Can You Detect A Liar?
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Can You Detect A Liar?

Examining the Social contexts of Lying and the Indicators of Lying

Can You Detect A Liar?

Lying is as universal as eating. Everyone lies and it is an innate quality of human beings as social creatures. From sociability stems the origin of storytelling and elaboration of truths and deception. Just as easy as we tell lies it is often far more difficult to detect deception from others. Which leads us to ask ourselves:

In what ways can we become better at detecting lies?

To begin, children as young as two years old begin to understand the concept of lying and by the age of four, 80 percent of children will lie. Telling a lie evokes a lot of emotion, yet can be masked quite well. Children who have mastered the art of concealing emotions through self-control in speech and facial movement are considered “sophisticated liars” and from this observation Kang Lee, researcher of lying in childhood development, recommends that parents should “celebrate” their child’s lying achievements as such skills signal healthy, normal development of fundamental milestones.

Considering the length at which human beings develop the capacity for lying and deception begin in toddlerhood, it seems as though we should be relatively capable of detecting any and all lies that come our way. Unfortunately, our expertise in the detection of lies is subpar. On average, author Pamela Meyer states that “studies show that you may be lied to anywhere between 10 and 200 times” though most lies we encounter are white lies (those more harmless false truths we all are guilty of professing on occasion).

What steps can be taken then to identify the more severe lies such as those that affect the economy, our families, or our personal safety?

Meyers offers a few tips in order to help spot a lie.

1.) The first tip to be cognizant of is lying is a cooperative act. This means that we allow ourselves to be lied to for various reasons, such as for the sake of one’s dignity, for the sake of need, and for the sake of fostering a connection with someone in order to “connect our wishes and our fantasies about who we wish we were...wish we could be, with what we’re really like.” As social beings, we long to connect with our peers and sometimes we compromise the truth and our very own awareness to do so.

2.) Tip number two lies within the ambiguity of lying. Lying is complex...we’re ambivalent about the truth. Lying from a societal standpoint is normally deemed negatively as most are taught to always tell the truth, yet in reality lies are sometimes afforded and can prevent dangerous situations from escalating. As Meyer elaborates, “We’re against lying, but we’re covertly for it in ways that our society has sanctioned for centuries…” Though we understand that lying can be detrimental and unwarranted, we rely on lying within our everyday lives without hesitation most of the time, and if scrutiny is at the forefront then classical works of art such as Shakespeare or Dante even religious contexts identify the objectification of lying and deception.

Detecting a person’s lie can be tricky, yet noticing just a few small markers can make the difference between being fooled or outsmarting the liar. Meyer points out that the indicators or “hot spots” for signs of deception are speech and body language. Freud said it best as he remarked, “No mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips.” Meyer uses this statement to advise that though we may be able to keep our mouths shut when holding a secret, we can be found out by the body language we express. A misconception is that liars are fidgeters, unable to sit still. However, liars usually freeze and become very still. Furthermore, in terms of eye contact, liars are able to hold a focused gaze when telling a lie. Moreso, pay attention to the smile of a possible liar. Smiles can be forced and sometimes easily dismissed as authentic, but genuine smiles contract not only the cheek muscles, but also the muscles of the eyes. So next time pay attention to a person’s smile and try to notice if the smile exists within the eyes.

As for speech, when lying, people tend to conform to what is known as non-contracted denial in which their denials are void of contractions (think Bill Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky scandal). Additionally, liars tend to use more formal language, are likely to distance themselves from the subject (e.g. person, place, thing) at hand, and tend to overwhelm a statement with too much detail of an account which further posits them to appear as dishonest for they appear to be working far too strenuously to appear truthful. Meyer references an interesting tactic that trained detectors' use for liars who jumble their stories with random and excessive information. To discover the truth, detectors will use a liar's tactic of chronology when retelling events to their advantage by asking the liar to retell the story backward which is a form of rehearsal that people do not practice in preparation of lying.

Of these tools, the most important aspect of detecting deception is to use the senses. Look and pay attention to a person’s subtle gestures and facial expressions:

Are their eyes smiling with the mouth?

Listen to the words being spoken.

Is the person using convoluted language?

Is the use of unnecessary words being used to overcompensate?

Is the tone slow and calculated, forced?

To learn more about the subject of lying and spotting lies, I recommend viewing the TED talks of both Pamela Meyer and Kang Lee who work extensively on the dynamics of lying and technological advances toward detecting liars. The links are provided for each video. Who knows, maybe through their insights you may find yourself using the tactics outlined and may successfully spot a lie before it gets the best of you.


Lee, K. (n.d.). Can you really tell if a kid is lying? Retrieved April 06, 2017, from

Meyer, P. (n.d.). Pamela Meyer. Retrieved April 06, 2017, from
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