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Do You Know When Someone Is Lying to You?


We can spot a lie with only 54% accuracy. In order to improve your lie spotting ability and protect yourself from dishonest people I want to explain the science of lie detection.

Lie detection has been a science that has fascinated people for centuries. If you want to understand people, you have to understand the truth about dishonesty. Here is a little background:

  • Human lie detectors read facial expressions, body language, voice tone and statement analysis to detect deception.
  • Human lie detection is like a humanized polygraph. The science trains the naked eye to see guilt, nerves and hidden emotions in a similar way that a polygraph measures heart rate, respiration rate and sweat.
  • Research has shown that learning human lie detection techniques can help you improve your lie spotting ability up to 90%.

Interesting Facts About Lying:

The Good News:

Lying is learned, so we can unlearn it.

To test this fact, researchers left three year-olds in a room and told them not to peek at a concealed toy across the room. 90% of the children looked and when asked, 38% admitted that they broke the rules.

When researchers did the same experiment with five year-olds none of them admitted they broke the rules after peeking at the forbidden toy. Older children had learned, even at the young age of five, that they could get in trouble for telling the truth and decided to lie instead.

Lie spotting is about getting back to truth. The way we teach human lie detection is not about teaching you to pick people’s behavior apart or point fingers at liars. It is about arming you with scientific principles to help you have more honest interactions, better communication and more trustworthy relationships.

Lie detection is a complex science–I have a four hour course on the subject! But, here I will try to break down for you the basics of how it works.

Step One: Baselining

The first and most important step to human lie detection is baselining.

A baseline is how someone acts when they are under normal, non-threatening conditions. It is how someone looks when they are telling the truth.

When you want to better read a person’s emotions or spot when they lie, you will need to find their baseline, or notice how they look, sound, act and behave when they are telling the truth. To do this you want to discuss neutral topics. This is typically very easy when you just meet someone at a party, meeting or job interview. Start with a few non-threatening questions your subject would have no reason to lie about, like the weather, their name or their plans for the weekend. Anything that qualifies as small talk is usually safe. Then pay attention to how they hold their body, how they sound, how often they fidget–you want to take a mental video of their truthful behavior.

Step Two: Hotspot Area

Udemy LD CoverHopefully you never get to step two. Step two happens when you suddenly notice a change in baseline. This is called a hot spot area. Like a polygraph picks up spikes in heart rate or sweat, you can pick up on sudden ticks or a jiggling foot that was not there before.

Specifically a hot spot area is when you notice someone differs from their baseline.

There is no behavioral smoking gun that means a subject is lying. This why baselining is so important. Every time someone deviates from their baseline constitutes a ‘red flag’ — or something of which you should be aware. Red flags also appear when you spot a statistical clue to deceit. Research has found 36 clues that statistically speaking means someone is lying. In other words, there is a high chance that when someone does one of these cues they are not telling the truth. I teach all of them in my How to Be A Human Lie Detector course, but here are two I can share with you:

  • Opposite Nodding: Often when people lie their body gives them away. This happens with nodding. For example, someone will lie and say “yes” but without realizing it, shake their head no.
  • One Sided Shoulder Shrug: Dr. Paul Ekman discovered that people have the tendency to slightly lift their shoulder when they lie. It is almost as if they are shrugging because they don’t believe what they are saying.

Be sure to also follow me on Twitter where I critique news shows and live TV for lies and unique body language.

See my posts on Anthony Weiner, Amanda Knox and Lance Armstrong.

Step Three: Clusters

If you see one difference in baseline or one red flag that is not enough. My rule of thumb is to take notice when I spot three red flags in one response. I call this a cluster. If you see a cluster of odd behaviors or changes in baselines you know you have stumbled upon a touchy topic or a lie—either one warrants further investigation later in the conversation. If I see a cluster I will circle back to the question, do some background research when I get home or try asking a second time at a later date. More than not, way more information than you thought comes to light.

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:

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a published author and behavioral investigator. She is a Huffington Post columnist and her courses and research has been featured on CNN, Forbes, Business Week and the Wall Street Journal. As a published Penguin author, Vanessa regularly speaks and appears in the media to talk about her research. She is a sought after consultant and speaker.


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