Brain and Body

7 Science-Backed Tips to Tell if Someone is Lying to You

January 28, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Pinocchio, the lying puppet
Photo credit: Tony Rammaricati/flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

Trained federal agents and behavioral analysts let you in on their secrets.

Anyone who claims to be a good liar probably isn’t really that good of a liar. Afterall, wouldn’t they be insisting that they always tell the truth? Unfortunately, even when it’s someone you know well, it can be difficult to tell when someone is being genuine or totally deceitful.

Luckily, there are some lying experts out there: Dr. Leanne ten Brinke, a forensic psychologist at at the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Lillian Glass, a behavioral analyst and body language expert who has worked with the FBI on detecting deceptive signals, J.J. Newberry, a federal agent trained in the art of lie detection, and Jenn Berman, a doctorate psychologist in private practice.

According to their research and experiences, here’s what to look for:

1. A change in breathing  

When someone lies, a change in breathing can be a typical reflex action, according to Glass. When breathing changes, the individual’s shoulders may also rise.

“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,” Glass told Business Insider.

2. Ask a completely unexpected question

If someone plans to lie about something, he or she has likely thought about all of the typical inquiries that might be thrown at them. Pay attention to the individual’s body language, and if something seems off, think of hitting them with a question that they definitely wouldn’t be expecting.

"Watch them carefully," Newberry told WebMD. "And then when they don't expect it, ask them one question that they are not prepared to answer to trip them up."

SEE ALSO: Researchers Build Software That’s More Accurate at Detecting Lies than Humans

3. Too much detail

When someone is giving you extra flowery descriptions, that might be a dead giveaway that the overly elaborate details are actually trying to cover up a lie.

"When you say to someone, 'Oh, where were you?' and they say, 'I went to the store and I needed to get eggs and milk and sugar and I almost hit a dog so I had to go slow,' and on and on, they're giving you too much detail," Berman told WebMD.

Too much unnecessary detail could signify that the individual has already put a lot of thought into how he or she will try to make a lie sound as convincing as possible.

4. The repetition of certain words or phrases

By repeating certain words or phrases during an explanation, for instance, “I didn’t… I didn’t,” people are able to buy themselves time to think of more believable excuses, according to Glass. Plus, they may be trying to validate the lie in their own heads — it’s said that if people lie enough, sometimes they may even begin to believe their own lies.

5. Pay attention to their feet

Interestingly, experts say that one of the telltale signs that someone is lying is shuffling feet — it indicates that the potential liar is uncomfortable and nervous, and that he or she wants to leave the situation.

"This is the body taking over," Glass explains. "This is one of the key ways to detect a liar. Just look at their feet and you can tell a lot."

6. Staring without blinking

If someone’s staring at you without blinking (which sounds highly uncomfortable), it could indicate that he or she is fixated on not breaking eye-contact, which is one of the common signs. Experts say that it takes a more skilled liar to pull of the no-blinking scheme, but it could be a more well calculated attempt to manipulate or mislead.

"[Bernie] Madoff, like most con men, overcompensated and stared at people longer than usual, often without blinking at regular intervals," says Glass. "When people tell the truth, most will occasionally shift their eyes around and may even look away from time to time. Liars, on the other hand, will use a cold, steady gaze to intimidate and control."

7. Getting defensive

Experts say that it’s common for liars to get defensive during an argument. They’ll often try to turn the blame on you, saying things like “Whatever, if you want to believe I could do something like that…” Glass says that liars will also often physically point a finger at you, showing frustration that you’re questioning his or her lie.

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