Body Language 95 Liars

October 1, 2020

For the final few articles in this series on body language, I am highlighting some of the excellent content in a program entitled “Advanced Body Language” by Bill Acheson of the University of Pittsburgh.

In this article I will summarize his research on liars. First of all, Bill separates out two categories of liars: incompetent liars and competent liars. He makes some interesting distinctions.

We all wear a kind of “lie detector” every day. It exists of the way we configure our bodies. Once you know the secrets, you will be able to spot someone who is being untruthful rather easily.

His first observation is that we cannot convey trustworthiness verbally. To convince others that we are trustworthy it must come from what we do and our tone of voice. Professional interrogators listen for heightened vocal pitch as better than 90% accurate indicator of deception. Another sign is if a person touches the side of his nose when answering a question.

Incompetent Liars

Bill’s first point is that it takes a lot more mental energy to lie than to tell the truth. His research shows that when you tell the truth you actually use six centers of the brain. When you lie, you activate 14 centers of the brain, and there is so much mental activity going on that there is an automatic secretion of Adrenalin. This causes your body to move. Here are some things to give away an incompetent liar:

• Low level of eye contact – under 30%
• Looking down and shifting glance from side to side
• Dilation of the pupils
• Rapid eye flutter
•  Dry mouth – Decreased saliva leading to lip licking
• Lip biting
• Swallowing hard
• Wringing of hands
• Body moving side to side
• Face turning red or white
• May stutter or stammer

Competent liars

Rather than too little eye contact, with a competent liar you are likely to see too much. The person is actually staring at you with as much as 90% eye contact. Rather than stuttering, the competent liar sounds slick and contrived, like he has rehearsed the script to memory. Here are some of the things to look for with a competent liar:

• Significantly reduced hand gestures
• Violation of your personal space – like touching or putting an arm around you
• Acting more familiar with you than he has the right to be based on how well he knows you
• Holds one hand in the other to reduce his movements
• May put hands behind his back or in his pockets

Bill points out that we have a gut reaction to a stimulus before we deal with the stimulus logically in our brain. So, a first reaction to another person happens very quickly, perhaps in less than a second, but that gut reaction is taking in numerous signals that we process instinctively.

In the book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell calls these reactions “thin slices.” We make conclusions very quickly based on what we observe, and we protect ourselves instinctively.

Look for these behaviors when you are talking with another person. You may be able to pick out when the person is telling you the truth versus a lie by observing if there is a cluster of the above behaviors.


This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”



White Lies

May 9, 2015

young businessman in suit telling a lie with the fingers crossedI suspect there is not a soul alive that has not told a lie at some point. Even though our parents taught us to tell the truth, sooner or later we have all violated the rule.

If you have never told a lie, write to me and I will nominate you for sainthood.

The thing about lying is that it is rather easily detected by observing the person’s body language.

I recall one incident when my boss asked me if I had read a particular book. I said yes, but I really had not read it. I was pretty sure he saw through the fib. There must have been a dozen ways my body was saying “no” while my mouth was saying “yes.”

What is fascinating is the huge array of body language that is going on all of the time. It never stops, and much of the body language we send out is done unconsciously.

We see that kind of deception in children most easily. If you ask Johnny who tipped over the vase, he will shrug his shoulders indicating he does not know. If you ask “was it you,” he will say “no.” He is afraid he will be in trouble if he tells the truth.

But all parents know to watch the eyes for the truth. The mother knows instantly that Johnny not only knows who broke the vase but that it was him.

We teach our children that the bigger sin is to hide the truth than to break the vase, but only some of them learn the lesson.

It is sad that so many people in positions of authority never did learn that lesson and get caught time after time in lies or half truths.

It is so common with politicians or celebrities that we end up wondering if any of them can be trusted. I am sure some of them can be, but my first inclination is to not believe what any of them say, especially if they are accused of doing something wrong.

They might say it is a “no spin zone,” but if you believe that I have a bridge I want to sell you.

What adults need to realize is what we try to teach our children: it is better to be honest and admit the mistakes we make, because all human beings are fallible.

Lying about a misstep is easily detected because we cannot hide our subconscious body language. Next time you are tempted to tell a half-truth, remember that your credibility is on the line, and do not follow the example of many public figures who frequently embarrass themselves.