We can credit the human race for having many positive attributes but being 100 per cent honest isn’t one of them. Perhaps largely to protect ourselves or our loved ones, people lie all the time. What’s more, for a race that’s so good at telling lies, we’re not very good at spotting them.
According to research, people only spot lies accurately about 49–53 per cent of the time. US homicide consultant Steve van Aperen says this is because “we’re influenced by people and we often don’t want to believe – especially with people who are close to us – that they would ever lie to us.”
When you suspect a lie, here are three ways to find out the truth:
What you say
Detecting a lie is as much about what you say, as what they say. A polygraph, or lie-detector test, is an instrument that measures autonomic responses such as heart rate, blood pressure and emotional sweating. It’s possible for someone to ‘cheat’ on a lie-detector test if the questions give them enough ‘wiggle room’. For example, if Jennifer Aniston asked Brad Pitt whether he’d had a sexual relationship with Angelina Jolie while they were still together, he could lie easily on a polygraph test if he believed the word ‘relationship’ was an inaccurate descriptor. Instead, Jen would need to ask Brad about what he and Ange specifically did when they were alone together.
What they say
Your next clue is in the spaces between the other person’s words. While constructing a lie, the person may use lots of pauses, ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ to fill the gaps. On the other hand, people who are telling the truth usually let it all out in a rush, as if they cannot hold it in any longer. A lie requires more time and effort to communicate than the truth.
It’s also common for a liar to avoid using personal pronouns while explaining themselves. This is a way to avoid taking ownership of an anecdote. Ask this person where they went after work and they’ll say ‘went to the pub’ rather than ‘I went to the pub’. A liar might also avoid using any emotive language, taking their thoughts and feelings out of the story so as not to implicate themselves. The best way to out a liar is to keep pressing them for detail. They’ll be forced to keep coming up with lies that don’t contradict each other, until they trip up.
Their body language
The way a person presents themselves while being scrutinised can tell you everything you need to know. Sitting rigidly or too comfortably can both be signs of a lie. You just need to know the person well enough to ascertain their natural behaviour.
The best way to spot a liar is by reading their eyes. A person’s eyes will flick left or right, depending on whether they’re remembering something or simply making it up. As you get to know a person, you’ll learn on which side they remember things and on which they make up stories. To figure this out, ask them three questions: how their day was, if they’ve been busy and what their plans are for the weekend. Two of these questions happened in the past, so they’ll need to remember detail, while the third will happen in the future, and will be constructed, so watch their eyes.
People tell lies all the time for all sorts of reasons. When we suspect a lie, it’s natural to want to silence our gut feeling – especially if the person is very close to us, since we’re inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. If you do think somebody is telling you a lie, listening to your instincts and doing a little detective work should help you uncover the truth, once and for all.
What methods do you use to spot a lie?