Spotting a Liar May Be Harder Than You Think

Businessmen - Assessing Honesty - Who is Better? - Humintell Spotting a liar is complicated, as author Kevin Goodman outlines in his latest Huffington Post Blog “5 Guidelines to Catch a Liar”.

In his post, Goodman asserts that traditional signs of lying such as averting the eyes, fidgeting and playing with one’s hair are not necessarily proof of deception.  Why, you ask?

In their effort to be convincing, liars, actually tend to make good eye contact. Carol Goman substantiates this claim asserting that liars tend to overcompensate their eye contact in that they stare for too long.

As for fidgeting, that could easily be a sign of an innocent but overly anxious person. Dr. Paul Ekman stated in a 1999 NY Times article that an innocent suspect fearful about being believed, for example, may leak evidence of anxiety or apprehension. The lie catcher must evaluate the meaning of the signals in each individual case

So if lie detection experts aren’t always relying on these false indicators of deception, what other tactics are they using?


Goodman discusses a new interview approach favored by many police psychologists and deception researchers called SUE (strategic use of evidence). The approach involves the interrogator allowing the suspect to comfortably tell their account of what happened and then at a later point, the interrogator introduces evidence. The purpose of this method is to disclose inconsistencies. Lying involves mental effort; with this in mind, this approach forces the suspected liar to account for what happened against the evidence and thus, increases the potential for the liar’s contradiction. Keep in mind, this approach is only beneficial with actual evidence.

Non-Confrontational Approach

Lying requires constant mental effort as the liar is battling their story against the truth; therefore the propensity of vagueness and the risk of contradiction ensues. Goodman suggests that the interviewer can gain the upper hand in this situation by maintaining a non-confrontational approach, meaning make the liar feel comfortable with sharing their account of what happened as well as follow-up with details. This way if inconsistencies in the liar’s story verses the truth arises, the details can therefore be verified.

Observing Baseline Behavior

As mentioned earlier, lie catchers note that fidgeting can be a sign of an overly anxious but innocent person, and likewise, overly constrained behavior can stem from naturally reserved people. To tackle this situation, experts observe a person’s baseline behavior – the process of developing a basic understanding of a person’s normal body language.


Microexpressions are said to help reveal the disparity between how one presents oneself and how one authentically feels. Although microexpressions are involuntary expressions lasting a fraction of a second, Dr. David Matsumoto of San Francisco State University, asserts that people can be trained to spot them when they occur. Goodman suggests that one good way to delve into a more in depth conversation with a witness or suspect is to ask the same types of questions in varying ways (referring to the event in question) and closely watch their microexpressions.

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