10 Ways to Catch a Liar

WebMd’s 23 November article on catching liars is remarkable. It’s the first of its kind that I’ve come across where I think I agree with every one of the tips. No assertion that gaze aversion is a cue to deception! No suggestion that liars fidget or look nervous! No claim that NLP eye access cues can help you spot a liar! Why can’t all articles on lie detection be like this?

In brief, here are the ten tips. But do go and read the whole article, which has more detail on each tip.

1: Inconsistencies: [...] “When you want to know if someone is lying, look for inconsistencies in what they are saying,” says [JJ] Newberry, who was a federal agent for 30 years and a police officer for five. [...]

2: Ask the Unexpected: [...] “Watch them carefully,” says Newberry. “And then when they don’t expect it, ask them one question that they are not prepared to answer to trip them up.” [...]

3: Gauge Against a Baseline: [...] The trick, explains [Maureen O'Sullivan, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of San Francisco], is to gauge their behavior against a baseline. Is a person’s behavior falling away from how they would normally act? If it is, that could mean that something is up. [...]

4: Look for Insincere Emotions: [...] “Most people can’t fake smile,” says O’Sullivan. “The timing will be wrong, it will be held too long, or it will be blended with other things. [...]

5: Pay Attention to Gut Reactions: [...] “People say, ‘Oh, it was a gut reaction or women’s intuition,’ but what I think they are picking up on are the deviations of true emotions,” O’Sullivan tells WebMD. [...]

6: Watch for Microexpressions: [...] “A microexpression is a very brief expression, usually about a 25th of a second, that is always a concealed emotion,” says [Paul] Ekman, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California Medical School in San Francisco. [...]

7: Look for Contradictions: [...] “The general rule is anything that a person does with their voice or their gesture that doesn’t fit the words they are saying can indicate a lie,” says Ekman. [...]

1 to 7 are all sensible, well-founded tips. I have a couple of caveats on 8 and 9:

8: A Sense of Unease: [...] “When someone isn’t making eye contact and that’s against how they normally act, it can mean they’re not being honest,” says Jenn Berman, PhD, a psychologist in private practice. [...]

Emphasis added – lack of eye contact in itself is not a reliable indicator of deception, but if it is out of character then you might have to ask yourself: why the change in behaviour? All of which underlines the importance of establishing baseline behaviour (tip 3).

9: Too Much Detail: [...] Too much detail could mean they’ve put a lot of thought into how they’re going to get out of a situation and they’ve crafted a complicated lie as a solution.

Caveat: unless they’re the sort of person who always provides excessive detail in stories (some people are just like that!).

10: Don’t Ignore the Truth: “It’s more important to recognize when someone is telling the truth than telling a lie because people can look like they’re lying but be telling truth,” says Newberry.

Hat tip to Enrica Dente’s Lie Detection list for the link!

One thought on “10 Ways to Catch a Liar”

  1. Excellent tips when used globally
    The problem, of course, is that people tend to tightly focus upon one or two “tricks” and miss out on the unattended to cues.

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