How to Tell if Someone is Lying: Body Language

658925_lil_pinoccioOver half of our communication is done with body language, not words. I study it so I can characterize the people in my books–their actions, hand gestures, facial expressions–and it has taught me a lot about reading people’s interior monologue–those ideas they don’t want to share, but inadvertently do. Even the best speakers have a difficult time preventing twitches, unconscious hesitations or muscle movements from giving away what they truly feel.

Here are some of the ‘tells’ (movements the person doesn’t realize they are doing) that someone is lying:

Verbal Context and Content

  • A liar will use your words to answer a question. When asked, “Did you eat the last cookie?” The liar answers, “No, I did not eat the last cookie.”
  • A statement with a contraction is more likely to be truthful: “I didn’t do it” instead of “I did not do it.”
  • Liars sometimes avoid “lying” by not making direct statements. They imply answers instead of denying something directly.
  • The guilty person may say too much, adding unnecessary details to convince you. They are uncomfortable with silence or pauses in the conversation.
  • A liar may leave out pronouns and speak in a monotonous tone. When a truthful statement is made, the pronoun is emphasized as much or more than the rest of the words in a statement.
  • Words may be garbled and spoken softly, and syntax and grammar may be off. In other words, his sentences will likely be muddled rather than emphasized.
  • Listen for a subtle delay in responses to questions. An honest answer comes quickly from memory. Lies require a quick mental review of what they have told others to avoid inconsistency.
  • Lowered heads indicate a reason to hide something. If it is after an explanation, s/he may be lying, unsure if what they said was correct.
  • Look into their eyes. Liars will consecutively look at you and look away a number of times.
  • Avoiding direct statements or answers
  • Leaving out pronouns (he, she, it, etc.)

Other signs of a lie:

  • Watch their throat. A person may be either trying to lubricate their throat when he/she lies OR swallowing to avoid the tension built up.
  • Watch hands, arms and legs, which tend to be limited, stiff, and self-directed when the person is lying. The hands may touch or scratch their face, nose or behind an ear, but are not likely to touch their chest or heart.
  • If you believe someone is lying, change subject quickly. A liar follows along willingly and becomes more relaxed. They want the subject changed. An innocent person may be confused by the sudden change in topics and will want to go back to the previous subject.
  • Or, if you believe someone is lying, allow silence to enter the conversation. Observe how uncomfortable and restless the person becomes.
  • Liars more often use humor or sarcasm to avoid a subject.
  • Under the eyes, small pockets of flesh pop up when someone smiles, but only if the smile is genuine.

Deception–maybe they aren’t lying, but they’re hiding something

  • covering the mouth with the hands
  • rubbing the side of the nose
  • leaning away from you
  • micro shrug
  • voice pitch increases
  • Liars, he says, use more “negative emotion” words (hurt, ugly, nasty) and fewer first-person singulars.

Sound complicated? It isn’t, but it requires listening with all of your senses, not just your ears.

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, Technology in Education featured blogger, and IMS tech expert. She is the editor of a K-6 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-6 Digital Citizenship curriculum, creator of technology training books for middle school and ebooks on technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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7 thoughts on “How to Tell if Someone is Lying: Body Language

  1. As I read this, I started to shift my feet some and got a little uncomfortable… because I do some of these things when I’m NOT lying! Guess I have to watch for that, too.

    Ultimately, I love this list. It will be handy as I work up some characters I’ve been struggling with because they are so different from me. I’m a terrible liar, so writing a liar into a story has proven more difficult than I’d imagined.

    • So true, but we’re talking in general terms–ways we can telegraph to readers what’s going on in a character’s head when he’s not our POV. I get a kick out of these. and when I add this sort of detail, and then reread, it helps.


  2. What a timely post in light of Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching! Was that intentional? LOL

  3. Lots of interesting ideas to incorporate into our stories. I’ll think more about how my characters appear to each other as they communicate or try to mislead.
    Another to add to the list, though you suggested it, is a bright red face or neck and a pulsing vein. Those factors can’t be easily controlled. Nervous gestures, like fumbling the same set of papers over and over, or drinking sips of something as if not to slake thirst as much as to quell a dry mouth. I encountered these last two with a man whose whitish paste at the corners of his mouth made me suspect, along with his very nervous behavior, that he was high on something. I asked my dad, a physician, about this, Dad said it was an indication of lying. Lying causes the sugars in your system to get out of whack, making your mouth dry and leaving that crust – sort of an infected sign that says, “I’m lying.”

    • Those are great in a character, Shari. Quite visual. And the ‘nervous gestures’ etc–great fill in between dialogue instead of tags.

      Interesting about the white crust. I’ve never heard of that one.

  4. Another video with a very good way to detect lies – the eyes:

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