Did you know that some of us can be lied to as much as 200 times per day1https://www.problemsolved.com.au/lets-honest-lying/? But fear not—you can learn lie detection, just like any other skill.
I’m here to let you know that anyone can tell if a person is lying.
All it takes is knowledge and a little bit of practice. In this master guide, I will show you:
- The most common lying myths
- How pathological liars lie (and serial killers, too)
- How to tell if someone is lying
- The 3 types of lies
- How to become good at spotting lies
So before we jump into anything else, it’s important for you to find out…
How Good Are You at Detecting Lies?
Let’s test your liespotting skills…
Take the Liespotting Quiz
Here at Science of People, we came up with our own liespotting quiz.
You’ll watch five people tell you two truths and one lie. This is all real footage, sent in to us from our real readers, just like you.
Ready for the quiz? Good luck!
Okay, how did you do? If you didn’t guess the lies too well, that’s perfectly normal!
Most lies go undetected because they actually sound like the truth, so we have a hard time telling them apart.
There is however, a small group of people who can detect lies at around an 80% accuracy. They are known as Truth Wizards2https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wizards_Project.
Are you a truth wizard?
What is a truth wizard?
A Truth Wizard is a person who can detect lies with 80% accuracy. They are natural-born lie detectors that are remarkable at detecting lies without any prior training. Truth Wizards usually do not rely on just one clue, but rather use a variety of clues to detect lies.
Want to learn more about truth wizards? Check out this video:
In the original study of Truth Wizards3https://jcamillieri.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/img0021.jpg, only 50 people out of 20,000 people were lie detection aficionados.
So, if you weren’t able to pick up on the lies, don’t feel bad. Remember: on average, people can only detect 54% of lies.
Before we dive into the signs, let’s debunk some lying myths.
Top 4 Mistakes People Make When Detecting Lies
First, let’s get this out of the way. Most people believe that it’s easy to spot a lie. That is, they believe in a secret “formula” for spotting lies. The eye movement. The fidgeting. The nervous sweats. “Oh yeah, gotcha now, you liar!”
But reality isn’t that simple.
Hollywood movies and popular TV has influenced us that we’re all the Dr. Cal Lightman’s in Lie to Me… when in reality, we can barely tell if our own partner is lying to us— “You look so good in those pants, sweetheart!”
Here are some of the most common lying myths debunked.
- Lying Myth #1: If people look to the left, they are lying.
Although there is some science about eye direction, which we talk about in the course, it is NOT a reliable form of lie detection. The course will show you more accurate (and easier) ways to spot lies.
- Lying Myth #2: Liars can’t look you in the eyes.
We often think of liars as shifty in their gaze. However, liars actually look you in the eye more because they want to see if you believe their lie or not.
- Lying Myth #3: Children are the biggest liars.
While we may think that children lie a lot4https://theconversation.com/why-do-kids-lie-and-is-it-normal-98948, their lies are often the easiest to spot. Studies show5http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01650250143000373 that children usually give themselves away before age 8, and their lies become better with age. Take a look at this video, for example, of a young girl who lies about eating cake (with cake covering her face!):
- Lying Myth #4: Emails, texts, and IMs are filled with lies.
A lot of people believe this myth because they think it’s easier to lie when others can’t see or hear you. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
According to Stanford Magazine6https://stanfordmag.org/contents/the-truth-about-online-lying, it’s not the technology that causes lies, but the goal of the liar. In other words, people often lie over technology when they want something from someone.
In the dating world, for example, someone might be lying about their good qualities to a potential partner, simply because they want to appear more attractive themselves! (eg. “I love cooking!” when he / she doesn’t.)
But there’s a more dangerous form of communication other than email or texting you should be more concerned about—the phone.
If you’ve ever been a victim of the “Hello, this is Microsoft customer service. Your computer has been infected with a virus” scam… then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
People lie the most on the phone because not only can they not see the other person’s face… but there’s also no paper trail. No record? No proof! And it might be even harder to tell if someone is lying over text— luckily, we have an article on that, too.
Bottom Line: There are a lot of myths surrounding lies. Don’t believe everything you hear, just because you watch it on television or read it online. In the words of Abraham Lincoln…
“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time. Especially not everyone on the internet.”— Abraham Lincoln
How to Tell if Someone is Lying
Okay, so we’ve gone down the darkside of murderers and psycho killers. But most liars are just normal people, just like you and me.
From your coworker that says her part of the project is going “good,” to your significant other who says the relationship is “just fine”… These are the top tips on how to spot when someone is lying.
Special Note: Before we get into the tips below, please understand that liespotting is a very difficult science. We have summarized the research below, but if it were this easy to spot lies, everyone would be able to do it. Use these tips to get you started, but know this is a very hard skill to learn. If you really want to take it seriously check out our advanced Lie Detection Course.
#1: Identify Your Prolific Liars
The first tip is to identify the liars in your life. And here’s the good news: most people are honest.
In fact, recent research shows that a majority of lies are told by a small group of people. These groups of liars are known as prolific liars.
What is a prolific liar?
A prolific liar is someone who has a chronic or compulsive behavior of lying. Prolific liars usually lie multiple times a day, sometimes for no apparent reason at all.
Chances are you’ve encountered a prolific liar before. And chances are you have a prolific liar or two in your life right now.
Ask yourself: who are the prolific liars in my life? Is it a friend, coworker, or family member? Do I tend to catch them in lies, or do they cause harm to others or themselves by lying constantly?
Prolific liars can be hard to identify. That’s because they might be closer than you think.
If you’re having a hard time thinking of someone, don’t worry. Identifying a prolific liar can be difficult. Their lies may not always be the dramatic, over-the-top, grandiose lies that we may expect from liars. Prolific liars can lie about small, simple things.
Luckily, we’ve got a way to identify prolific liars. In the study Variance in the Prevalence of Lying7http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0261927X14528804, researchers created a statistical model for distinguishing prolific liars from the everyday “normal” liar.
Here are some distinguishing characteristics of prolific liars:
- Prolific liars are those who report that they tell five or more lies per day.
- Prolific liars tend to be younger, male, and have higher occupational statuses.
- They are likely to lie the most to their partners and children.
- They are more likely than the average person to believe that lying is acceptable in some circumstances.
- They are less likely to lie because of concern for others and more likely to lie for their own self-interest, such as to protect a secret.
- Prolific liars tell five and a half lies for every one white lie told by an average person.
- They tell 19.1 lies for every big lie told by the average person.
#2: Watch The Nose
Now we all know the old story of Pinocchio and how, whenever he lies, his nose gets really big.
And while it’s a funny way to portray lying, there’s also quite a bit of truth behind Pinocchio’s nose.
You see, whenever we lie, our nose gets a little itchy. I know… It sounds a bit weird. Especially when you hear that our nose contains something called “erectile tissue” (yes, the same tissue that forms our sensitive parts!).
According to neurological director Alan Hirsch8https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2009-01-28-0901280382-story.html, when a person lies, “blood flow increases to the erectile tissues in the body, including the erectile tissues in the nose.” This is why liars often touch or scratch their nose.
So if you were wondering why Pinocchio’s lying cue is his nose… it’s no coincidence.
And do you know who a great example of nose touching is? Bill Clinton.
In Clinton’s 1998 grand jury testimony in the Monica Lewinsky case, neurologists9https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/publications/youraba/2019/june-2019/lie-detectors–facial-clues-to-sniff-out-a-liar/ found that when the former president “was truthful, he never touched his nose.” However, when Clinton lied… “he gave a split-second frown and touched his nose once every four minutes afterward.”
And here’s the most surprising part—Bill Clinton ended up touching his nose a total of 26 times during the testimony. Was he lying? Most undeniably, refutably, 100%…
Go here to see a short clip of Bill Clinton, where you can see him rubbing / scratching his nose as a lying cue.
But wait! This doesn’t mean all people who touch their noses are liars—sometimes a person might have a runny nose, or it might just be cold outside. Nose touching is just one statistical cue to deceit.
So how do we know for sure when someone is lying?
Apart from certain lying cues like nose touching, people often give away certain microexpression “tells” when they are lying.
#3: Watch The Neck
When people tell lies, it doesn’t only come out verbally. A lie often makes a quick stop in the neck on the way up, making the neck a great hotspot for detection deception.
If a person touches their neck, it can be an indicator of increased sweat due to nervousness or anxiety from being caught in the act. If a person is wearing a collar, they might tug at it or adjust it instead to seem less obvious.
The Peases cite researcher Desmond Morris as the first person to discover that lying causes a tingling sensation in the facial and neck tissues. People usually scratch their neck to get rid of this tingling.
The Peases also conducted their own observations. Here’s what they found:
When people lie, they scratch their necks an average of 5 times each time they scratch— rarely more, and rarely less.
#4: Watch for Mismatched Hand Gestures
Try a little experiment right now:
Say “3” but hold up 4 fingers.
Hard right? It’s very hard to lie with our gestures.
People who are sincere and honest will display gestures that match, especially with their hands. For example, if you tell someone their breath is stinky, they might cross their arms, purse their lips, and clench their hands into tight fists.
On the other hand, liars may show body language that indicates one thing, but their hands might not match up.
For example, let’s take a look again at Bill Clinton. In an interview about the Monica Lewinski scandal, he clearly says “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”:
But here’s the dead giveaway that shows he’s lying: his hand gestures don’t match up with where he’s looking!
Clinton clearly looks to his left, but he is pointing in front of him. When wrongly accused, people will look directly at their accuser and, if pointing, will point in the same direction. Not a different one.
Clinton likely pointed away because he didn’t feel enough conviction in what he was saying to confidently point to where he was looking.
This type of disconnect in gesturing is a surefire way to spot a lie.
#5: Pay Attention to The Ears
You might be familiar with ear pulling from the famous actress, Carol Burnett.
But ears aren’t just for listening. Many people might not know they are a great indicator of lying, too. Specifically, pulling or touching the ears is a subconscious way to stop hearing the lies a person is telling. In more obvious cases, if a person who rarely lies feels embarrassed or really nervous, their ears might flush a bit red and rise in temperature due to increased blood flow.
The Peases mention these other variations of ear touching: rubbing the back of the ear, tugging the earlobe, putting the fingertip inside the earlobe, and bending the entire ear to cover the earhole.
#6: Look for Facial Microexpressions
In the tip above, I mentioned that Bill Clinton would often give a “split-second frown” before he touched his nose.
That’s the true feeling Clinton felt when he forced himself to tell a lie—sadness.
Think about it for a minute…
When people tell lies, they are usually sad, angry, or fearful. They want to hide from the truth. In the words of Will Smith10https://www.inspiringquotes.us/author/5788-will-smith/about-emotions:
“Human beings are not creatures of logic; we are creatures of emotion. And we do not care what’s true. We care how it feels.”— Will Smith
So the problem goes…
- We don’t want to tell the truth.
- We tell a lie instead.
- We feel bad about lying.
Somewhere in that equation, we tend to give away little facial cues to signal that we’re lying. For example, here is the fear microexpression—which liars may use when they are afraid they will be caught—down below.
- Eyebrows are raised and drawn together, usually in a flat line.
- Wrinkles in the forehead are in the center between the eyebrows, not across.
- Upper eyelid is raised, but the lower lid is tense and drawn up.
- Eyes have the upper white showing, but not the lower white.
- Mouth is open and lips are slightly tensed or stretched and drawn back.
The fear microexpression is closely linked to shock, so there are a lot of similarities. But it also has its own purpose—when we are scared and widen our eyes, our field of view increases. This lets us see any threats that might lurk nearby.
Our mouth opens when we are scared because it helps us prepare for two things. First, it readies us in case we need to shout for help if we feel threatened. Second, it prepares us to breathe in a large amount of oxygen. This oxygen is helpful in case we need to run away… or fight the enemy!
And if you have ever seen someone frightened, you might have been frightened, too. That’s completely normal—mirroring other people’s fear is a natural response. A study in 199611https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9990084?dopt=Abstract shows that when we see fearful facial expressions, the activity in our amygdala—the part of our brain responsible for fear—increases.
So when one person displays a fear microexpression, others around them will also open their eyes wider. This allows people around to be better prepared to seek out signs of danger.
If there’s a mismatch between facial expressions and what a person is saying, chances are they may be lying.
You can find out more about microexpressions in our article:
#8: Watch for Eyeblinking Changes
Ever heard the saying, “The eyes are the window to the soul”? Well, it turns out there’s some truth to that, especially when it comes to spotting liars.
Why’s that? When someone is lying, they might stare into your eyes more and avoid breaking eye contact. They might be “gauging” if you believe their lie or not.
The Science: Researchers12https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3795311/ evaluated multiple physiological measures, including eye blinks, to determine if changes in eye blinks could be used to detect false intent. The study concluded that eye blink rate decreases when lying! And after a lie, liars tend to yawn and blink more13https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10919-008-0051-0 to refresh their eyes. However, liars can also blink more—see how someone normally blinks beforehand to become a more accurate liespotter.
Here’s the lowdown: You’re looking for the inconsistency. If someone is usually an eye-contact champion but suddenly starts looking like they’re tracking a fly buzzing around the room, or staring at you so hard you’re wondering if they’re competing with you, that’s your cue. Or vice versa. It’s all about the change in behavior.
#9: Decode The Feet Fidget
You’re probably accustomed to focusing on facial expressions and upper body language. After all, that’s where most of the action happens, right?
Wrong. It’s time to divert your gaze downwards—toward the feet.
When people lie, their feet might start doing a little dance, often unconsciously. This could include behaviors like tapping, wrapping one foot around the other, or pointing in a direction away from the conversation.
The Nitty-Gritty: The feet are generally considered the most honest part of the body. Why? Because people rarely think about controlling their feet when they’re spilling a tall tale
In the realm of psychology, this phenomenon has a name: “leakage.” It’s when repressed information leaks out through body language. And guess what? Feet are a prime spot for this leakage to occur.
But here’s your disclaimer: fidgety feet may also signify boredom, discomfort, or even just a need to move. It doesn’t always indicate a lie is in progress. But when you combine it with other suspect cues? Ah, now you’re getting warmer!
#10: Vocal Pitch Changes
When someone lies, the tension of pulling off the deception can twist their vocal cords in revealing ways. No, they won’t suddenly break into a Madonna pitch, but you might notice subtle changes.
When people lie, they may involuntarily raise the pitch of their voice. But a higher pitch might also indicate excitement or nervousness. So, it’s not a foolproof indicator but certainly worth listening for in your quest for the truth.
The key again is to look for sudden differences in pitch.
Special Note: Liars can even use a lower pitch! Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, offers a compelling example. Her vocal variations during interviews raised eyebrows long before her fall from grace. If you listen carefully, you can hear slight shifts in pitch and tone when she discusses the “revolutionary” technology that was later exposed as fraudulent.
#11: Listen to The Lyrics
You’ve heard the saying, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” right?
Well, when it comes to lying, sometimes it’s both! Subtle shifts in how someone phrases their story can be the breadcrumbs leading you down the trail of deceit.
Liars often use vague and ambiguous language to muddy the waters. This allows them room to backtrack or change their story later. For instance, someone might say, “I believe I was at home,” instead of the more straightforward “I was at home.”
Liars might also change tenses–speaking in past tense and then switching to present tense. Truthtellers often stick to past tense because it really happened in the past.
Check out The Behavior Panel as they analyze former US President Donald Trump on his beliefs of UFOs. He uses vague phrases like, “I tend to doubt it” and, “I’m not a believer, but anything’s possible.”
#12: Use of Complicated Words
Have you ever heard a liar carefully picking their words, using more complicated ones than necessary? That might be a huge red flag.
Liars may resort to complicated phrasing, multi-syllabic words, or even legal jargon as a tactic to distract you from their dishonesty. They might do this to sound smarter and more convincing—this can be an indication they’re overthinking and going deeper into a lie.
Graphic Video Ahead: Check out Jodi Arias in this interview. Notice when the interviewer asks her questions, she uses a complicated word like “heinous” and seems not natural.
#13: Watch for Redirection
When someone tries to redirect responsibility, especially when discussing their own questionable actions, it might be a signal that they’re not being entirely truthful. This tactic is often deployed to diffuse attention and escape accountability.
Watch carefully how the person phrases their sentences when talking about an event or action for which they might be responsible. Do they use collective pronouns like “we” instead of “I”? Do they focus on another person instead of themselves when they’re in the spotlight?
If so, they might be subtly shifting the focus and diluting their own responsibility.
Check out this The Behavior Panel clip as they analyze Will Smith’s verbiage regarding an incident where Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at an awards show.
In a discussion about the incident, Will Smith didn’t focus on his own actions and accountability. Instead, he chose to talk about other people’s problems and he used the words, “We have to be nice to people,” a phrase that dilutes his personal responsibility.
#14 Being Overly Defensive
Nobody likes being accused of something they didn’t do, and a natural reaction is to get defensive. But what if someone is overly defensive, especially when they don’t need to be? You may be dealing with a smokescreen to cover up a lie.
When someone becomes defensive, they often shift from being open to the conversation to adopting a stance that resembles a fortress—walls up, emotional moat filled.
This isn’t about clarifying a misunderstanding; it’s about deflecting attention away from potential dishonesty.
How to Spot the Defensive Dome:
- Immediate Counter-Questions: “Why would you even ask me that?” “Are you saying you don’t trust me?” These types of questions aim to divert the conversation.
- Feigning Outrage: Acting overly offended or indignant can serve to stifle any further probing questions you might have.
- Playing the Victim: When cornered, some liars turn the tables by claiming that the very act of questioning them is unfair or hurtful.
For example, take a look at Poker player Robbi Jade Lew who had a controversial game against Garrett Adelstein. Notice how she gets very defensive against Garrett’s suspicion of her playing tactics, even though she won the game:
Advanced: Become a Human Lie Detector
Now that we’ve talked about prolific liars, nose touching, microexpressions, and personal pronouns… It’s finally time to take things one step further. If you really want to be a lie-detecting wizard, there’s only ONE way to greatly and reliably improve your lie detection abilities.
In fact, after many years of teaching lie detection skills to real students, real employees, and real people…
I’ve come to the conclusion that:
The best way to improve lie detection is to use a science-based, systematic approach.
And I’m not talking about a lame test, where I give you an A for effort.
No—I’ve found that the best way to learn is with 3 F’s. That is, learning from:
- Factual and science-based information,
- From real-life examples, and most importantly…
- Fun! It certainly makes reality shows more interesting.
That way, you can discover the real hidden emotions that people truly have deep down inside.
That way, you can walk in a room and know EXACTLY who is lying and why. Yeah, it’s kind of like having a superpower.
THAT is why I created How to Be a Human Lie Detector
I truly believe that detecting lies is one of the most important skills to learn in your life… So if you’re ready to join me, check out my course:
Never miss a lie again. Learn how to spot deception and uncover hidden emotions. Follow our science backed framework and unlock the secret language of lies.
3 Types of Lies You Should Know
One day, while enjoying a nice dinner with my friend John, out popped a question: “Vanessa, how did you feel about Samantha?” Samantha was my ex-friend and ex-neighbor. She had smelly breath, always let her dog poop on our lawn, and even had loud karaoke parties until 2 in the morning! So naturally, I said: “Samantha? She’s great!”
But the thing is… I didn’t like her. I told a lie, and not only was I lying to John… but I was also lying to myself. This type of lie is called a lie of commission. And there are many types of lies—not just the obvious ones.
Lies of Commission
If someone tells you something that is not a fact, we call this a lie of commission. This can be anything from lying about how you feel, to lying about your social status, to lying in a relationship.
Basically, when someone tells a lie of commission, they take the truth and twist it to create a (usually more favorable) version of something that happened. Like when I told John that Samantha was great. Or when people go about our day, telling others they feel “good” when all they really want to do is go home and cuddle with the blankets.
How to tackle these lies: Become skeptical and ask questions. This will make you think before you nod and agree, “Yes” to everything that people say.
Here’s another trick— when someone says something you suspect is a lie, first wait. A day, or a week later, come back to them and ask them to repeat it. If he or she suddenly tells you a different story, then this probably means that there is something else going on. Time to investigate!
Lies of Omission
Unlike the first lie where it’s just plain wrong info, lies of omission are lies because there is something missing.
When a lie of omission is told, important details are left. They can be even nastier than lies of commission because they’re harder to spot and take less effort than making up a whole new lie.
Think of it like this—suppose you are buying a used car, and you spot a 2023 Honda Accord. You ask the car salesman about more details.
“Oh, don’t worry about that! This car is great! Only 1,000 miles, one owner, pet-free, full tank, it’s a steal!” He fails to tell you, however, that the engine was just submerged in salt water. Or that all the tires were blown out and replaced. Or that the car needed a new paint job.
That’s a lie of omission that he told you, and a lie you could have avoided.
How to tackle these lies: “Ask the right questions, and the answers will always reveal themselves.” But it’s not just about asking the right questions, but being thorough in your questions as well.
In the salesman scenario, if you had any doubts about the condition of the car, you could simply ask the salesman to show you the maintenance log of the car. That way, there’s no chance of lying.
But again, the key here is being thorough. Being ignorant is not enough, because you might just let that car salesman put a happy smile on your face and take your money. You have to know when someone is omitting critical information from you, and that usually comes from experience or practice.
Lies of Influence
Lies of influence or character lies are meant to make you believe the liar—or, at the very least, pump them up to make them sound like a great, magnificent human being incapable of telling lies.
Let’s look at an example. You work at the local Walmart and a colleague has been taking money from the cash registers. It’s your job to find out who it is. You interview Mary and ask her if she took the money. Her response is, “I’ve worked here for 15 years!” This is a typical character lie. By telling you how long she’s worked at Walmart, Mary is trying to make it seem highly unlikely that she took the money.
Note how she only told you how long she’s worked at Walmart! She has not told you that she didn’t take the money. Be very wary for these types of lies. Whenever someone is trying to convince you of how great they are like in the example above, they might be attempting to cover something up.
How to tackle these types of lies: Catching these lies is actually pretty easy. All you have to do is really listen to what someone is telling you. Are they giving you an answer to your question or are they just making a statement about themselves? If it’s the latter, then you need to ask the question again to get to the truth.
Of course, spotting lies isn’t easy!
Practicing lie detection is ESSENTIAL to becoming good at it.
Now it’s your turn…
Now that you know how to distinguish the different types of lies, let’s see if you can manage to tell which type of lie is used in the following sentences.
A – Q: Did you do it? A: I would never do something like that!
B – Q: Do I look fat in this dress? A: No, honey.
C – Q: Where were you yesterday? A: I went to the office (neglecting to tell you he also visited his mistress)
D – Q: Is this a good neighborhood to live in? A: Yes, we’re good friends with the people next door (not telling you the people across the street are really very nasty people).
E – Q: Are you having an affair? A: I’ve been happily married for 20 years!
F – Q: How much money are you making? A: About $3,000 a month (While actually making $2,200)
B and F: Lies of commission. Of course B is kind of a trick question because you would never tell your partner she looked fat in that dress. Right? Either way, both are straightforward lies that tell you something other than the truth.
A and E: Lies of influence. These people are trying to make themselves look better to avoid suspicion. Saying, “I would never do something like that” isn’t the same as “no”, which is the answer someone telling the truth would give you.
C and D: Lies of omission. Here, an important part of the truth is left out to avoid having to tell a lie of commission. That, of course, doesn’t make it right!
How well did you do? Did you get your 3 types of lies right? Getting this stuff down 100% will literally TRANSFORM your ways of thinking and believing what people say.
But even if you’re only at 50%, you’re already further than everyone else if you’ve read this far.
The Characteristics of Pathological Liars
In order to examine the characteristics of liars, let’s turn to some of the best liars in the world… pathological liars. Or more specifically… serial killers and cold-blooded murderers.
What is psychopathy?
Psychopathy is a personality disorder that is characterized by antisocial behavior, a lack of empathy, egotistical traits, and a lack of ability to make meaningful connections.
Famous serial killers, like Ted Bundy—who was quoted14https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/5620376.Ted_Bundy saying, “I don’t feel guilty for anything. I feel sorry for people who feel guilt”—or John Wayne Gacy—who said15https://www.biography.com/crime-figure/john-wayne-gacy his only crime should have been “running a cemetery without a license”— display psychopathic traits that make them really good liars.
That’s because, unlike you or me, cold-blooded killers have an easier time lying. In fact, a research study16http://www.nature.com/tp/journal/v7/n7/full/tp2017147a.html by scientists from the University of Hong Kong proved this correlation.
In their study, psychopaths were found to lie much faster than normal… and the parts of the brain that are supposed to “light up” when we come up with a lie had a lot less activity.
Why is this? Lead researcher Dr. Tatia Lee says that: “Lying requires a series of processes in the brain.” This is because it takes us a lot more effort to make up a lie than to tell the truth.
In killers and psychopaths, however, these brain processes are effectively desensitized… Telling a lie and a truth is one and the same for them.
And in the more extreme psychopaths? This lie-making brain process can even be completely shut off. Yikes!
Some serial killers are also serial liars—for example, Henry Lee Lucas confessed to killing over 600 people. Of course, most of the killings he confessed to were completely made up… but his expert lying skills were able to fool countless law enforcement officials (you can even watch the series on Netflix: The Confession Killer!).
This just goes to show how hard it is to detect some of the world’s best liars. However, most killers aren’t professional liars. In fact, some killers can be right next door—as was with the murder case of Lauren Giddings in Macon, Georgia…
Case Study: Stephen McDaniel
!!! Warning: Gruesome details below. !!!
Are you familiar with the murderer, Stephen McDaniel? He’s the guy that choked his classmate and neighbor17https://www.11alive.com/article/news/local/truly-evil-grisly-murder-of-georgia-law-school-student-back-in-spotlight/85-17ec0d7e-0e45-4ca4-878d-5a117061b614, Lauren Giddings, and hid her corpse… only to discover—while being interviewed on camera—that the body was just found.
In June 2011, Stephen McDaniel choked his Mercer Law School classmate, Lauren Giddings, while she was asleep.
Yeah, he’s not exactly a good guy…
The reason I’m bringing up Stephen is because his interview is a goldmine of lie detection knowledge—from the moment he gets on camera, to the moment the body is found, Stephen displays certain lying cues that are easy to detect.
Watch this short clip, where you can see him fabricating lie after lie. And keep in mind… this is the cold-blooded killer who murdered the same woman he’s talking about.
When thinking about lie detection you have to know there is no one cue that signals someone is lying. Rather, in our research we focus on statistical cues to deceit. A statistical cue to deceit is nonverbal or verbal tic that studies have found liars often do.
The best way to accurately spot if someone is lying is to look for multiple statistical cues. We have found 44 in the research and list all of them in our lie detection course. For now, let’s focus on what you might have seen in the video:
- Most honest people speak in complete sentences–they have no reason to hold back or watch their words. Liars often have false starts and odd explanations. In this video, Stephen says, “body.” Not even as a question, but as an odd statement. An honest person would either answer the question or exclaim, “There was a body!?”
- Liars often (but not always) have longer pauses as they think about the “Correct answer” versus the “truthful answer” he has EXTRA long pauses. An honest person would know right away, “No! I didn’t see the body!”
- Did you notice his odd head shaking? Sometimes in the yes motion, sometimes in the no motion. He had trouble shaking his head, “No” because he did see the body! And then shook his head yes at first.
But here’s the most interesting part…
Later on in the footage, the interviewer says that a dead body was found at the exact location where McDaniel hid Giddings’ body. Here, you can see the exact moment where McDaniel’s face turns pale white. This is the moment where he realizes that he’s been caught in his own web of lies. This is the moment he realizes he is in trouble.
Warning: Detecting lies is a powerful skill to have, almost like a mind-reading superpower. It can have deep consequences, especially if you don’t learn how to use this skill properly. Expert lie detectors will consider the consequences of their actions before they call out someone on a lie.
Here’s the second part of the footage, where the interviewer reveals that the body has been found:
You can watch the full interview here: McDaniel’s first media interview
How Accurate Are Polygraph Tests?
Let’s get one thing straight—while polygraph tests are still used in various investigative settings, their scientific credibility is often a subject of, well, let’s call it “spirited debate.”
The polygraph measures physiological responses:
- Heart rate
- Blood pressure
- Respiratory rate
- Galvanic skin response (sweating, in layman’s terms)
The underlying assumption? When you lie, you get nervous, and these metrics go haywire.
Sounds logical, right? Well, here’s the kicker: The scientific community is divided. While some argue that these physiological markers are reliable indicators of stress, and therefore deception, others point out a glaring flaw—these markers can skyrocket for a whole bunch of reasons that have nothing to do with lying.
Nervous about public speaking? Your polygraph would probably make you look like a criminal mastermind. Similarly, seasoned liars, sociopaths, or those trained in countermeasures could sail through a polygraph test with flying colors, all while feeding you a heap of falsehoods.
Here’s what the American Psychological Association18https://www.apa.org/topics/cognitive-neuroscience/polygraph has to say about it:
“Most psychologists agree that there is little evidence that polygraph tests can accurately detect lies.”
And yet, they’re still widely used by law enforcement agencies and even some private employers.
Why? Because while they may not be 100% accurate, they still serve as a powerful psychological tool. Many people believe they work, and that belief alone can make subjects more eager to tell the truth.
How to Spot Lies Through Online Messaging, Emails, And Texts
Online conversations—be it text, email, or even DMs—are another landscape where lies bloom. While you can’t see a nose twitch or catch a fleeting microexpression, written words have their own subtleties, their own cues as well.
First, let’s talk about vagueness. Ever get a message that’s as clear as mud? A lack of detail can be a sign. Look for generalities like “sometime,” “maybe,” or “we’ll see.”
Second, timing is another indicator. Notice if there’s a pause longer than usual before receiving an answer. While this isn’t foolproof (we’re all guilty of leaving a text hanging now and then), a significant delay might mean the other person is concocting a lie, carefully selecting words, or, dare we say, consulting the web for a plausible story.
You might even be able to spot a liar nervously deleting their messages if your messaging app has real time text dots:
Third, don’t overlook the tone. We all have a digital ‘voice,’ a unique way of expressing ourselves through text. Any drastic shift in this digital voice—a sudden formality, an overuse of punctuation, a bombardment of emojis (or lack of emojis if they’re a heavy emoji user)—can be a sign that something’s off.
Lastly, you’ve heard of tone policing in spoken conversations, right? The same goes for text. Look for words or phrases that try to deflect blame or seem overly defensive. Phrases like “Why would you even think that?” can serve as a digital smokescreen.
Watch out for these other phrases:
- “Who told you that? 🕵️♀️”
- “I can’t believe you’re accusing me!”
- “Where is this coming from?”
- “You’re making things up. 🙄”
- “Are you serious right now?”
- “Do you even trust me? 💔”
- “You’re overreacting. 😤”
- “Why are you always so suspicious?”
- “I don’t have to explain myself to you.”
- “You’re being paranoid. 😓”
Some of these statements can even be a form of gaslighting. In the realm of pixels and typos, the truth is often sandwiched between the lines.
Is Facial Flushing A Sign of Lying or Just Nervousness?
When someone’s cheeks start looking like they just finished a 5K, it’s an autonomic response.
That means it’s involuntary. Could be caused by a lie, sure, but it could also be caused by a dozen other things—like being put on the spot or feeling attracted to someone (hey, we’ve all been there).
But let’s get scientific. When we lie, the body sometimes releases adrenaline, the famed “fight or flight” hormone. This can dilate blood vessels and lead to facial flushing. Essentially, a flush could indicate a heightened emotional state, but here’s the rub: Not all heightened emotional states are due to lying.
If you’re trying to determine if someone is lying based on their facial flush, consider the context:
- Were they just accused of something?
- Are they being questioned in a confrontational manner?
- Are they discussing a sensitive topic that might naturally lead to a flush?
Now, if the person is calm and collected, and their face suddenly flushes when they make a specific statement—well, you might have a red (pun intended!) flag on your hands.
Words and Phrases Commonly Used by Deceivers
First off, let’s get one thing straight—using a specific word or phrase doesn’t automatically slap a “Liar” label on someone. Language is nuanced. But a shift towards certain phrases might signal deceit.
The Telltale Signs:
- “To be honest,” “Honestly,” “Truthfully”: Ironically, these qualifiers can be red flags. People who are being honest don’t usually need to label their statements as such.
- Excessive Details: While you asked where they were last night, they give you a minute-by-minute breakdown. Over-explanation can be a ruse to make the lie seem more believable.
- Vagueness: On the flip side, being too vague can also be a sign. “I was out,” “It’s complicated,” or “I don’t remember exactly” might be dodging the truth.
- Third Person Pronouns: Liars often distance themselves from their lies, opting for third-person pronouns like “he,” “she,” or “they” rather than “I.”
- Passive Voice: “The document was misplaced” rather than “I misplaced the document.” Using passive voice takes the focus off the doer of the action.
Real-life Example: Corporate and Political Scandals
Ever read a corporate or political apology that made your eyes roll? Take the classic case of corporate and political statements19https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/02/mistakes-were-made/385663/ after a scandal. The passive voice runs rampant: “Mistakes were made,” “Standards were not upheld,” yada, yada, yada.
Responsibility? Nowhere in sight.
So next time you’re sniffing around for lies, listen to the language. The words themselves might not prove deception, but they can certainly raise some brows.
How to Train Your Lie Detection Skills
While detecting deception is never easy, quality training can improve a person’s ability to detect lies.
The fact is, many people—without any prior training—think they can detect lies…
However, what they think doesn’t matter.
The proof is in the numbers. Most people are terrible at detecting lies because they still believe in old lying myths. Because they watch what they see on television, and think catching lies is easy.
But here’s the interesting part…
Spotting lies can be easy—much easier than you think.
In my course, I teach my secret lie-detecting knowledge that helped thousands of people become lie-detecting masters and take control of their own life…
So are you ready to take on this course and develop a world-class skill? You’ve already made it this far… You will not be disappointed.
So here are the keys—now it’s your turn to start the engine.
Sign up for the course: How to Be a Human Lie Detector
How to Deal with Difficult People at Work
Do you have a difficult boss? Colleague? Client? Learn how to transform your difficult relationship.
I’ll show you my science-based approach to building a strong, productive relationship with even the most difficult people.