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Do You Know When Someone Is Lying to You?

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:

I’m learning some crazy facts about lying! click to tweet

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

how to be a human lie detector Hopefully 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. click to tweet

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.

  • Marsha from

    So interesting! For some reason the pursed lips thing really stood out for me.


    • Anonymous

      I do that ALL the time(well not all the time, but it’s really common). So does the rest of my family. Isn’t something that’s done more by liars… Why did they even put it in this course…. ?

      • Danielle McRae

        A lip purse is an example of negative body language. Sometimes, it’s indicative of lying, but not always. It’s mainly a way of concealing information. For example, if you ask a woman how much she weighs, she will almost always lip purse before answering. I hope this distinction helps!

        Danielle | SOP Team

  • Hravensonr

    Is this true, that 83% of what people say is distorted? Am I understanding this correctly?

  • emma

    wow this whole thing is amazing

    • Danielle McRae

      Thank for reading, emma!

      -Danielle & The Science of People Team

  • Bill Cogswell


  • Azza

    I’m so happy I’ve found you, science of people!

    • Danielle McRae

      We’re so happy to have you, Azza! Welcome to the Science of People community!

      Danielle | SOP Team


    Fruitfull, thx u so much…

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know if that’s a joke or not… It doesn’t mean they’re always lying, it’s just what people sometimes do when they lie. They can do it when they’re not lying too. It doesn’t really help at all, and whether they do it or not, you can be just as sure about whether or not they’re lying to you. I personally don’t see why anyone would sign up for this course…

  • dom.uncl

    Everything I’ve read says that, statistically, ALL the techniques, and ALL the technologies are barely better than random chance at detecting lies. Lying must have evolutionary value, because everybodys REALLY good at it!

  • adrienne gellman

    No .The PROVEN way to prove if a person is lying to you is to PROVE INCONSISTENCIES in what they’re telling you now & what you can PROVE happened in the situation you’re talking about.TRUTH IS ABOUT CONSISTENCY.LIES ARE ABOUT INCONSISTENCY.

  • fazekma

    How come The Power of Body Language isn’t available on Udemy? I’ve bought two of your courses via Udemy and am very happy with their format but don’t like Creativelive.

    • Danielle McRae

      Hi, fazekma. Creative Live owns the rights to both “The Power of Body Language” and “Master Your People Skills” courses, so we’re unable to have them run on Udemy. So sorry about that!

      Danielle | Science of People Team

  • Alexia Corrie:)

    There’s a friend of mine who I caught lying when I caught her stealing a book of mine, BUT she doesn’t know that I know that she stole the book. And so the next day I pretend that I didn’t know where the book was and I told her and very unlikely of her she said in a loud voice “OH REALLY!” which is not like her when saying the truth…

    • Anna rexsick

      Man your life seems full of adventure

  • Alt

    In regards to people shaking no when they say yes, I’ve been watching for that for some time and I’ve noticed that almost every time someone gestures with their head while saying yes to a question, they are shaking their head no. I’ve actually caught myself doing it.

    I was wondering if anyone had any insight on this. I’m genuinely curious, I’m not trying to pick apart the article or anything. : )

    • Danielle McRae

      Hi Alt, great question! Head movement/direction can be a little tricky. Generally, a mismatched answer and head movement (saying “yes”, but moving the head in a “no” direction) is a red flag, but this can vary across cultures. In India, their head movement does not follow the typical Western “yes” and “no”. The same goes for some Scandinavian countries as well. My recommendation is to look for additional red flags before coming to a conclusion!

      Danielle | Science of People Team

  • Haider Ali

    Its feeling so good…Good to find science of people :)

    • Danielle McRae

      We’re happy to have you! :)

      Danielle | Science of People Team

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