We’ve all been there. Someone we’ve just met, someone we’ve known, maybe even trust(ed), has lied to us.
You may think it’s never happened, but trust me, it has. I wouldn’t lie to you. (But other people would.)
What if you could learn to tell when someone was lying?
No, it’s not an extraordinary superpower or talent belonging only to secret agents and seismograph-looking lie detector machines. Anyone can learn the art of distinguishing truth from lies.
We turned to the long-since canceled TV show: Lie to Me for clues. Lie to Me, a television show starring Tim Roth and Kelli Williams, aired on the Fox Network from January 2009 to 2011.
Roth plays Dr. Cal Lightman, a pioneer in the study of micro-expressions and how they reveal emotion, even when a person doesn’t want to. He and his employees at the Lightman Group work with government agencies and smaller clients to help solve cases.
You might be thinking,
Okay, but that’s just fiction.
Not entirely. Lie to Me’s lead character Lightman is based on Dr. Paul Ekman, who is, in fact, the world’s expert on facial expressions.
The show’s creator and director Sam Baum studied Ekman’s research for months prior to writing the show. While some things have been exaggerated for the sake of good entertainment – Ekman does not actually help solve cases – most of the science is pretty sound. Whatever isn’t, Ekman himself would post critiques of on his website, distinguishing fact from idealized fiction.
Watching ‘Lie to Me’ is therefore not only hugely entertaining, but also quite informative. Take into account Cal’s polished humor:
Unpleasant truths, human mortality, a mustache on a woman – three things we’d all prefer to ignore.
You must remember, however, that these are not definitive signs that someone is lying, or telling the truth. Both the show and Dr. Ekman emphasize that there is never 100 percent certainty, even among the experts.
For one thing, while you can use facial expressions to detect emotion, you have no way of knowing what triggered the emotion, or what the emotion is even directed towards.
For another, what may be normal behavior in one person might be a sign of lying in another, so it’s important to establish a baseline. Observe someone’s behavior when they’re telling the truth, and you’ll notice deviations when they’re lying, though like with emotions, you won’t be able to tell why they’re lying.
Now, without further ado, here are 7 lie detection techniques [or truth-detection techniques] you can learn from Lie to Me:
1. Shifty Eyes
It is a myth that if someone has “shifty eyes,” it means they’re lying. People usually look away when they’re trying to remember something or gather their words, not when they’re trying to make something up.
In fact, people usually maintain firm eye contact when lying, because, as Lightman says in an episode, “They want to know if you believe them.”
2. Yes or No? – Gestural Slips
If you’re asking a yes or no question, and they say yes, but ever-so-slightly shake their head, then it means no. The body does not lie, and so it “slips” in contrast to what is being spoken. The same applies the other way around. If they say no, but give a small nod, then they probably mean yes.
3. Lip Biting
When someone bites their lip after being asked a serious question, it’s a sign either that they’re scared they’ll be caught in their lie or scared of not being believed. Therefore it’s not necessarily a tell, but coupled with other signs is probably a fairly good indicator.
4. The ‘False Inference Dodge’
If someone answers a question indirectly, then there’s a good chance that they have something to hide. For example:
Q: “Did you steal some money from the cash register?”
A: “I’m shocked you’d even ask me that.”
Of course, they may just be offended you’re accusing them of being a thief…
Like with shifty eyes, people incorrectly assume that if someone is fidgeting that means they’re being untruthful.
People who fidget may just be nervous or uncomfortable with the situation – which an innocent person has every right to be if they feel they’re under suspicion – or generally have problems staying still. It is not actually a sign of lying.
If someone shows little or zero emotion when recounting an intense story, it is likely that story is not true, or it is true but did not actually happen to them.
However, this only applies if the person usually does display their emotions openly.
7. Distancing Language
When referring to something or someone as “that ____” even though the person knows what it’s called, it is a form of distancing oneself from the subject and is an indication of a lie.
The most famous example is when former President Bill Clinton said,
“I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinksy.”
His use of “that woman,” despite knowing her name already and not needing to use that phrase, is a sign of lying.
There you have it. It was a good show, and even though it’s no longer on air, I recommend giving it a watch.