What the Eyes Tell You About Lying and Hidden Emotions
What do the eyes tell us about deception? Hidden emotions? Relationships? In this post I want to break down different eye behaviors and cues.
Before getting into details, I have to first explain the importance of baselining. The first step to figuring out if someone is lying to you is to find their baseline. A baseline is how someone acts when they are under normal, non-threatening conditions. Easily establish baselines by sitting down with the person you want to read better—your child, your spouse, your friend and talk to them casually about neutral topics that they would have no reason to lie about, like the weather or what they want to have for dinner. Take note of how they act, how they hold their body, how they sound.
Once you have established someone’s baseline you can look for some of the typical gestures outlined below people make with their eyes. If you see one of these clues and it is different than their baseline behavior you know it is a red flag and you have to dig a little deeper.
Eye-Related Nonverbal Clues:
Covering or shielding the eyes is often seen when people literally do not like what they see. You will see this when people feel threatened by something or are repulsed by what they are hearing or seeing. This is an indicator of un-happy behavior. You also see eye-blocking in the form of eye-rubbing, lots of blinking. Eye blocking is powerful display of consternation, disbelief or disagreement. This is actually an innate behavior–children who are born blind actually cover their eyes when they hear bad news.
Our pupils dilate when we are seeing something stimulating or we are in low light. If we are aroused our pupils dilate in order to take in more of our pleasing surroundings. Often during courtship pupils stay dilated. You can tell when someone is aroused by looking closely at their pupils in constant surrounding light.
- Advertisers almost always widen the pupils of women in their ads because it makes their product look aroused and welcoming.
- When we see something negative our pupils also tend to constrict to block out the offensive imagery.
People often squint at you when they do not like you or something you are saying. It can mean suspicion. (Same principal as eye-blocking above–blocking out what they do not like). If you see someone squint at you (and it is not low light) address them directly and clarify your point. They will often be amazed you picked up on their disbelief.
We raise our eyebrows in a quick flash to draw attention to the face to be able to send clear communication signals. I have noticed I do this when I want to be understood or emphasize a point. Raising the eyebrows is a gesture of congeniality and hoping to get along and communicate better.
5. Synchrony and Mimicry
Mimicry or synchrony is when your behavior mimics or mirrors someone elses. You can mimic someone elses eye movement to build rapport. Although use this with caution–it is difficult to mimic someone in a genuine subtle way. If they notice it can feel creepy or forced.
6. Eyes and Courtship
Eye behavior is an important part of courtship. Here are the many ways we use our eye area in romance:
- Women pluck their eyebrows higher up their forehead because it makes us look more helpless and this actually releases hormones in a man’s brain to protect and defend the female.
- Women tend to raise their eyebrows and lower their lids to give the look of orgasming. (Think Marilyn Monroe)
- Looking up and to the side is a ‘come hither’ look from a woman to a man.
- Gazing at someone often engages their attention and encourages them to like you in return.
- Researcher Monika Moore found that men often miss a women’s first eye-gazing courtship signal. On average, she needs to do it three times before the man takes notice.
- A sideways glance over a raised shoulder highlights curves, the roundness of the female face–which signifies estrogen and exposes the vulnerability and pheromones of the neck. A great move for women trying to flirt.
Gazing can be an intimate activity. In fact if you disagree with a superior you can show disagreement by holding gaze for a bit longer than normal. An interesting experiment shows the importance of gazing while dating. In one experiment, researchers told one partner on a blind date that the other had an eye problem, but that they didn’t know which eye was slow. This caused the person to do deep eye gazing to try to figure out which eye was the problem eye. Interestingly, compared to people on control dates (they were told nothing about an eye problem) the people on the eye problem date scored each other much better and rated the date higher and more intimate.
There are three types of gazing:
1) Social Gazing– This is a triangle from the eyes to the mouth. It is non-aggressive and shows comfort.
2) Intimate Gazing– If you want to be intimate with someone you want to look from their eyes to their mouth and lower to the body. If someone is doing this to you it usually means they are having intimate thoughts about you.
3) Power Gazing– This is a triangle between the eyes and the forehead. It avoids the intimate areas of the mouth and body completely. (narrowing eyes is very powerful) (Women who play hard to get use social gazing not the intimate gaze in courtship.)
8. Sideways Glance
This usually denotes uncertainty or the need of more info. If someone sideways glances and has furrowed brow it can mean suspicion or critical feelings. Eyebrows up brows with a sideways glance on the other hand usually means interest or is a sign of courtship.
9. Looking Down One’s Nose
If someone lifts their head and looks down their nose at you it usually means they feel superior.
10. Darting Eyes
Darting eyes always means the person feels insecure. They are often looking for escape routes to talking to you.
Studies show that women who wear glasses and make-up make the best impressions in business. Also those who wear glasses and peer over their lenses at others is always intimidating.
Women observe and examine men more in interviews. They especially notice the back of men’s shoes as they walk out the door.
13. Controlling Where People Look
During presentations you can actually use people’s eyes to lead them in topics. Use your pen to garner attention. You can actually hold it at eye-level and then lift people’s head when you make a point. You can also compare points by drawing people’s eyes to the right and left.
14. Eye Direction
There are a number of studies that talk about the direction of eyes during lies. Typically when people look up an to the right they are lying or tapping into their imagination. When they look up to the left they are remembering or recalling something, tapping into the memory part of the brain. However be sure you get to know their natural movements because this can be reversed for left handed people. Here are some other guidelines that have been observed in people:
- Looking to Their Right = Auditory Thought (Remembering a song)
- Looking to Their Left = Visual Thought (Remembering the color of a dress)
- Looking Down to Their Right = Someone creating a feeling or sensory memory (Thinking what it would be like to swim in jello)
- Looking Down to Their Left = Someone talking to themselves
This can help you detect a lie if you ask someone a question and they look down to the right–as in they were creating a memory instead of remembering something. Note of caution, I have not been able to find a study replicating this effect–so only use with caution!
Navarro, Joe, and Marvin Karlins. What Every BODY Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-reading People. New York, NY: Collins Living, 2008.
Ekman, Paul. Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage. New York: Norton, 1985.
Pease, Allan, and Barbara Pease. The Definitive Book of Body Language. New York: Bantam, 2006.
Meyer, Pamela. Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception. New York: St. Martin’s, 2010.
Craig, David. Lie Catcher: Become a Human Lie Detector in under 60 Minutes. Newport, N.S.W.: Big Sky, 2011.
Want to Learn More About Lie Detection?
Check out our Power of Body Language course where we teach you the nonverbal signs of deception, how to read hidden emotions and the science of human lie detection: