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Liar Liar Pants on Fire: How to Spot a Lie

A few days ago I wrote a blog about why people lie. Today, I’d like to discuss how to tell if someone is lying.

First of all, the detection of a lie is not an exact science. And people with lots of practice lying can become pretty hard to detect. In fact, some liars believe that they are so talented that they are invincible (but that’s another blog). Nevertheless, there are some clues to watch for when you suspect that someone is lying. There are no single accurate lie detectors. In order to catch a lie, you must consider a series of behaviors that involve looking, hearing, and feeling.

The first set of clues relate to how the person is looking and acting. Eye contact is thought to be the easiest way to detect lying. When people lie, they tend to have difficulty maintaining normal eye contact. They may look to the left, down, or off to the side. Some skillful liars look right at the person they are lying to because they are so confident that they can get away with it. The bottom line is that eye contact is off—either too little, off center, or too much.

Liars frequently fidget. They may touch their faces (especially around the mouth), scratch, swing their arms, or twirl their hair. Their hands may be held behind their back. If they have an object such as a cup of coffee or a pencil, they may hold it out in front of them. Think of throwing up a barrier between the liar and the person receiving the lie.

The posture of the liar is often unnatural or awkward looking. The liar might stand tilted away from the listener or swing back and forth. Picture someone feeling a bit uneasy or unsteady. In contrast, an experienced liar might stand up straight and try to appear tough—sort of like a dog facing off.

The next set of clues relate to hearing. Listen to the voice. Liars often talk quickly. They want to get their lies out in a hurry, without too much room for discussion. The tone of the voice may not match the message. For example, a liar might recount a sad tale with no hint of sadness in the voice or a happy story with totally flat tones. The tempo of the lie may also give hints. Liars often have hesitations or pauses when they are not called for. There may be lots of ums or stopping–indicating problems remembering words. One reason that occurs is that the liar is distracted with thoughts about whether the lie is believable. So liars have trouble keeping track of what they’re saying.

The content of the lie is another clue. Liars, concentrating on making up the story, may forget to keep tenses straight. Their word choice might be awkward and grammar poor. They might give too little detail or heap on irrelevant details. Sequences are often confused. Liars like to get out of the story. If given an opportunity for a change of subject, liars will likely jump at the chance.

When asked specific questions, expect the liar to stall by repeating the question, or divert by avoiding the question. Expect vague uninformative answers or “I don’t remember.”

Finally, pay attention to how you are feeling. If the story doesn’t seem plausible and you have other clues to back you up, be wary. You don’t have to confront adult liars or let them know that you’re on to them. But protect yourself, your loved ones, and your assets.

Be careful—even the best of “lie detectors” can’t always tell a lie from the truth.

Liar Liar Pants on Fire: How to Spot a Lie


Laura L. Smith, Ph.D.

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of adults and children with obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as personality disorders, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and learning disorders. Dr. Smith is a widely published author of articles and books to the profession and the public, including: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2E), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth, and Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be? Her website is: www.psychology4people.com


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APA Reference
Smith, L. (2010). Liar Liar Pants on Fire: How to Spot a Lie. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 11, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/anxiety/2010/05/liar-liar-pants-on-fire-how-to-spot-a-lie/

 

Last updated: 11 May 2010
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.