Are you a good liar?

Could you tell if someone was lying to you?  Are there sure fire ways to point out a liar?

Many people are under the impression that if a person looks in a certain direction or has a lot of pauses and ums in their speech they are being deceptive.  Some people even believe that scratching one’s nose is a sign of deception, but it is not.

These have been proven false for many years and now a new study “Cues to Deception in Context” published in the British Journal of Social Psychology, has quantified that it is almost impossible to detect a liar from the way they talk.

Edward Reynolds, the lead researcher, and his team from the University of Queensland, studied speech patterns from people in reality television programs such as Cops and The Jeremy Kyle Show – both shows have subjects which have good reason to lie.

Through their research, they found that people in the shows used pauses equally in truthful statements and in lies.   Reynolds’s research focuses on response latency or the gap between the questions and the lying response.  He affirms, “Restarts, for instance, are used to get attention [rather than lying].”

He goes on to denote that people do not lie in impromptu situations but opt to lie to get out of trouble.  One does this Reynolds advises, with answers to questions, and there lies the clue to detecting deception.  Therefore, successful lying comes from avoiding questions.  This exemplifies the point that there are no tell-tale signs for detecting a liar.

It is thought that some people can train themselves to be good evaders of questions and in turn effective liars.  However, Professor Mara Olekalns, an expert on negotiation at Melbourne Business School, points out that there are physiological giveaways that we cannot control. Things such as pupil dilation and facial responses also known as microexpressions are natural bodily reactions that unwittingly give away the “real” truth.  Mara states, “One cue is that people’s faces reveal their true thoughts and feelings for a couple of microseconds before they can arrange their face to show what they want.”

However, it is important not to jump to conclusions that someone is lying just because they give off a microexpression.  These are signs that there is more to the story than is being disclosed and that one should probe deeper into that subject to find out the whole truth.

Experts such as police and interrogators look at overall behavior.  Reynolds suggests that other cues such as raised eyebrows, tight lips (defined in Dr. Matsumoto’s microexpressions in fear, surprise and anger) and high pitched voices could also be good indicators that a person is lying.  He goes on to say that if an interrogator notices emotions getting provoked, then he/she will probe deeper into the topic that caused those emotions to catch the person in a lie.

According to Dr. David Matsumoto,  important tips in looking for deceptive behaviors are establishing a baseline of how a person normally acts and looking for clues that deviate from that baseline. It is also important to look for contradictory verbal and non-verbal statements (e.g. shaking head yes when saying no).

It is important to look at all the clues because “leakage”, if you will, occurs in all parts of nonverbal behavior:  gesture, tone, etc. However, research has shown that the biggest clues are in the face.  This is why we study facial expressions and more specifically, microexpressions of emotion.

Here is a video of Dr. Matsumoto that demonstrates these techniques:

Reynolds and his research team set out next to study liars in natural settings.  He states, “There are bad liars out there.  There are people that give away when they’re lying.  I want to find out what they’re doing wrong.”

Do you think that in the future people will be able to learn how to control their microexpressions or are microexpressions nature’s way of keeping the world in balance?

3 responses to “Are you a good liar?”

  1. Keith D. says:

    I think it might be possible to learn to “control” microexpressions, but not in the obvious sense. I doubt people will ever learn how to suppress the muscle movements themselves without giving that fact away in some other way. But I think it might be possible, through some kind of psychological conditioning, to learn to re-frame questions as they’re asked to produce the desired expressions. I also think that a relatively small number of people will be capable of learning that skill, because I’m not sure everyone’s brain is wired in a way that would allow them to learn it.

    Or it also seems reasonable to think that some kind of drug could be created that would suppress a microexpression, leaving only the expression a person consciously intended to show.

    I don’t like to think about that happening, I think this is one of nature’s ways of keeping things in balance.

    The real relevant question to ask before asking if a person can learn to control their microexpressions would be, in what part of the nervous system do they originate? Is it a higher-order movement or is it a baser, more low-level reaction that comes from the same part of the nervous system which controls the digestive process or heart-rate? Of course, even then, there are a tiny percentage of people who, after many years of practice, are able to consciously override things like their heart-rate to some extent. But I don’t think much credible research has been done on that kind of thing, and it would be difficult to do so since there are such a small number of people who can actually accomplish a feat like that.

  2. While I agree with many of the author’s comments, there are two that may be misleading. While I agree that pauses, ums, scratching the nose, latency in response do not dictate that someone is lying, they are part of verbal and non-verbal cues that may be indicators of deception based upon the baseline and overall evaluation of other cues and clusters of actions. As for controlling micro expressions, I don’t see this as being a concern for practitioners detecting deception for the general population. I believe these expressions can be and I use the word regulated vs controlled by focusing on the conversation while being aware of these expressions. see brief paper on this topic at

  3. Sander says:

    Micro-expressions can be controlled. Not every person shows micro-expression, so people are doing it already. This is when people control their emotions, what they have learned in life. This proves that people can learn to control (their emotions and) micro-expression.

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