Pamela Meyer is author of “Liespotting”, which pulls together research on deception from a number of sources.
Everyone is a liar, but the goal to spotting liars isn’t to trick them or play ‘gotcha’, but to understand the truth.
Truth #1 Lying is a cooperative act – it needs the hearer to believe.
Truth #2 We are against lying… and covertly for it
Lying can manifest as corporate fraud, which costs nearly a trillion dollars a year in the US, or it can betray national secrets. In many cases lying defines our social interations – to protect ourselves, to protect others, to portray ourselves differently to what we are, to lie to a partner, we lie to a stranger 3 times within 10 minutes of meeting them. The thought of this makes people recoil in horror. However, the more intelligent the species, the more they rely on deception. Children grow up with lies and by the time they are in the workforce they are living in a ‘post-truth society’.
Trained Lie spotters get to the truth 90% of the time, while untrained people get there 54% of the time. Pamela studies Bill Clinton’s denial of his affair with Monica Lewinsky “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” – later proven to be a lie. She looks at how his speech patterns and language betrays him.
- He uses overly formal language
- he distances himself from “that woman”
- he uses qualifying language.
Clinton didn’t do this, but Pamela also stays on the lookout for too much or too little detail in the statements, and repeating the question to stall for time.
She also looks separately at body language symbols of liars:
- They don’t always fidget, some completely freeze their upper bodies.
- We think liars won’t look you in the eye, some look too much to compensate
- They often smile to show sincerity, but it is a fake smile, and they are not smiling in the eyes
- Body language cues can be giving the opposite of the words – eg shaking head while saying yes or shrugging shoulders while telling a confident, good story.
Giveaways in attitude, when conversing with a deceptive person:
- An honest person will be enthusiastic and help brainstorm to discover the real suspect.
- an honest person will be infuriated throughout the whole process if they suspect they are being accused – it won’t just be in flashes
- an honest person will want a strict punishment for the person who committed the crimes.
- In contrast a deceptive person will talk only in chronological order and get confused when asked to tell it differently (change the order)
- A deceptive person will be withdrawn from the conversation
- A deceptive person will add way too much irrelevant detail
A lot of small tells can also show deceptive behaviour – changing blink rate, or putting physical barriers between the asker and themselves, or changing their tone of voice. But these can happen naturally as well, it is only when they happen in clusters that you should be suspicious. When dealing with a suspected liar, be curious and friendly, treat them with dignity, and don’t be too aggressive.
The world is getting more interconnected, people are sharing a lot. By learning to spot lies, you are telling the world that you will not be part of the lie – that your world is a truthful one.