People Watching: A Guide to Detecting Deceit and Evaluating Honesty Part 1

By guest blogger Craig Baxter

Craig-James Baxter is the founder & owner of Understanding Body Language. Liars, Cheats and Happy Feet, and has achieved the highest grade possible (A+) in his non verbal communication final and furthermore, is now a master trainer in reading advanced micro expressions with Elite Humintell training. Find out more about him at this website, or at the links at the end of this post.

Detecting deception is a truly difficult task, and I do hope the following will help you become more adept in spotting dishonesty.

Did you know that research has indicated that truth tellers often appear more nervous than liars? (Vrij & Mann 2001b). The fear of the truth teller’s story not being believed will arouse fear, which in turn will manifest into nervous energy (known as the Othello Error). Liars may successfully control their behaviour and speech, which removes the chance to observe such cues. Also, what’s interesting to note is that increased cognitive load (creative thinking) has shown to suppress the occurrence of deceptive cues, which I’ll cover later. Liars want to make an honest impression on you, and they attempt to control their deceptive behaviour accordingly. Truth Tellers are not as wary of their behaviour, and can look more uncomfortable when challenged.

So how do liars get away with deceit?

Well, here are two thoughts. If the lie is relatively small and un-taxing for the liar (known as low stakes) there is often little chance given to the receiver to notice deceptive cues, as often, no such cues are revealed due to the simplicity of the lie. I like to call these ‘everyday lies’. Another reason why liars get away with deceit is that the receiver concentrates on the wrong area when lie spotting.

Many deception beliefs are that ‘Liars don’t give you eye contact’, ‘Liars look up and right’ (NLP) and ‘Liars appear nervous and fidget more’. However, solid research has shown that these are myths, and massively weaken the lie detectors’ chances of spotting deception.

People struggle to detect deceit because they are often unaware of the countermeasures the liar will use to avoid detection and appear credible. This is known as attempted behavioural control. (Hocking & Leathers, 1980; Leary & Kowalski, 1990)

If you know that the liar is an extrovert (comfortable with others and high in confidence) then the likelihood is that their attempt to appear credible will be less noticeable than that of an introvert (more reserved in a social environment), due to their higher ability to act and decipher the reaction of the receiver. If you know the liar is adept in non-verbal communication, they might employ behavioural control that is impossible to spot, especially in high stakes lies. You must take into account the personality trait of the liar before attempting to detect deception.

Another problem where lie detection fails is where the liar embeds a lie into an otherwise truthful statement. These are called ‘embedded lies’ and are difficult to spot. (Metts, 1989; Levine, 2001)

An example of this would be an adulterous husband who wants to cover up his whereabouts on Friday at 8pm – he was with his wife’s best friend – yet when asked, he subsequently describes how he went to the gym that night. His answers are rich in detail due to the fact that he went to the gym on Thursday at 8pm, so the recalled information IS truthful, just not the day. The lie in this case is the day, which isn’t complex and doesn’t require much cognitive effort. This type of lying (embedded or concealing) is difficult for the lie catcher, because skilled truth seekers rely on analysing the content of a verbal story to detect deception. This type of behaviour is preferred for liars, as only small parts need to be fabricated, thus leaving no visual detectable signs of deceit.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog series where Craig goes into detail of how you can accurately detect deceit.

You can learn more about Craig by visiting his Facebook page, watching his video analysis on his YouTube Page and by following him on twitter

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