How To Detect Lying

How Can You Find Out If Someone Is Lying To You?

How can you find out if you're being lied to? Is there a way to ask a question and determine whether or not the answer you receive is the truth? In this article we'll look at a few indicators that will help you find out if you're being told a lie, as well as a technqiue for finding the real truth.

Body language

Body language is based on the concept of getting what is called a "read" on someone -- a diagnosis of their inner thoughts based on a combination of several individual signals. Remember that one single signal is generally not enough evidence on which to base a conclusion, as a proper read is based on a number of simultaneous signals.

The main things to look out for are signs of discomfort or stress. Here are a few signals to consider:

  • Looking away - It's a common misconception that a liar will look away when answering a question. In fact, it may often be the opposite: When asked a question, a liar will often try too hard to maintain perfect eye contact, in order to avoid looking away and appearing deceptive.
  • Look at his entire body as a whole: Look out for shifts in his stance. Does he lean back when asked a particular question?
  • Eye movements: Excessive eye movements (especially searching the room) can indicate that he is under stress and seeking an escape.
  • Eye blocking: People who are in an uncomfortable position will often close their eyes to block off the situation. It can be subtle, sometimes just an extended blink.
  • Scratching the back of his head or neck.
  • Arm and shoulder movements. Signs of anxiety include excessive movement of arms and hands, or scratching the back of his hands/wrists. If he is holding a pen or pencil, the way he moves it can indicate his mood.
  • Foot movements. A twitching leg can indicate anxiety or nervousness. If his legs are under a table, you can often still notice the movements as his shoulders will continue to twitch with the rhythm.
  • The Freeze: When someone hears something unexpected or experiences a sudden shock, they will freeze momentarily. (This is a limbic system response, based on "Freeze, Fight, & Flight.) You can utilize it by surprising him with a question, and seeing how he responds.

When reading body language, it is helpful to establish a baseline by casually asking a few questions to which you know the answer. After that, you can ask the questions you really want to ask, and observe if there is a shift in his body language.

Conversational Patterns

One fundamental difference between someone who is lying and someone who is telling the truth, is how he treats the conversation topic. When the conversation is leading toward what the liar considers "dangerous territory", he will take active steps to change the topic, and attempt to steer the conversation in another direction. For example, observe the following conversation that occurred after Jane's boyfriend was away with his buddies for a weekend:

Jane:Hey, how was your trip? Did you have a good weekend?
Mike:Yeah it was great.
Jane:What did you do?
Mike:Nothing much, just hung out, went to see a movie. By the way, there's a new James Bond movie coming out, do you want to see it?
What stands out in this conversation is:
  • Mike was very eager to change the subject.
  • Jane's question was not reciprocated. Normally, if somebody asks you a casual question such as what you did last weekend, you reciprocate by asking what they did. However, in this case Mike wanted to talk about something else.

Drilling Technique

So suppose you read the signals and you suspect that he may be lying about something, or that he may be hiding something. How can you find out for sure? How can you dig deeper and find out what's really going on?

One of the most effective techniques for this is used by journalists, police, and FBI agents. It's called the drilling technique: The idea is that when we lie, we are basically fabricating an alternate reality; we have to build a fantasy world in our minds. When asked more questions about the topic, the liar has to add details to this false story and try to make them all fit.

As a consequence:

  • The lie has to become more and more complicated as details are added on, and therefore the liar struggles more and more to maintain .
  • It is much more difficult, and takes much longer to come up with false details than it takes to remember true details.
  • As the lies become more detailed, it becomes more difficult for the liar to remember his own previous lies.
  • As you ask for more and more details, the liar is forced to either stall and think about a good lie. Eventually, (especially when rushed) he will come up with a bad lie: one that makes no sense or contradicts a previous statement.

So how can you exploit this? The trick here is to ask a question, and follow up immediately with a series of follow up questions asking for more details. Sooner or later, he will either get stuck in a corner when he can't think of any more lies, or he will say something that contradicts a previous statement and will be forced to confess the truth. Alternatively, he might tell you something that you can easily verify is false. (e.g. If he tells you he was with someone, you can easily call that person and see if it's true.)

You can practice it with your friends: Ask a friend to tell you a lie about something they did, and practice the drilling technique. It only takes a few minutes of practice to learn how to do it. Here's an example of how it might go:

Sarah:Where were you Friday night?
Bob:I was having dinner with my friends.
Sarah:You didn't bother to tell me.. Whose idea was this? Where did you go?
Bob:Yeah it was a last minute thing with my work buddies, I don't remember the name of the place, It was an Italian --
Sarah:What did you order?
Bob:Umm, Pasta.
Sarah:What kind of pasta?
Bob:Umm, no sorry it was a mushroom risotto..
Sarah:Risotto? You said pasta.. So you went right after work?
Bob:Yeah.
Sarah:I called the office, they said you weren't working late, so you left at 5?
Bob:Yeah.
Sarah:When did you leave the restaurant?
Bob:I think it was around 8..
Sarah:You got home at 10, what were you doing between that?
Bob:We went for a few drinks..
Sarah:Who was with you?
Bob:Hmmm... well, there was John, Matt, --
Sarah:What does John drink?
Bob: Ummm--
Sarah:So if I ask John's wife she'll say he was out with you on Friday?
Bob: Uhhh.. well.. no actually now that you mention it I think John went home early--
Sarah:OK that's enough, you and I both know you're lying. Tell me what really happened.

The key is to always have the the next question ready to fire immediately and without hesitation, so that he doesn't have the opportunity to think of a good lie. You should be thinking of the next question while he is talking, and don't be afraid to interrupt him.

Of course, this sort of ruthless interrogation will eventually cause ill feelings toward you, so don't abuse the technique: Use it sparingly and use it well. Good Luck!

See also, our page on Signs Of A Cheating Boyfriend.

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