How to Catch a Liar: An Analysis of Dr. Phil’s Tips

A few days ago we posted this video of Dr. Phil giving some tips on “how to catch a liar”. In this blog post, we outline some of the tips he gave and debunk fact from fiction.

You have to give Dr. Phil some credit because some of the information he presents is in fact, true. One point that he makes early on in the video is that there is little or no research to support the idea that eye contact (or lack of) has anything to do with deception. This is true.

Back in September of last year, we talked to deception expert Dr. Mark Frank who stated that eye contact (or lack of) is “one of the most misunderstood aspects of deception”. According to Dr. Frank, there have been over 30 studies that have studied eye gaze and its correlation to deception and most of them showed no evidence of a linkage between the two. In fact, other studies have investigated this as well. The complete blog article can be found here.

Dr. Phil also touches on “baselining” someone- or noticing deviations from normal behavior. Dr. Matsumoto agrees that baselining an individual is extremely important- but not as easy as some people think. The quickest and most accurate way to establish a baseline has a lot to do with the context and exact situation you are in. Is it a dinner party with close friends or an interrogation at a police station? Depending on the scenario, the quickest way to establish a baseline will differ drastically.

In addition to these tips, Dr. Phil suggests the following: that liars are over emphatic, don’t use contractions, don’t use personal pronouns, repeat themselves frequently and are too rehearsed. While these tips could be useful in certain situations, they are not always a guarantee that someone is lying. Each situation and each person is different. What’s important to keep in mind is that there is no Pinnochio response when it comes to telling lies.

The cues to deception occur in verbal and nonverbal channels such as verbal style, voice, gestures, verbal content and facial expressions of emotions. Still in all, because the face is the most important signal system we have, we believe (and the research bears this out) that microexpressions and subtle expressions are the key to helping people evaluate truthfulness.

Thus, learning how to rea facial expressions of emotion as well as micro and subtle expressions is one of the most important step in learning how to detect deception in others.

One response to “How to Catch a Liar: An Analysis of Dr. Phil’s Tips”

  1. Ian Trudel says:

    Dr. Paul Ekman said he asks his interviewee his or her best and worst experience in the month in order to establish a baseline. It’s good to start with.

    Remember, however, establishing a baseline is not necessarily (or entirely) done in a sequential manner. It requires constant readjustments to be accurate and it indeed depends on the context and other environmental factors.

    The challenge in detecting deception is generally attributable, in my opinion, to constant readjustments in our evaluation and an ability to cope with uncertainty while evaluating — most people want a definitive answer right away, as in “Lie To Me”.


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