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To spot a liar, don’t look at their eyes – look at this instead

You would expect the best way to spot a liar is by looking them in the eyes.

Yet a research study from the University of Michigan indicates that people who lie look their questioners in the eyes more often than people telling the truth.

The researchers studied 118 video clips to determine the language and gestures used by people who are being dishonest. They looked at video clips from case trials and used data from the Innocence Project which handles legal cases of innocent people who have been falsely imprisoned.

They concluded what differentiates people who lie from those telling the truth: people who lie move often have animated hand gestures.

That’s right.

If you want to spot a liar, look at their hands.

People are good lie detectors – if we know what to look for

The research team shared a number of interesting findings about what to look for to spot a liar.


“People are poor lie detectors,” said Rada Mihalcea, professor of computer science and engineering who leads the project. “This isn’t the kind of task we’re naturally good at. There are clues that humans give naturally when they are being deceptive, but we’re not paying close enough attention to pick them up. We’re not counting how many times a person says ‘I’ or looks up. We’re focusing on a higher level of communication.”

The researchers identified what to look for in liars, finding the following common behaviors:

  • Scowling or grimacing of the whole face. This was in 30 percent of lying videos vs. 10 percent of truthful ones.
  • Looking directly at the questioner—in 70 percent of deceptive clips vs. 60 percent of truthful.
  • Gesturing with both hands—in 40 percent of lying clips, compared with 25 percent of the truthful.
  • Speaking with more vocal fill such as “um.” This was more common during deception.
  • Distancing themselves from the action with words such as “he” or “she,” rather than “I” or “we,” and using phrases that reflected certainty.

The research findings may be useful for security agents and juries

The researchers presented their findings at the International Conference on Multimodal Interaction and believe their work may be useful for security agents and juries.

Of course, it’s far from foolproof. It’s difficult to use these findings to definitively determine whether someone is telling a lie or not. Rather, the findings can be used to generalize across a group in the population.

The reality is that everyone behaves slightly differently when telling a lie. The research results are useful as a guide for someone wanting to know whether someone is telling the truth.

The next time you’re in a situation when you want to know if someone is telling the truth, look at their hands. But don’t rely on these findings in finding the people telling lies in your life.


This is the first step in spotting a liar: looking at their body language.

However, it’s not foolproof.

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We therefore decided to assemble some additional tips by psychology experts on what you can do to spot a liar.

Gregory L. Lantz, writing for Psychology Today, shared a simple framework for how to spot a liar. Here’s what you do:

1. Start by asking neutral questions

Ask simple, non-threatening questions. This helps you to identify how someone answers questions. When they respond, observe their body language and eye movement, keeping in mind the research findings we shared above.


Ask yourself:

Do they shift stance? Do they maintain eye contact?

Ask enough questions to establish a pattern.

2. Identify when they shift their behavior

After you’ve established your baseline of behavior, start to ask questions in the hot spot of where you’re trying to figure out whether they’re lying or not.

Observe their subconscious cues.

Everyone gives off at least some subconscious cues when they lie, but we’re all different. That’s why it’s important to establish a baseline in step 1 above.


3. Watch their body language

Liars often pull their body inwards in order to appear a little smaller when telling a lie. Others will become squirmy in this situation. Pay attention to their hands as we explained above.

4. Observe micro-facial expressions

As Lantz explains:

“People will often give away a lie in their facial expression, but some of these facial expressions are subtle and difficult to spot. Some people will change their facial coloration to a slighter shade of pink, others will flare their nostrils slightly, bite their lip, perspire slightly, or blink rapidly.”

5. Listen to tone, cadence and sentence structures

Often when people lie they will slightly change their tone of voice and how they speak.

This happens because their brains are working in overdrive to uphold the details of what they’re lying about.

6. Look out for when they stop talking about themselves

People who are lying will often try and remove themselves from the story. They’ll shift attention to other people in the story, more quickly than they ordinarily would have.

***Do you want to be a stronger person? Do you want to stare down your challenges and overcome any obstacles? If so, check out our eBook: The Art of Resilience: A Practical Guide to Mental Toughness.

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Written by Justin Brown

I'm Justin Brown, the founder of Ideapod. I've overseen the evolution of Ideapod from a social network for ideas into a publishing and education platform with millions of monthly readers and multiple products helping people to think critically, see issues clearly and engage with the world responsibility.

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