If, however, they look to the upper right, they are making up an answer. The responses are the opposite in a left-handed person. In a similar way, if you ask a right-handed person about something they heard, and they look to the left, they are trying to recall a genuine memory.
Knowing the tells used by a successful former FBI agent can benefit you in many ways both in your person life and at work, and if you can spot a liar quickly you’ll always have the upper hand.