How to Tell if Someone Is Lying to You

How can we learn how to spot deception?

It is a sad truth that lying is incredibly pervasive in our interactions with fellow humans. While people lie for a multitude of reasons, we are also quite bad at lie detection, creating a pretty bleak predicament for those of us who value honesty. In a recent article for NBC News, journalist Brianna Steinhilber has compiled an excellent and accessible list of helpful tips to make you a better lie detector.

As we have discussed in a previous blog, people lie all the time, primarily out of self-interest. Steinhilber manages to compile some troubling statistics showing just how frequent this really is. One 2012 study found that the average American lies about 11 times per week, while another claimed that a majority of people lie at least every 10 minutes!

One of the problems with this prevalence is that, according to a 2016 study, the more we lie about small things, the more accustomed our brain becomes to deception in general, fostering lying behavior in the future. This is perhaps unsurprising. As Humintell’s Dr. David Matsumoto explains, deception is deeply rooted in human behavior and development.

This might be manageable, if we could tell when people were lie. Unfortunately, we can’t, for the most part. One large meta-study by Dr. Charles Bond and Dr. Bella DePaulo in 2006 found that we can generally detect deception with a 54 percent success rate.

But that doesn’t mean that we are doomed to ignorance about other people’s lies! Steinhilber has helpfully compiled a list of five tips for strengthening your lie detection skills:

First, pay close attention to their baseline behavior. This is easiest with people you interact with most, such as coworkers, family members, and friends. From this baseline, you can notice when they practice anomalous behavior that indicates deception.

Second, watch their eyes. While maintaining or avoiding eye contact is not a reliable indicator of deception, the eyes are a great way to compare behavior against the baseline. Is the person blinking more than usual? Do they normally make eye contact but now don’t? These are the sort of indicators that an examination of the eyes can give you.

Third, look for their microexpressions, a favorite topic here at Humintell. Our faces can give us away in many minor ways, as muscles in the face twitch briefly to reveal one’s actual emotions. These can be quite difficult to notice, but reading microexpressions is a skill that can be learned and trained.

Fourth, analyze their smile. A fake smile, a good indicator of deception, looks quite different from a genuine one. In fake smiles, liars tend to press their lips more tightly together. Similarly, genuine smiles reach to the eyes and the rest of the face, while fake smiles tend to stop at the mouth.

Finally, Steinhilber recommends looking for signs of stress or discomfort. While lying, many people will fidget, shift around in their seat, or even yawn. Understanding how a given person acts when they are stressed can help us learn when that person is lying.

While it is certainly helpful to keep these tips in mind, nothing can compare with professional training in lie detection or in mastering the art of reading microexpressions.

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