How to Detect a Liar

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how to detect a liar

How many times have you doubted that someone was telling truth to you? Knowing if your conversation partner is sincere can be very useful in various life situations, especially when it comes to making decisions. Or to see if the person we are going to choose as a collaborator, employee or nanny is telling us the truth about him/herself. It is very important to know if a partner, a friend or a co-worker is sincere or lying. In this article, we suggest 6 guidelines on how to detect a liar. We will see why people lie, what are pathological liars and the attitudes of a liar.

Understanding why we lie

We all tell lies from time to time, and for various reasons; including to avoid hurting someone's feelings or to try to get out of an embarrassing situation. Knowing what the motivations are for the different types of lies helps us figure out when a person is lying.

First and foremost, we must be careful not to confuse lies told in certain circumstances when they are necessary with lies told in all situations, even when they really serve no purpose.

One of the causes may be mythomania, the tendency to tell lies systematically and pathologically, but not all those who betray are pathological liars, otherwise the world would be full of sick people. The variety of lies and types of lies is very wide, but let's look at some examples of possible motivations. If you're wondering “why is he/she lying to me?”, here are the most likely answers:

  • Not to offend the sensibilities of others.
  • To respect children's fantasies.
  • To avoid hurting your partner.
  • To improve their image.
  • For shyness.
  • To exonerate oneself and avoid punishment.
  • To defend privacy.

Observe facial expression

The traces of lie are reflected on the face. The proof that a feeling expressed by the face is really authentic can also be had by evaluating the coherence between all the signs of facial expression (eyes, nose, mouth, etc.) and the coherence with the involuntary gestures made by other parts of the body (hands, arms and legs) to check whether they are congruent with each other or not. The most sincere gestures are those that cannot be controlled and are made inadvertently. Some examples are:

  • Avoiding the gaze
  • Eyes lowering or darting
  • Eyes looking away
  • Blinking
  • Sudden head movement
  • Breathing heavily
  • Throat clearing or swallowing
  • Hiding lips

Be aware of the typical phrases of lies

Lying communication is recognizable. Indeed, the liar is laconic, reticent; their statements are often lapidary and schematic, but excessively peremptory. The sentences are most of the time trunks with rising and falling tones. The liar assumes clear and precise positions, punctuates with energy, so that the language and tone of voice reinforce the weakness of what he/she asserts. The most typical phrases of liars are:

  • “I would never lie…”. In general, those who overreact and curl into overly rigid positions have something to hide.
  • They defend themselves with accusations. The liar speaks little, does not become unbalanced, but takes firm positions against the conversation partner with an excess of emphasis.
  • He/she does not ask logical questions. As much as the liar can skillfully answer, manipulate and deflect you, he/she will not have enough energy to ask credible questions during his/her play.
  • “The truth is…”. If the intention to tell the truth is stated and emphasized, there is reason to suspect that the truth-teller does not mean it.
  • Using false scruples. Beware when someone says “I don't want to tell you this, but…” and meanwhile says, or “I don't want to hurt you, but…” and does. Their real purpose is to say it, but without suffering the consequences.
  • The habitual liar is more controlled. People who habitually lie usually speak very fast and in a rather high-pitched tone; those who tell sporadic and occasional lies feel more uncomfortable, and prefer to lie quietly; the unprepared liar, on the other hand, speaks slowly because he searches for the right words.
  • He/she refuses to answer questions. In some cases, it may be a way to avoid answering by using phrases such as “I don't think I'm in the position to talk about it.”
  • Just repeats the question. Silence in response to a question is often universally perceived as a sign of lying; so to avoid these assumptions liars repeat the question to give themselves time to think.
  • He makes unanswered statements. The psychology underlying this behavior is the same as above: avoid awkward silence.
  • Gives very detailed answers. People who lie often give answers rich in detail in two ways: by answering too technically or too slowly.

Ask in detail

Professor Edward Geiselman based his career on studying these lying behaviors, suggesting some techniques to unmask them that go beyond observing their behavior during an interrogation. Let's look at the questions to catch a liar:

  • Ask the person in front of you to tell you their story backwards. Start at the end and take him/her on an exciting journey to uncover possible leaks. Ask to be as complete, thorough and detailed as possible. This increases the cognitive load that will push the person over the edge with the result of uncovering a lie in seconds.
  • Start with an open-ended question and go into detail. Ask open-ended, generic questions at first that do not involve a clear “yes and no” as an answer and then press him or her with more specific questions but always with the goal of getting him or her to talk as much as possible.
  • Don't interrupt the speech. Let him talk and focus on his/her pauses of silence to encourage him/her to keep going.

Recognizing a pathological liar

To lie means to alter the truth, to affirm what is false with full awareness and with the intention to deceive. Lying is a behavior that everyone may practice from time to time for different reasons, but sometimes lying can also indicate a pathology. People who lie pathologically recognize themselves in the intimate, in the real. But they lose their identity in the virtual world, for example, when exchanging messages (chat or sms).

They are people who lie about everything, not only about things related to relationships: they lie about things about their family, they invent serious illnesses or deaths of relatives, stories of actions they have performed that are worthy of great praise, other identities, other marital statuses, etc. A pathological liar is manipulative, egocentric, narcissistic and not at all empathetic with respect to the psychological dimension of other people; he/she is a scriptwriter of stories in the confines of reality.

Know the background

Can a liar change? Like any other behavior that offers comfort and escape from stress, lying can create addiction (as much as drugs, alcohol, etc.) and is therefore a difficult behavior to eradicate.

To complicate the situation further, it can be added that often the picture of pathological lying is accompanied by a more pervasive personality disorder like narcissistic personality disorder or the borderline personality disorder.

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