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December 16, 2011 at 3:54 PMComments: 4 Faves: 0

Five Signs You're Being Lied To: Catch A Lie in 20 Seconds!

By Erin Froehlich More Blogs by This Author

New research from the University of California, Berkeley shows that we pass judgments pretty quickly on the trustworthiness of a stranger.

In their study, researchers asked 24 couple to have a conversation on film. One person was asked to describe a time when they had suffered, the other was asked to listen.

These videos were then then viewed by another set of study participants who, within in 20 seconds of watching these complete strangers, were able to identify false compassion in the listeners! But what was it these people saw? How can you be sure you’re not being tricked?

As behavioral psychologist Marc Salem Ph.D. suggests: forget the words.  Body language speaks much louder than our voice in that regard.

In fact, according to Salem there are 5 signs in particular he says to look out for:

#1. Inconsistent Behavior

Animation and speech patterns should remain fairly consistent if a person is comfortable. A drastic change – from very still to very animated or vice versa should set off alarms. A change from smooth, rapid speech to  a calculated, clipped speech pattern is another sign. “Shifts from the norm are red flags for deceit,” said Salem.

#2. A Very Steady Gaze

Perhaps we’ve been told too often to “Look me in the eye!” but many of us are under the impression that a liar won’t lie with a direct gaze. That’s not exactly the case according to Salem. In FACT, he suggests the opposite – a very steady gaze, he says, is a red flag. “When people think or contemplate, it’s natural for them to break eye contact and look around,” Liars on the other hand, probably under the same mistaken impression that many of us are, often try to maintain a steady gaze, as they are consciously trying to appear trustworthy.

#3. Covered Mouth

It’s another one of those funny examples of the mind reacting to the symbolism of our body’s actions - like washing our hands when we’re feeling guilty or feeling in a “heavy” mood when we’re carrying a load.  Often times, explains Salem, liars subconsciously cover their mouth because they are trying to hide something. Coughing or frequent throat clearing is another give away, it's as though the liar's body is trying to expel the lie and guilt.

#4. Hunched Body

When we lie, it’s a vulnerable time. While telling the truth may create problems, being caught in a lie about the truth adds a WHOLE new dimension! It’s a scary thing, and because of that, liars often take a cautious, protective posture – shoulders down, back hunched – protecting our vital organs and at the same time comforting ourselves with a posture closer to the "fetal" position we held in the womb.

#5. Very Quick Smile

While a genuine smile lasts a couple of seconds and affects the whole face – the eyebrows, eyes, cheeks and corners of the moutha genuine smile is far more contained and fades immediately after appearing.

Lying. Whether it’s a little white, a tall tale, or a big whopper, there isn’t a single one among us that doesn’t do it. And that’s not always a bad thing! The truth can cut. Our honest opinion of that new haircut could endanger our friendship. What we really think about our boss’s new tie could endanger our job. Lying is actually an important part of our success in the social world.

HOWEVER, with that said, no matter the motivation, no one likes to find out they’ve been lied to. My advice: tell the truth whenever possible. But if you’re going to do it, cross your fingers and hope the lie-receiver hasn’t just read this blog too! ;)

Photo Credit: Katie Tegtmeyer

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  • Nice topic :)

  • Cool - is it really that easy?

  • Wow, very interesting. I definitely think the Steady Gaze one is right on. I always break eye contact if I am trying to think while talking to someone.

    I think the "hunched body" one can be confused with self-consciousness though. Sometimes I may slouch if I am self-conscious. This doesn't mean I am lying, it just means I'm a bit nervous in that certain situation.

  • Thanks everyone! :D

    Bri - You bring up a really good point! None of the body signals discussed are exclusive to lying. This is really more of a crash course on body language, meant to open people to the idea of interpreting the body.

    I'd say use your gut when it comes to interpreting signals of discomfort and unease - which is essentially what all 5 of those points are displaying. It could be anxiety or self-consciousnesses, like you said. It could also be that the conversation simply struck a nerve.

    Consider why you are suspicious. Are YOU feeling guilty? Another common side effect of lying is heightened suspicion and paranoia. (Yet another reason to stick with the truth!) :/

    Consider what motive the person might even have to lie and if there another reason for the suspected liar to be feeling uncomfortable?

    In the end, while it is helpful to understand the way a lie affects our body and they way a lie can look, it really comes down to intuition - which according to the new study - we do seem very capable of! Within 20 seconds people could spot the insincerity of a stranger.

    We are social animals and we existed before our language did - in that time it was essential to our survival that we be able to assess another person's trustworthiness. Today, while there is much more to distract, we still have that in us.

    If a person is striking you as untrustworthy, I'd say listen to what your instincts are telling you.

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