How to Read The Body Language of a Liar
We all wish that we could read people’s lies as easy as you could tell Pinocchio was lying. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how often you lie) the noses of humans don’t grow each time we tell a fib or we would be all walking around looking like Steve Martin in Roxanne.
One of the best alternatives we have is reading a person’s body language. Body language can tell us a lot about someone’s subconscious movements and the internal stress that is felt when telling lies. Everybody is different and it’s imperative when looking for these cues that you establish a baseline first. A baseline is what would be considered normal behavior or reactions for the particular person you are reading.
Sometimes the best way to observe body language is to leave a fairly lengthy pause after their responses to your questions. Silence is deafening to a liar and the indications mentioned below will become emphasized.
Covering Their Mouth
A liar will often cover their mouth or part of their face when answering a question with a false response. This is an subconscious gesture in order to hide any facial ‘tells’ from their mouth or face that may give away the fact they are lying.
Take children for example, they tend to cover their mouths when they know they have told a lie to a grown up. As we become older we get better at hiding these gestures and they are developed into more subtle movements.
Too Much Information
Giving too much information or long-winded answers to direct questions should raise a red flag. Be very aware of the question(s) you have asked and the answer(s) you are given. The answers should be strong, confident and concise. If they are long ramblings with too much information that you didn’t ask for there is a good chance this person is telling a lie.
Jane has been suspected of stealing office supplies. Her boss Stephen has just walked into the office supply room as she is filling a bag with photocopier paper.
Stephen: Jane, what are you doing?
Jane (Short, Concise): Hi Stephen, just getting some copy paper.
Jane (Rambling, Over Explained): Ummm I’m just getting some copy paper because most of the copiers are running low and they tend to run low around this time of day and we’ve had a few complaints for staff members. It’s easier if I use my backpack because I have back problems and carrying it without something like that could make it worse which is something my doctor has mentioned before. This was all I could find, I think this is the right paper, do you know if this is the right paper for the copiers in the office?
Difficult to Speak
If someone isn’t used to or isn’t very good at lying, it can cause them to become anxious or stressed. Typical side effects of stress are dry mouth and shortness of breath. This will make it difficult for someone to speak, especially when they know they’re fibbing.
Keep an eye on your subject’s mouth and mouth movements. Are they struggling to get their words out? Are they licking their lips frequently? Do you notice signs that their mouth is drying out? These are good indicators that this person is stressed by the current line of questioning and may be untruthful.
No Eye Contact or Staring
Normal eye contact when answering a question is somewhere around 50%. This figure varies on the individual but if you know the person well you will know their normal eye contact behaviors. When someone lies they tend to make forced eye contact for the entire conversation or struggle to make any eye contact at all.
A lack of confidence in their answers or to hide any facial cues is usually the reason for lack of eye contact altogether. Whereas forced or prolonged eye contact is an effort to mask the previously mentioned lack of eye contact. Knowing the person well will help you to set a healthy baseline of their normal eye behavior.
Finger pointing when talking usually comes with raising of the voice and signs of hostility. It may also be a subconscious attempt of the accused to move the focus off themselves.
When confronting someone who you believe to be lying to you, ensure that you are calm and relaxed in your questioning. This will make their body language easier to read as calm and non-confrontational questioning should not be met with hostility by someone who is telling the truth.
When someone has done something that they know they shouldn’t have they tend to plan out a speech or cover story in the event they should ever be questioned about these actions. This puts their mind at ease knowing that they are fully prepared for any confrontation in the future.
The problem with this is that you can never anticipate how someone will probe or test the validity of a story. This can lead to the liar repeating rehearsed statements or sentences that don’t exactly fit the questions being asked. A person lying may also use repetition in their responses in the hopes that you will give up and change the line of questioning.
Kate suspects that her boyfriend Jake has been cheating on her and decides to confront him.
Kate: Jake, did you cheat on me when you went out last weekend with your friends?
Jake: What? No! Why would I do that? We were just hanging out, nothing happened. Why would I do that?
Kate: So you didn’t cheat on me?
Jake: No! I already said no! I mean, come on. Why would I do that?
If the subject is showing a lack of overall body movement or stiffness, there is a good chance they are being deceitful. Natural body language should consist of a relaxed posture and small subconscious movements.
Psychologists believe this to be caused by our in-built ‘fight or flight’ system where the brain sends messages to the body to prepare for confrontation. They will also be so focused on the words they are saying that it will be difficult for them to fake natural body movements to accompany them.
Now that you know the basics of human body language and how to catch someone in a lie, take a look at these famous press conferences. See if you can spot any of the tell tale signs of deception.
Bill Clinton’s famous speech denying the Monica Lewinsky allegations which he admitted to several months later.
Mick Philpott gave an ’emotional’ press conference back in 2013 after a house fire that killed his 6 children who were sleeping upstairs. It was later discovered that Mick and his wife were responsible for deliberately lighting the fire.
Former congressman Anthony Weiner was involved in a sex scandal back in June 2011. He was accused of sending photos of his penis to a college student via social media. The above video is a press conference he spoke at before admitting to the accusations later on in the week.
If you’ve caught someone lying or have any body language tips of your own, please post a reply in the comments section below.