5 subtle signs someone is lying to you, according to psychology

The end of my car’s lease recently came up and I decided to swap it out for a new one. When I was about to test drive a new car, I paired my phone to the vehicle’s “Car Play” and all of the old school Indian tunes I like came up from my Spotify account. 

“Hey, I’m Indian too,” the sales guy said to me when he saw the songs come up on the dash. 

“Oh, you are?” I asked casually but also a little surprised. He didn’t look Indian at all. 

“On both sides, yes.” But then he looked away as if suddenly embarrassed and I got a strange vibe that he kind of just said that for the heck of it or as a “selling point”. Not that I cared. I didn’t need to be “sold” on the car. I already knew if I liked it and my monthly payments didn’t change too much, I would most likely buy it. 

Research shows that when a person’s actions don’t align with their words, most people—especially women—tend to believe what they see more than what they hear.

In other words, actions have to speak louder than words. 

But what if you don’t have any actions to go by?

Maybe you’re just getting to know someone, or you get the impression that someone is trying to inject something in common with you so that they can “sell” you something, like in my personal example. 

Here are five subtle signs that someone may be lying to you. 

1) They barely blink…and then they blink excessively 

According to experts, telling a lie takes a lot of concentration. This means that your brain pays less attention to closing your eyelids and refreshing your eyeballs to focus on spinning the fib. 

Studies say that someone who is lying to you will barely blink so that they can concentrate on lying, then once they’ve finished lying they will suddenly blink more rapidly so as to refresh their eyes after that intense period. 

A sudden prolonged period of unflinching eye contact followed by a lot of sudden fluttering could indicate something isn’t quite right, says Kate Nicholson from Huffington Post UK.

Similarly, body language expert Traci Brown says that there is significant evidence that the speed at which a person blinks and the heaviness of each moment you close your eyes (known as something called blink weight) is linked to deceptive deception. 

“Typically, if their blinking changes it will get less rapid during the lie and then increase dramatically right after the lie is told,” she says. 

The average adult blinks around 15 to 20 times per minute, but disruptions to this pattern might show feelings that they are unable to conceal. 

Excessive blinking can indicate anxiety, which often pairs with lying, add psychology experts Jennifer Carnevale and Dana Dance-Schissel

“If the level of blinking seems exaggerated, it might be because the person is lying. Eyes that don’t match up with general facial expressions may demonstrate internal conflict or a covering up of the truth.”

2) They also begin to breathe differently 

Have you ever noticed that when someone seems to be not so forthright to you, their breathing tends to get heavier?

Behavioral expert Dr. Lillian Glass and the author of The Body Language of Liars, says that when someone is lying to you, they may begin to breathe more heavily. 

“It’s a reflex action,” she says. “When their breathing changes, their shoulders will rise and their voice may get shallow.”

Dr. Glass says in essence, they are out of breath because their heart rate and blood flow change.

“Your body experiences these types of changes when you’re nervous and feeling tense—when you lie.”

3) They really, really repeated words and phrases 

There are a number of reasons why liars repeat their words.

“First, they will repeat a lie over and over in order to solidify the ‘facts’ in their mind, so they can stick to their stories,” says the team at FIOH-NGO

They’re also attempting to convince you that they’re telling the truth by solidifying their words in your mind. 

It’s because they’re trying to convince you—and themselves—of something, adds Glass.

“They’re trying to validate the lie in their mind.”

They might say something like: “I didn’t…I didn’t” over and over again, says Glass. 

4) They end the lie on a high note—literally 

A study by ResearchGate on human behavior found that the participants’ voice pitch increased when they lied.

“Participants who believed that pitch increases during deception, produced significantly higher pitch in their lying compared to their truthful utterance,” says the authors. 

When a person ends their sentences on a high note as if they’re asking a question, this usually means that they’re not that confident about what they’re saying, says behavioral expert Vanessa Van Edwards. She’s also the head researcher at human behavior research lab, Science of People

“This should give you reason to doubt them,” she says. “Liars often accidentally do this because they’re subconsciously asking, ‘Do you believe me?’”

Not anymore we don’t. 

5) They say “yes” and “no” at the same time 

If a person says yes but shakes their head no, this could be an indication that they’re not telling the truth, says Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical psychologist at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. 

This is referred to as “non-congruent gestures.” 

“Non-congruent gestures are movements in the body that don’t match the words a person says,” says Dr. Hendriksen. 

It’s the gestures that are the truth-tellers. 

For example if someone says, “Of course I’ll cooperate with the investigation,” but they give a small head shake, then there is a possibility that they will not “tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

Lies will likely pop up in clusters of three’s

It’s important never to take a single red flag as a side sign of lying, says Van Edwards. 

“Most liars leak more than one lying cue in a matter of minutes or even seconds. This is called a cluster.”

Van Edwards says that to more accurately decipher if someone is lying, to look for a cluster of three red flags. 

So by going from our examples, a person might blink rapidly, shuffle their feet, and repeat what they’re saying—all in seconds. 

Van Edwards believes it’s always better to assume that people are telling the truth, but there is a way to protect yourself from the liars out there and that is to take note of the baseline of the most important people you engage with. 

How do they act, sound, and behave when telling the truth? 

“Any red flags or deviations from this behavior can be an early sign that a topic needs further investigation.”

Picture of Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has been published by The Globe & Mail, ELLE USA, ELLE Canada, British Vogue, Town & Country, and others.

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