15 Guidelines for identifying lies and deception

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26 Aug 2012

It is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the truth and a creative lie. Luckily there are some signs that could help prevent you from being deceived.

Detecting deception could be one of the most telling tools in a business executive’s business armory.

Naticia Chetty, a forensics white collar crime associate, says detecting deception often baffles the most experienced police officers, judges, security experts and other forensic professionals. “Business executives are not exempt.”

Fortunately, Chetty says, psychologists have been cataloging clues to deception, such as facial expressions, body language and linguistics to help identify the dishonest. She highlights 15 possible divergences to suggest that a subject may not be telling the truth:

1. Deflections

Often when people are lying, they will make statements that are true but are deliberately aimed at not answering the question asked. For example, if a person is asked whether he ever physically abused his wife and he responds: “I love my wife, why would I do that?” He is technically telling a truth, but is avoiding answering the original question.

2. Take note of the behavior of other body parts; physical expression

Take cognizance of the suspect’s hand, arm and leg movements, which tend to be limited and stiff. Humans tend to keep their bodies very still in moments of distress.

3. Micro-expressions

These are facial expressions that flash on a person’s face for a fraction of a second and reveal his/her true emotion underneath the pretense he/she is trying to create. These expressions are involuntary and betray a liar. Usually micro-expressions are quick and intense, involuntary facial muscle expressions of concealed emotion.

4. Perspiration

People tend to perspire more when they lie. However, some may perspire because of nervousness or shyness and a person perspiring is not always a reliable indication of deception.

5. Exaggeration of details

Often, a suspect who reveals too much information may indicate desperation to be believed as telling the truth. For example, a suspect who responds as follows, “Yes, my sister is living in America, isn’t it nice there? Don’t you like New York? I believe they have a low crime rate” is exaggerating the information through which he or she is responding.

6. Eye movements

Contrary to popular belief, a liar does not always avoid eye contact. Humans naturally break eye contact and look at non-moving objects to help them focus and remember. There are a number of reasons why a person could be avoiding eye contact, for example, something behind you caught their attention, they are embarrassed or for instance some cultures believe that looking someone in the eye is a sign of disrespect. You can usually tell if a person is remembering something or making something up based on their eye movements. When someone is remembering details, their eyes move to the right (your right). The eyes of someone making something up move to the left.

7. Timing of response

Timing and duration tends to be off when someone is lying. If you ask a question and the response is immediate, there is a chance that the person is lying, because he/she has rehearsed the answer, or wishes to get it over with and move forward. Timing can also be off between emotions and words. For example, if someone says “I love it!” when receiving a gift, and smiles then rather than at the same time the statement is made, he/she may be untruthful.

8. Emotional responses

Those not telling the truth often feel uncomfortable and turn their head or body away. Also, while an innocent person would go on the offensive (usually responding with anger, which will usually be revealed in a micro-expression directly after you say you do not believe them), a guilty person will often go immediately on the defensive (usually by saying something to emphasise facts, such as deflections).

9. Word usage

Verbal expression can indicate whether a person is lying. For example, if a person speaks excessively in an effort to convince or pauses at unusual times deception is indicated.

10. Change of subject

If the subject is changed suddenly, an innocent person would be confused by the shift in conversation and may try to return to the previous subject; one not telling the truth will be relieved and will welcome the change.

11. Throat movements

A person may constantly be trying to lubricate his/her throat when he/she lies by swallowing or clearing their throat to relieve the tension that is building up.

12. Repetition of sentences

If the suspect repeats the exact same words over and over, then it is probably and indication of a lie. A liar often tries to remember a certain phrase or sentence that he has memorized and which sounds convincing.

13. Fewer first-person pronouns and exclusionary words

Liars avoid statements of ownership, distance themselves from their stories and avoid taking responsibility for their behaviour. Liars often avoid using words such as “except”, “but” or “nor”. These words usually indicate a distinction from what was done and not done. Liars seem to have a problem with this complexity, and it shows in their writing.

14. Objects

A liar might unconsciously place objects such as a book or coffee cup between himself/herself and you.

15. Palms

Palms facing upwards is a gesture used when one wants you to believe what he/she is saying – a gesture reminiscent of supplication in prayer.

Chetty emphasises that detecting deception is an inexact science.

  • “There are no signs of lying per se, but rather signs of over thinking when a reply should not require thought, or of emotions that do not correspond with that which is being spoken.
  • “The behaviour patterns I have outlined should be compared to a person’s base (normal) behaviour whenever possible.
  • “In an ideal world there would be no lies. However, without the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny the world would be a much duller place. Be that as it may, it is in society’s interest to protect itself from seasoned liars who display identifiable characteristics.
  • “Practice human lie detection. Practice makes perfect and could save you from being a victim.”

Some famous liars who were caught out

Bill Clinton:

Bill Clinton: The 42nd President of the United States lied under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky and subsequently, in 1998, became the second president in United States history (the first was Andrew Johnson) to be impeached by the House of Representatives.

Richard Nixon:

The 37th President of the United States. After it came to light that he had been involved in illegal activities, including wiretapping and harassment of political opponents in the Watergate scandal, Nixon lied and tried to cover up the misdeeds. The truth eventually came to light and he resigned before he could be impeached. Nixon is well-known for uttering the words “I am not a crook”.

Baron Münchhausen:

A German baron who served in the military and returned home with tall tales about his adventures. He reportedly told people that he had travelled to the moon, ridden cannonballs, and escaped from a swamp by pulling himself out by his own hair. His supposed adventures became the subject of many books. Over the years, the tales of Munchausen have become popular adventure stories told to children. In 1998, filmmaker Terry Gilliam adapted some of the stories into a movie called The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Two psychological disorders are named after him. Munchausen syndrome is a disorder in which someone feigns illness in order to get attention. Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a disorder in which a caregiver (usually the mother) fakes or induces illness in his or her child or in another person in his or her care in order to gain attention and sympathy.

Bernie Madoff:

Is the admitted operator of a ponzi scheme that is considered to be the largest financial fraud in the history of the United States.

Konrad Kujau:

After years of forging Nazi memorabilia, Kujau started producing handwritten books he claimed were Hitler’s personal diaries. He sold 62 volumes to a German journalist for millions of deutsche marks before being caught and sentenced to four and a half years in prison.

Charles Ponzi:

Ponzi raised millions from small-time investors (after World War One) on the hopes of huge returns from a fishy international postage exchange, paving the way for predatory scammers for decades to come.

Where and when did lying originate?

For centuries people have been taught that in the very beginning of earth’s history, Satan, while in the form of a serpent, told the first lie to Eve (the first women to have been created).

He told her that if she disobeyed the command of God not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, she would “not surely die,” even though God had expressly warned her that she would surely die if she ate from the Tree.

In 2009, Warner Brothers bravely deviated from this traditional teaching by releasing the movie entitled “The Invention of Lying”. The film takes place in a world in which there is no such thing as lying and everything said is the absolute truth. In this world, people make blunt, often cruel statements, including those that people would normally keep to themselves.

The main character, Mark Bellison (played by Ricky Gervais), is an unsuccessful lecture-film writer who is assigned to write about the 1300s, which, according to him, is a “very boring” era. Shortly after this assignment, Mark finds himself unemployed.

As a result, his landlord evicts him for not paying his rent. Depressed, he goes to the bank to close his account. The teller informs him that the computers are not functioning properly and asks him how much money he has in his account. Mark then has an epiphany and tells the world’s first lie – that he has $800 in his account. The computer comes back online and shows his balance is $300. But the teller gives him the full $800 anyway, assuming that the computer made a mistake. Thus the first ever lie was told.

(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)

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