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How Adept Are People At Uncovering Lies

Author: Elaine Guo

Editors: Junyu Zheng and Eric Lin

Artist: Becky Li

Many people believe that detecting when someone is lying is easy, though in reality, it is difficult to spot liars. While we look for common gestures as a way to detect lies, typical signs of deception aren’t as accurate as they seem. Still, we observe their behavior. Individuals might exhibit changes in behavior, such as fluctuations in eye contact. People also observe facial expressions, voice tone, posture, gaze, and proximity. These can lead to misconceptions, such as the ones that only guilty people would appear nervous or that people often believe that liars perform the same type of behavior each time. 

However, not all liars exhibit the same behavior. They can respond differently in the same situations. People’s minds are all different and unique in their own ways, so not all techniques are effective in certain conditions or specific people. There is no possible way to tell if someone is lying, as there happens to be a wide range of physical and verbal behaviors. Some behaviors include laughing and smiling, moving hands and fingers, self-touching, stuttering, etc. Every person behaves differently. Two significant factors in lying are concealment and falsification. 

Concealment is when a liar avoids answering the questions or leaves out specific information. They often do this because it is harder for the person to validate the information without evidence. The liar can make many excuses, saying their memory is faulty or they're just ignorant. Another related method is falsification, the act of giving false information. It goes the same way as concealment, just that the main goal is to make someone look in a different way or direction by lying or giving out untrue information. The interrogator may get distracted from the truth and won’t suspect anything.

The only time someone has a higher chance of detecting lies is with family members or someone they personally know. Parents can often tell when their child is lying because they observe their behavior on a regular basis. Any change in your normal behavior could cause your parents to find it odd, even if it doesn’t mean much without any context. They can feel when something is “weird” or not right because they understand you well. 

A cognitive approach is a way people use to detect lies. Remembering memories or recalling details can help you have some leverage. If you know the truth, it becomes more difficult for the person to come up with a lie. Encourage the person to share more information or repeat it. Information given by liars is usually inconsistent and constantly changing, as they wouldn’t think anyone would remember specific details. The most important part is to ask unanticipated questions. Truth-tellers may answer questions quickly and possibly add extra information, while liars could hesitate to answer questions. Since liars may also prepare themselves for interrogation or interview by going through anticipated questions in their heads beforehand, asking them unanticipated questions puts them on the spot, where their answers could be inconsistent or strange. According to select studies, this cognitive approach had a 60% accuracy rate.

 

Citations:

Gordon, Whitson. “How to Detect When Someone’s Lying (and Get Them to Tell the

Truth).” Lifehacker, 13 Nov. 2012,         

How to Detect Lies | Psychology Today, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-new-

home/202104/how-detect-lies. Accessed 28 Jan. 2024. 

The Psychology of Deception: Asking Questions to Spot Liars, 

www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/forensic-insights/202101/the-psychology-

deception-asking-questions-spot-liars. Accessed 28 Jan. 2024. 

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