Detecting Lies: Top 3 Myths, Top 5 Proven Factors

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Lies are extremely difficult
to detect. Research shows the average person barely does any better than
chance. Part of the reason may be there’s so much misinformation about how to
detect lies floating around. Years of work in psychology, including research
from real police interviews conducted by Aldert Vrij and colleagues, provides
guidance on which nonverbal signals do and which don’t signal lying (Vrij,
we’ve got to dump the misconceptions:
People don’t actually fidget
and look away when they’re lying. Even some police forces still have this in
the manual even though it’s just plain wrong.
Even classic highly researched
signs of lying are not that good. Less blinking, more pauses in talking, vocal
tension, pupil dilation, chin raise and nervousness don’t consistently (across
different people) mean someone is lying.
It may be particularly
difficult to detect lies in close friends or partners as we have come to trust
them and don’t expect them to lie to us.
How do these misconceptions
come about? First we are badly informed by popular culture and second we think
we’re displaying these signs when lying ourselves – when actually we’re not.
So, with those misconceptions
dealt with, what can psychology research tell us about how to detect lies?
Individual differences are
key. Some people’s natural behaviour looks honest while others’ natural
behaviour doesn’t. This won’t tell you whether each is lying. E.g. introverts
or socially nervous people tend to look as though they’re lying when they’re not.
The way to do it is using comparisons. It’s possible to spot falsehoods when
they are compared with truthful statements.
Micro-expressions. Good lie
detectors can pick up on tiny facial movements that give away lies. The problem
is that they’re ‘micro’ so they’re difficult to detect.
Vocal inflection can be vital.
There’s evidence it’s easier to detect lies just from the voice. The eyes are
relatively easy to control and it can be better if we can’t see them.
Rely on intuition. People may
be better at detecting lies with their intuition. Implicit or broadly
unconscious processes can be more effective than conscious directed thought.
Lying is hard work. Lying can
place high cognitive demands on an individual – putting more pressure on a
suspected liar can help with detection.
Next time you’re tempted to
assume your partner would never lie to you but the nervous-looking person in
the office probably does, stop and think again. Research on lying in nonverbal
psychology has clearly shown that misunderstandings are rife. Lie detection is
a subtle art requiring very sharp senses and these 5 proven factors show you
where to start.
the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD
is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from
University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about
scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book
“Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks.

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.