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How to Tell If Someone Is Lying

Learn why it's difficult to detect lies through body language in this Howcast video.


So of all the different things you can do with non-verbal communication, the hardest thing is determining whether or not someone's lying or not. It's not an easy thing. It's a very, very, very difficult thing. See, this is why it's difficult. In the grand scheme of human interaction, there is not one specific non-verbal glance, gesture, there's not one non-verbal thing that's correlated with lying. And the cool thing is if there was, if there was some specific non-verbal gesture that was correlated with lying, wouldn't people just not do it when they lie? That's not how it works. So, you know, "Lie To Me" is an amazing show.

It's fun. It's interesting, and it's grounded in truth. But it's kind of, you know, it's not that easy, to the point of where Paul Ekman who it's based on has a blog that describes all the points, all the factual inaccuracies in the show, even though it's loosely based on his research. So it's really hard to spot whether or not someone's lying or not. And the reason why it's hard is because, there's a lot of reasons. First of all, the research is not the greatest. And the reason why is because attraction is easy to verify. I can walk up to somebody at a bar and say, "Were you attracted to him?" And they'll say, "Yeah." I can't walk up to somebody and be like, "Did you just lie to him?" And they'll say, "Yeah." So it's hard to establish a ground of truth. And really what you need to do is to see how somebody acts when they're truthful, see how somebody acts when they're lying, and compare the two. It's like Bill Clinton, Bill Clinton's speech.

Do you know how many body language consultants got up there and ripped Bill Clinton to shreds? He did this. He did that. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Bill Clinton's an amazing communicator. He's also an amazing liar. The only reason we know that he was lying is because we knew it. We saw the inaccuracies, not because of body language. Nobody would be able to see it that way. It's very, very difficult. And also when you accuse somebody of lying, they tend to shut down. So if you say, "You're lying," they kind of just completely shut down. "What do you mean I'm lying?" And they get defensive. So lie detection is very, very difficult thing to do. And a lot of books will make one, like if somebody covers their mouth, they're lying. It's just not true. Somebody can cover their mouth because they're uncomfortable with what they're saying. Somebody can cover their mouth because they have a cold sore. Somebody can cover their mouth because they're breath is bad. There's so many different reasons why they can cover their mouth. It's not an indication of lying. So you need to be very, very careful when kind of analyzing human behavior and looking for lies, because, you know, most researchers aren't really sure of what they're looking for. So how could you be? There's no reliable measure right now.

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