Monday, June 16, 2014

Tips for Detecting Liars

We are surrounded by lies all day.  Most are relatively harmless little white lies, what I would refer to as
social lies.
  • I love what you've done with your hair
  • No, you don't look fat in those jeans
  • Mom, these pancakes are delicious
These are the small little lies that we tell others to make them feel comfortable and, let's face it, to keep the peace.  And, lest you're feeling guilty about the frequency of these lies, research shows that social liars are more popular than those who feel compelled to tell the truth - even when we know that they are lying to us about those jeans!

However, malicious lies are different.  These are the lies that are told to mislead or deceive someone else, for personal gain.  This could be the sales clerk who doesn't let you know about the limitations of a product so they make their sales quota.  This could be a company that doesn't reveal all of the known harmful effects of a product, or perhaps a co-worker that deliberately misleads the boss about your contributions so that they have a better shot at a promotion.  

Although we would prefer to believe that others wouldn't lie to us, deception is a fact of life.  It is intrinsic in nature.  Predators camouflage themselves to be able to sneak up on prey or to hide successfully from a predator, birds fake injuries to lead predators away from their babies... and so on.  We learn to lie at an early age.  It has been determined that children as young as 6 months old with 'fake cry' to get attention, or pretend to laugh because of the response of adults around them.  By the time we are adults, lying is a skill we have perfected through practice from infancy.  

How are we then expected to be able to detect lies in others?

Although we are not ever going to be able to detect 100% of all the lies coming our way, there are a few tips you can use to improve your ability to spot a liar.  Bear in mind that you will want to see a 'cluster' of these behaviours in order to raise your 'lie detection antennae' and question more closely what someone is saying... 
  • Nose Touching.  When you lie, chemicals are released that cause the tissue inside the nose to swell, causing the nerve endings in the nose to tingle.  People will often reach up to rub the nose to relieve the itch.  This is often referred to as the Pinocchio effect!
  • Eye Contact.  Despite the popular belief that liars generally have difficulty maintaining eye contact, the opposite is actually closer to the truth.  Habitual liars actually tend to engage in greater eye contact and will tend to lock eyes with you.
  • Mouth Cover.  There may be an unconscious attempt to 'hide' the words that someone is saying, by raising the hand to the mouth, serving almost as a clock or barrier.  (cough, shh, rubbing the upper lip)
  • Blink Rate.  Surprisingly, people who are telling a lie will often involuntarily blink more than they do when they are telling the truth.  Clinton's blink rate increased significantly when he declared to the world "I did not have sex with that woman".
  • Signs of Discomfort.  Lying may be uncomfortable for us, leading us to 'leak' it through various physiological signs such as:  jiggling feet, fidgeting, drumming fingers, rubbing the neck, rolling eyes.  It's important to note though that these are also simply cues of nervousness.  If you put someone on the hot-seat, guilty or not, they will display these cues to some extant regardless.
  • Stalling Clusters.  A group of behaviours that, although they seem purposeful on the surface, are designed to buy the person some time to think through their response (taking off glasses to clean them before responding for example)
  • Parrot Statements.  When someone continues to repeat back your question, they are typically stalling for more time to compose their response.  Note that this behaviour alone does not mean someone is lying, sometimes we use it simply to have a little more time to process our true response.
  • Distancing Statements.  Even liars don't like to think of themselves as liars, so they often engage in behaviours to avoid having to. In this case they will avoid using 'I' references or first names, to distance themselves from the situation in question.    
Use any of the above behaviours to help you to question someone's truthfulness.  There is no one behaviour that is a definitive sign of deception on its own, you want to look for clusters and groupings of behaviours and consider them in light of the situation.  Generally speaking, use them to highlight for you potential lies, and follow up with more detailed exploration to determine the truth.  

(if learning to become more proficient in detecting liars is of interest, check out Janine Driver's book, which is an interesting and invaluable resource)

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