Years ago the man I loved stood before me and promised that he hadn’t cheated on me.
My suspicions were high, but I didn’t have any proof. All I could do was take him at his word and try to trust him.
It turns out this was the wrong call. Months later I discovered the truth. He had been having an affair and lied to my face about it.
The unfortunate reality is that it’s not easy to spot a liar. But there are some clues to watch out for.
Body language plays a crucial role in our interactions, providing valuable insights into the thoughts and emotions of others.
By being aware of certain telltale signs, we can increase our ability to detect deception.
Here are some giveaways to be on the lookout for…
1) A strange change in their body language
There are several body language cues that research has identified as signs people who are lying often exhibit. We’ll run through those in the rest of this article.
But here’s the thing:
It’s not as straightforward as we may hope.
Body language is complicated. Whilst it certainly conveys emotions, pinning those exact emotions down isn’t so easy.
Non-verbal cues aren’t clear-cut because they can’t tell you someone’s motivation for what they are feeling.
For example, body language can show that someone is feeling uncomfortable or anxious, but it doesn’t tell us why.
Somebody might look “shifty”, but that may be because they are nervous, not necessarily because they are lying.
Body language often just gives us a gut feeling. Behind the scenes, our unconscious brain is putting together a picture using the information it is reading.
Although it’s not foolproof, this intuitive judgment can be very useful.
If someone’s body language seems strange compared to how they normally act, it can be your biggest sign.
2) Too much eye contact
It has been suggested that the direction someone looks can reveal if they are telling the truth.
Whilst darting eyes may mean deception, research has debunked the idea that we look one way for lies and the other when we’re being truthful.
But eye contact can still be your best clue.
When we want someone to believe us, we often make an extra effort to look at them.
We imagine that someone finds it harder to lie whilst looking at us. We may even say something like:
“Look me in the eye and tell me…”
But rather counterintuitively, one study from the University of Michigan found that liars actually hold a gaze more (and blink less) than those who are being truthful.
It’s almost like they are trying too hard to be believable, as a behavioral analyst at the FBI, Jack Schafer explains:
“People tend to look at people or things that they like and avoid eye contact with people and things they don’t like. Liars must overcome the natural urge to avoid eye contact with their lie target to make themselves believable. Consequently, liars tend to overcompensate by maintaining longer eye contact. This behavior stems from the generally held belief that liars avoid eye contact, a lesson most people learned from their parents.”
3) They go quite pale
Watch out for a change in complexion.
When someone has had a bit of a shock we might say they went as white as a sheet.
The color draining is an uncontrollable side effect of blood rushing from their face.
The same reaction can happen whenever we’re thrust into a difficult situation and feeling the pressure. That’s why it can also be a sign of lying.
4) Jerky head movements
Sudden head movements when you ask someone a direct question may show they’re not being honest.
According to Dr. Lillian Glass, author of The Body Language of Liars:
“The head will be retracted or jerked back, bowed down, or cocked or tilted to the side,”
It’s likely to happen just before they’re about to respond to you.
5) Pursed lips
It’s not just what comes out of their mouth that can tell us if someone is lying.
When we’re under stress our lips tend to disappear. Compressing our lips or biting them is a self-soothing behavior.
Joe Navarro, an expert on deception, espionage, interrogation, and reading people, says we do it unconsciously:
“Because disappearing or compressed lips are universal behaviors, controlled by the limbic system, these are behaviors that can be relied upon and are authentic. We don’t realize how our lips look and feel, but others will notice.”
6) They get a little hot under the collar
We’re talking about sweating.
When we feel stressed automatic changes happen in the nervous system that are beyond our control.
That can have knock-on effects that make us sweat in certain areas of the face.
Specifically look out for a sweaty upper lip, forehead, around the mouth, and on the chin area.
7) Nervous tapping
I can relate to this one. A lot of the time I won’t even realize I’m doing it.
I’ll sit there tapping my foot or drumming my fingers.
It’s a sign of excess energy and intense situations, it could give the game away about how you are feeling.
They’re called metronomic gestures, and they can show impatience and nervousness.
If someone starts drumming or tapping, either their feet, fingers, or even an object like a pen, they may be itching to get away.
Or, as we’ll see next, they may just be itching!
8) They start to fidget or scratch
You might think that fidgeting simply looks quite shifty. But there’s more science to it than that.
Research at UCLA found that yet again, it’s down to the nervous system.
Changes when we’re anxious can make us feel itchier, which leads to us touching ourselves more.
For example, body language expert Tonya Reiman points out in Business Insider that someone might get an itchy nose as the capillaries in our nose expand just slightly.
9) They tell a story with their hands
I am quite an animated person. So when I tell a story, my hands automatically join in.
But according to one study people who lie are more likely to gesture with both of their hands than people who are telling the truth.
Researchers watched video clips from some high-stakes court cases in order to spot how people behave when they’re lying.
Apparently, the hands can’t keep still because they are mimicking the racing brain that is frantically thinking.
It is an unusual and very specific tell. But particularly if someone doesn’t normally gesture a lot with their hands, it could be a strong sign they’re being dishonest with you.
10) Heavy breathing
Here’s another tell that body language expert Dr. Lillian Glass says we should be on the lookout for:
How someone is breathing.
When someone is lying they may breathe more heavily, so you may also see their shoulders rising a lot more as well.
It’s just another one of the body’s automatic responses to a stressful situation says Dr Glass:
“In essence, they are out of breath because their heart rate and blood flow change. Your body experiences these types of changes when you’re nervous and feeling tense — when you lie.”
Don’t overthink it, instead trust your gut
As we’ve seen, detecting liars can seem more of an art than a science.
It may feel like guesswork, but go with your gut.
Research has found we’re a lot better at spotting bullshit than we give ourselves credit for.
As Dr Leanne ten Brinke of the University of California, Berkeley discovered:
“What interested us about the unconscious mind is that it just might really be the seat of where accurate lie detection lives. So if our ability to detect lies is not conscious – we simply can’t do this when we’re thinking hard about it – then maybe it lives somewhere else, and so we thought one possible explanation was the unconscious mind.”
It turns out our instincts are strong, but we overthink it and question ourselves. So if something feels “off”, you are probably picking up on some subconscious cues.
Lost Your Sense of Purpose?
In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.
Jeanette Brown created this free values discovery PDF to help clarify your deepest motivations and beliefs. As an experienced life coach and self-improvement teacher, Jeanette guides people through major transitions by realigning them with their principles.
Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.
With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.
Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.