When it comes to detecting lies, people often focus on body language “tells,” or subtle physical and behavioral signs that reveal deception. Some of the standard suggestions are that shifty eyes, constant fidgeting, and avoiding eye contact are sure-fire signs that the speaker is not telling the truth.
While body language cues can offer clues to deceptions, research suggests that many of the most expected behaviors are not strongly associated with lying.
Researcher Howard Ehrlichman, a psychologist who has been studying eye movements since the 1970s, has found that eye movements do not signify lying at all. In fact, he suggests that shifting eyes mean that a person is thinking, or more precisely, that he or she is accessing their long-term memory.
Other studies have shown that while individual signals and behaviors are useful indicators of deception, some of the ones most often linked to lying (such as eye movements) are among the worst predictors. So while body language can be a useful tool in the detection of lies, the key is to understand which signals to pay attention to.
Body Language Cues Are Often Weak
Research has also shown that people do tend to pay attention to many of the correct behavioral cues associated with deception. A 2001 meta-analysis by researchers Hartwig and Bond found that while people do rely on valid cues for detecting lies, the problem might lie with the weakness of these cues as deception indicators in the first place.
Some of the most accurate deception cues that people do pay attention to including:
- Being vague: If the speaker seems to intentionally leave out important details, it might be because they are lying.
- Vocal uncertainty: If the person seems unsure or insecure, they are more likely to be perceived as lying.
- Indifference: Shrugging, lack of expression, and a bored posture can be signs of lying since the person is trying avoid conveying emotions and possible tells.
- Overthinking: If the individual seems to be thinking too hard to fill in the details of the story, it might be because they are deceiving you.
The lesson here is that while body language may be helpful, it is important to pay attention to the right signals. Experts suggest that relying too heavily on such signals may impair the ability to detect lies. Next, learn more about a more active approach to figuring out if someone is telling the truth.
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