Can You Spot a Lie?

John Wills, a former Chicago Police Officer and retired FBI Special Agent, recently wrote an article for entitled “Can You Spot a Lie?. In this article, he writes about his conversation with retired FBI Special Agent Mark Bouton (whom you can even follow on twitter), who has become “adept at recognizing certain indices of deception” through “thousands of interviews and interrogations.”

Wills interviewed Bouton about his new book, “How to Spot Lies Like the FBI,” in which Bouton writes about his on-the-job-experience in having to detect deceptive people and what the signs of a liar are. Throughout the article, Wills illustrates various points that Bouton makes in his book, which are outlined below:

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Liar’s Behavior

Special Agent Bouton states in his book that there are some indicators of liars that are easy to spot: looking around instead of making eye contact, a racing heart, or breaking a sweat when it isn’t cold. However, it’s important to note that everyone’s physiology is different; therefore, changes in people’s physiology when they are telling a lie is not consistent across all individuals. We all exhibit different signs physiologically when we tell a lie and not one physiological sign can be applied to all individuals.

Dangerous Signs

Bouton explains that “being cognizant of how a suspect subconsciously signals he’s about to attack” was a critical part of his job. The signals he believes to be signs of a violent person include clenched fists, a sudden big intake of air, or standing in a defensive position. Furthermore, he claims that a brief flash of anger before suddenly looking very calm is a microexpression of his true feelings, which the suspect is trying to cover up.
In Humintell’s research over the years we have also determined some faces that are associated with premeditated assault and loss of impulse control. These faces are a part of our Dangerous Demeanor Detector training program and research continues in this area.

Eye Contact (or lack of?)

The article continues with an analysis on eye contact, and how the eyes can be an indicator that someone is being deceptive. Wills states that “People normally maintain eye contact during a conversation about sixty percent of the time…some will avert their eyes every time they lie…when someone blinks more rapidly, it’s a good indicator that they’re not telling the truth.”

What Wills is saying may be true in certain situations. However, research is beginning to discover that eye movements are not necessarily indicative of a lie. We previously wrote about “The Eye Contact Myth” and how people have believed that the eyes can show them whether or not someone is being deceptive. As the blog post states, “eye contact (or lack of) is “one of the most misunderstood aspects of deception”.


Bouton does go on to correctly state that sociopaths’ “lies” are difficult to detect. Dr. Matsumoto often states that pathological liars (people who habitually and compulsively lie) actually believe what they are saying to be true; therefore, they technically aren’t lying and may not exhibit the same signs as someone who may feel guilty or nervous about being deceptive. This may or may not be true for sociopaths (people who psychologically cannot feel remorse or empathy for others, and persistently deceive people).


It’s important to remember that research has consistently shown that there is no “Pinocchio” response. Dr. Matsumoto suggests that human beings are hardwired not to detect when another person is lying; therefore, there is no surefire way to know that someone is trying to deceive you. If there was, humans would have figured it out by now. Furthermore, societies would not function if we were able to identify when someone is lying every single time. Special Agent Bouton alludes to this fact as well when he states that “a person’s psychological makeup can be important in both the signals that he gives and the answers he provides.”

Main points in Bouton’s book (which is scheduled to come out in the next few months), his ideas about deception and their indicators, have piqued our interest. What do you think about Special Agent Bouton’s assertions?

2 responses to “Can You Spot a Lie?”

  1. Russ Conte says:

    Quick note – the blog post says that the book will be out in a few months. lists the book as available, and I can have it by this Tuesday (9/14). See here:

    It seems that he is saying that we need to baseline first, and then look for variations from the baseline as points of deeper investigation. Also, it is very true that sociopaths do not believe they are lying, and catching them is vastly more difficult by reading body language (and that’s one reason that businesses now use criminal background checks and drug tests). It seems like an interesting book written by someone with lots of street experience, one of many that are I’m seeing out now on deception detection.

    Russ Conte

  2. Thanks for the clarification, Russ!

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