Behavioral analysts who study the words and behaviors of liars emphasize that baseline observations are crucial. How does the person speak and act under ordinary circumstances? Departures from normal behavioral patterns often give important clues to the honesty of a person’s statements.
If the person is somewhat shy and usually avoids confrontation, the person may stare down the listener when lying. On the other hand, the person who is accustomed to making eye contact in normal conversation may glance away frequently to avoid eye contact while lying. Some people normally look everyone in the eye; others maintain fixed eye contact during conversation. Knowing how someone generally behaves can help you spot suspicious deviations—clues to lying. It’s easiest to spot unusual body language in those who are close to you such as partners, children, and friends.
Fleeting facial expressions
Forensic psychologists have shown that brief “cracking” of innocent facial expressions can signify lying. “Microexpressions” occur because you can’t completely control all the muscles in your face. True emotion leaks out in brief departures from “normal,” allowing the emotions to leak out. You can’t completely control the expressions on your face. Faking or inhibiting various give-away emotions is called putting on a “false face.” The true emotion takes over the face, however briefly, say researchers. When you see such facial expressions, it’s important to probe with further questions to find out the source of discomfort. The interviewee is likely to become increasingly stressed, revealing more information than he or she intended.
According to behavioral scientists, the smiles of liars look forced or tense. They press their lips together. At the same time, the eyes give away the lie. A person telling the truth smiles with his or her entire face. The appearance of crow’s feet signify honesty. When someone is forcing a smile, one of several emotions comes into play; anger, fear, sadness, surprise, and disgust, among others.
The expression “blended expression” has special meaning for body language experts. It means that the lie governs movements and changes in the lower half of the face, while the upper half is governed by the truth. In a true smile, both the lower and upper halves of the face match. With a fake smile, there is a disconnect between the two.
Most people believe that avoidance of eye contact is the behavior most often associated with lying. Is this true? Researchers say no. Studies across many countries indicate that liars avoid eye contact no more than people telling the truth. The main thing to look for are deviations from baseline.
It’s critical to observe how fast or slow someone blinks. Changes in eye contact depend on the stress caused by trigger questions and focus. Even dilation or constriction of the pupils is important. When very high stakes are involved such as extramarital affairs or stealing office equipment, gaze aversion is indeed linked with deception.
Signs of stress
If you’re convinced that a friend or family member just lied to your face, press them with further questions related to the lies. Ask for further clarification. You’ll probably see some physical changes that are clues to their discomfort.
Touching the face is one. When the human brain is under stress, the brain temperature rises, often stressing the sweat glands on the forehead or upper lip area. The brains of some liars are relieved of stress by touching the face, which has a calming effect.
Tapping the feet or fidgeting with the hands are also clues to stress. However, it’s important to note baseline body language at times when no stress is imposed. Some people do these behaviors naturally. Twirling the hair can also reflect stress if it isn’t baseline behavior.
Actions that may suggest that a lie is in progress include changes in blinking speed, swallowing, dry mouth, facial touching, fidgeting, yawning, increased rate of breathing, and rubbing the hands together.