Lying is a typical part of living in society.
Liars are motivated by a variety of factors, but most of them are selfish.
Most lies aren’t worth the risk of telling them.
Learning to detect lies can be an uncomfortable experience.
Many cues can detect lying, but must be connected to what the person is actually saying.
While it’s usually not worth it, if you want to force a confession from a liar:
- Talk with them alone.
- Establish common ground with them to build rapport.
- Express a confident, open, trusting posture (the SOFTEN technique).
- Determine for sure if they’re lying.
- Convince them you know the truth.
- Confront them with what you know.
- Stay on point if they protest, and open yourself to the possibility they’re not lying.
- Give them a rationalization for why they’re lying.
- Persuade them to confess.
- Watch their body language to note their surrender.
- Make sure they know that they won’t be free until you’re comfortable with their answers.
How often do people lie?
We’re surrounded by lies:
- People lie about 3 times for every 10 minutes of talking.
- Everyone wants to adapt their image to its best possible interpretation.
- Modern marketing creates false perceptions to sell their products.
- Most of the time, success requires small lies, or “bending the truth”, especially when we’ve endured severe hardship and are afraid of what others may think.
- Even trustworthy people are worse liars than you may expect.
Because of all this, we tend to falsely assume other people are lying even when they’re not.
Pro-social lies are attempting to promote others’ happiness:
- Most lies are pro-social because most people consider them harmless.
- There’s a complicated social agreement within most cultures that normalize it.
- Common examples:
- Affirming someone about something you don’t value
- Misleading officials to hide someone
- Making promises that you can’t keep
- Giving false praise (instead of criticism) to prevent hurting someone’s feelings
- Deceptive behavior like magic tricks and illusions
- If it’s driven by love, some lies are actually good for society (e.g., misleading a gang, hiding an unjustly persecuted person).
Self-enhancement lies are for personal gain:
- Self-enhancing lies may be embellishment, but also include many types of nonverbal behaviors.
- Most self-enhancement lies are harmless, but can create unhealthy habits.
- Common examples:
- Owning knock-offs of expensive products
- Clothing selection like embellishing size or padded bras
- Cosmetic surgery
- Some people can get very creative with self-enhancing lies:
- Buying a birthday card with something embarrassing you want to buy
- Crying on command (relax the eyes ~30 seconds, gently rub for ~10 seconds, then keep them open)
- Wearing a chef’s hat or tuxedo and walking very quickly to get through a large group of people
- Many negotiation tactics
Selfish lies come from fear:
- The most common lie others catch are when people try to protect themselves.
- People make selfish lies because they’re afraid the cost of the truth is too much to pay.
- Selfish lies often trigger from social pressure or the risk of losing social status.
- Common examples:
- Redirecting or refocusing the conversation
- Pretending to not hear someone
- Acting busy or on the phone when vendors/beggars approach
Antisocial lies are intentionally malicious:
- Antisocial lies are statements and implications designed to sabotage someone else.
- These lies, without question, are always evil.
- If your friend makes antisocial lies, find a new friend immediately.
- Often, a liar’s reputation can mask an antisocial lie.
- Common examples:
- Misstating what someone said or did
- Claiming credit for someone else’s achievements
- Insisting someone broke a promise they never made
Not everyone lies about the same things:
- Men tend to lie more about their outward status:
- How much money they make
- Social power symbols like height or the vehicle they own
- Relationships they’re already in (already married or already dating)
- Women tend to lie more about themselves:
- Age and weight
- Their openness to relationship possibilities
- As people gain life experience, they become more clever and their lies are harder to detect.
- A young person may lie about the industry they work in, but an older person may lie about their job title.
People lie differently online:
- More people are comfortable with lying online or via text than real life.
- Generally, the more someone separates their online avatar from their name, the more likely they’ll lie.
- People are typically more honest in emails than chat rooms, text messages, or phone conversations.
- Most people tend to use direct deception in-person, but evasion, equivocation, and vagueness on the internet.
Lying is rarely worth it
The truth is uncomfortable, but lying is disastrous.
By lying, you risk permanently ruining your reputation:
- When people find out (and they usually will), they come to believe they can’t trust you.
- Liars will lose far more reputation than honest people who confess legitimate wrongdoing or failure.
- Even with incredibly high stakes, you can still tell the truth while omitting specific information the other person doesn’t need to know.
Liars must maintain more than one story:
- A liar must juggle many stories at once:
- What they told Person 1
- What they told Person 2
- (every other story they told)
- The truth they know people know
- The truth they hope people don’t find out
- The stories are so similar, so it’s very difficult to keep track of them all because the details will mix together.
Frequent lying becomes habitual:
- Habits are difficult to break already, but lying is addictive because it can feel like a competition to “outsmart” others.
- Nobody can trust liars, so their relationships usually break down and they have a hard time even keeping friends.
- Because we’re maintaining multiple false stories as part of our experience, lying makes wise decisions harder to discern.
Lying makes it hard to trust:
- When we lie, we imagine others are doing the same.
- Over time, distrust creates issues that honest people will avoid.
Detecting lies has risks
Focusing on lies can make us have trouble trusting people who deserve our trust.
Contrary to popular opinion, no single method detects lies:
- Most people think they’re excellent lie detectors, but they’re usually about 44% accurate.
- In other words, you can more accurately tell if someone is lying by flipping a coin or disbelieving everyone else’s distrust.
- Even people in jobs that require detecting lies (e.g., police, deal-makers) tend to assume people lie more than reality.
- Fiction with liars will dramatically embellish lie-detecting cues to make them incorrect.
- Most of the cues may be present, but far more subtle and relative to the person’s baseline behavior.
- Contrary to popular culture, polygraph lie detectors can’t consistently detect liars, but they can force a confession because they appear to detect them.
- Ironically, police officers everywhere constantly lie to catch liars, and the myth of the lie detector makes their job easier.
- Getting a confession often takes less than an hour, but after about 16 hours most people will blindly confess to anything.
Note any changes in expression or body language:
- You need the context of that person’s disposition, so note their typical behavior without pressure as a “baseline”.
- Liars often self-implicate without meaning to, so learn to be a great listener and closely observe.
- Ideas can be redefined by tone or emphasis, so note how they pronounce each word in their sentence.
Shrugging isn’t necessarily a sign of lying:
- It shows uncertainty or indifference, so it should consistently match their statement.
- Watch for “micro-shrugging”: split-second shrugs that betray hidden thoughts.
- Open or closed arms are only a cue from the timing where they change.
- Liars tend to use fewer hand and arm gestures with less emphasis.
- Liars will often adjust their clothing or hair significantly more or less than normal.
- Gestures of brushing away from the body is a dismissive behavior that implies their attitude to their listener.
- Hands often twitch slightly to show stress and unease.
- Steepling or “tenting” the fingers show a present feeling of power.
- Spidering the fingertips (hands on a flat surface but not flat) show an impatient desire to say something or leave.
- Clenching the fists indicate anger, aggression, or excitement.
- Palms facing up (aka the “believe me” posture):
- Honest people tend to have relaxed hands with slightly curled fingers.
- Liars tend to have stiff hands with straight fingers and will often hold the position for longer.
- Liars tend to have a stiffer posture, shift less, and typically don’t lean forward as much.
- Extroverts tend to “lock on” their alignment to the other person while introverts tend to shy away, but it’s too complicated for tracking a lie.
- Leg stiffness or control can’t determine lying.
- Liars tend to exhibit two base behaviors:
- Aggression usually expresses through stomping or the pantomime of kicking.
- The desire to flee shows through pantomime running or angling the feet away from the listener.
- Generally, you can see how comfortable someone is by how far away they’re placing their feet from each other.
Speaking and tone
Watch for a higher pitch that rises or breaks:
- Pitch connects loosely to a feeling of strength.
- Juveniles and women are more likely to use high-pitched voices while speaking the truth.
Many people “buy time” with hesitations in speaking, but great liars will make fewer errors than truth-tellers.
Repeating questions back is a time-buying technique, as well as a way for someone to gauge reactions.
Declaratory statements of honesty or goodness:
- The practice of “virtue signaling” makes someone appear credible:
- “I swear to God”
- “I swear on my mother’s grave”
- “I’m a Christian”
- “Experts agree with me”
- The clearest indicator is when they clearly don’t need to prove anything to who they’re speaking to.
Emphasis on certain details:
- Since a liar is creating a story, it takes lots of energy to build it.
- Since they’re trying to hide some details, note the areas that person is addressing the least and why.
- Liars give fewer details about themselves and their feelings.
- In general, a liar will give fewer details to keep their story straight and will get defensive when asked about them, while honest people comfortably know they forgot certain things.
Improper possessive pronouns (I, we, they) add credibility and corroboration to a story:
- Note any tension if you correct them on that pronoun.
- Have them restate the story different ways to find if they’re using their memories or imagination.
- Make them repeat it forward, then backward, then start in the middle.
Watch how they emotionally connect to past-tense versus present-tense.
People often minimize harsh words (dead, murder, rape, fired, stealing) to avoid responsibility.
Vague answers usually conceal a true opinion.
Qualifiers (e.g., but, kind of, like, however) are a verbal technicality that someone can fall back on.
Expanded contractions (e.g., I did not, I was not) instead of proper contractions (didn’t, wasn’t) buy a little more time.
Stating a loss of memory with “I don’t recall” or “I don’t know” is an easy way to add vagueness or buy time.
Garbled or softly spoken words show a desire to obscure the idea.
People can usually control the lower half of their faces, but not the upper half.
Watch for a split-second micro-expression of someone’s true feelings when they first perceive something:
- Raise your eyebrows as soon as you see them: they’ll only raise them in response if they see you as their friend.
Genuine facial expressions are typically symmetrical.
Authentic facial expressions always come right before the reaction, but a liar will usually react a half-second before making the facial expression.
While head tilting doesn’t indicate anything, watch for rigid movements.
Watch for stress showing increased blood pressure:
- Facial reddening and blushing
- Veins standing out more than normal
- Visible throbbing in the temples or throat
Where the eye looks:
- Liars tend to look a person in the eye more than honest people.
- Contrary to popular culture, where their eyes look doesn’t correlate to lying, with one particular exception:
- When asked a pointed question, the person should be able to answer quickly but will instead look away as if they’re trying to recall something.
Liars tend to blink up to 20 times more than normal and close their eyes longer.
Liars sometimes show their fear through dilated pupils and widened eyes.
Getting a Confession
Liars only confess when they see a reason for it:
- The liar must believe the other person knows they’re lying.
- Many times, silence makes them presume you know something.
- Often, a liar will confess because they don’t believe the listener has any power to do anything about it.
Only get a confession if it has a tangible benefit:
A. Talk with the liar alone:
- We tend to share secrets when we’re alone.
- In a group, there’s too much social pressure to fit in.
- Record them privately, but not for legal proof (some courts require consent for a recording to be legally admissible).
B. Establish common ground:
- People open up proportionally to how many things they have in common with whoever they’re speaking with.
- Once people start talking comfortably, they’re usually too relaxed to stop disclosing.
- If you need a confession, disclose things you know from their background as if they were your own opinion (e.g., political views, favorite entertainment, etc.).
- Professional interrogators usually lie about small-talk subjects (including decorating their office) to build rapport.
C. Use the SOFTEN technique:
- Smile: be friendly and willing to listen without judgment
- Open gestures: talk with your hands to show you’re approachable
- Forward-leaning: make the conversation close and personal
- Touch: build a connection with appropriately touching hands and arms
- Eyebrows raised: raise your eyebrows while greeting and during the conversation to build connection and keep the person talking
- Nod: nodding helps a person confess by affirming they’re doing the right thing, especially when they’re starting to admit their actions
D. Determine if they’re lying:
- After you find their baseline, you only need to ask a few questions and watch their responses.
- To be more subtle, scatter the questions throughout the conversation.
- People tend to be more confident about what they perceived than what they imagined.
- If the suspect made a small statement, tell them you didn’t hear them and watch what they change.
- Repeat back the information incorrectly (e.g., dates, phone number, places) to see if they agree or change the details.
- There’s objective evidence if someone’s being honest, so don’t let feelings overrule it:
- They stay on the issue even when you change it.
- They’ll use contractions liberally (e.g., can’t, won’t) and won’t use many time-buying mechanisms like pausing or unrelated thoughts.
- If they’re asked who should be responsible or is to blame, they’ll generally offer someone specific.
- They’ll usually vouch for someone else beyond themselves.
- Their reactions won’t typically be disproportionately negative or angry.
- When they’re uncertain, they’ll admit the infraction had occurred.
- They’ll typically call the perpetrator sick, unwell, or some other negative expression.
- They’ll usually deny the possibility that they considered doing it themselves.
- They’ll typically give an appropriate punishment for the infraction.
- They’re often confident they’ll be exonerated.
- They don’t blame a victim for the wrongdoing.
- They’ll usually reject the idea of a second chance for the guilty.
- They’ll have no fears in a test to prove the accuser right.
- They’ll immediately deny any implication.
- On occasion, they might be mentally unwell enough to believe their view of reality is more correct than evidence.
E. Convince them you know the truth:
- Never ask if they’re telling the truth.
- Everyone will say yes, but an innocent person will be offended.
- Once you have a rapport, the liar must believe 3 things:
- You know the truth.
- You understand why they did what they did.
- They will benefit more from telling the truth than continuing the lie.
- The person is probably already defensive and made up a story.
- To undo their alibi, let the person keep talking.
- When possible, claim you have any of the following:
- Eyewitnesses, since the person can’t be entirely sure they were unseen
- Cameras, which could have recorded them from anywhere
- Cell phone records, which can operate as a GPS even without GPS capability and can also track phone calls with times/dates
- Trace human residue like the cocktail of oils and elements that we leave everywhere
- Paper trails through records of all varieties
- Gigantic file folders with lots of information that imply lots of evidence
- Anything else that comes to mind that would look like it would implicate them
F. Confront the liar:
- Confrontations serve several purposes:
- Confirm the person is lying.
- Convince them there’s enough evidence of their guilt to act and they have no reason to keep lying.
- Provide a way out for the person by showing they must merely find a way to frame and deliver the confession.
- Many people are uncertain about whether to confront a liar and when.
- Confidently, earnestly ask for their admission.
- Intimidating or persuading them into it will never work.
- The liar must feel they’re fixing a problem that affects both of you.
- Show confidence with a physically dominant position (standing legs spread apart and them sitting) and use the “we” pronoun about the issue.
- Honest people will still firmly deny, but liars will try to shrink away.
G. Managing barriers, objections, and obstacles:
- If they deny or redirect, stay focused.
- Put up your hand like you’re directing traffic.
- Either get back to the point or use their statement to strengthen your case and empathize further.
- Honest people will stand firmly on their convictions.
- If they don’t move from their position, re-evaluate if your judgment of their honesty was correct.
H. Give them a rationalization:
- The rationalizations don’t have to be accurate or right, just reasonable for what the liar would do.
- Some theme examples:
- Blame the victim (including yourself as the victim)
- Blaming stress
- Accusing a friend or accomplice
- Any combination of anything that excuses their behavior
I. Persuade them:
- You’re trying to “sell” them to confess.
- The liar will catch on if you aren’t cautious about how much you use them.
- Typical persuasion tactics:
- Project authority with a powerful and confident composure.
- Give them “free” information in confidence to provoke them to give back.
- Create a shortage by giving a “limited time opportunity” to come clean.
- Find more common ground.
- Get them to trust you on one thing to provoke them to trust you elsewhere.
- Get them to conform to you:
- Get the liar talking, then keep them talking – they will divulge more without realizing it.
- Make them admit to a small offense first – people are more willing to admit a large guilt after a small one than admitting from nothing.
- Accuse the liar of something worse than you suspect they did – by comparison, they’ll naturally deny the larger offense and admit the smaller one.
- Ask for anything else (aka “By The Way Syndrome”) – with a little more prodding the person will fill in all the information.
J. Observe when your techniques are working:
- A person who feels cornered will demonstrate the “surrender” position: head bowed and leaned forward with loose arms.
- With enough time, every liar will eventually break, but most honest people will become more resolute.
K. The diverging question:
- The person in the surrender position will reach a point where they must choose to confess to alleviate the stress or keep feeling stress from maintaining the lie.
- The liar must be at their greatest uncertainty, which comes from putting on pressure over time.
- The liar must know that the stress won’t stop until you’re comfortable with their answers.
- Once the liar confesses to the divergent question, they’ll submit to all further questioning.