How to Spot a Liar

We can spot a liar by seeing his facial expressions, body language, and incongruencies in a person’s words.

Liars often struggle to keep all these channels in sync.

Let’s start by analyzing the words.

Statement Structure

It means his choice of words and phrases. You should also consider other factors like fatigue, stress, hunger, that can affect how someone expresses himself.

Some of the most common statements are:

Repeating questions- When you ask a question, and someone repeats it back to you. Maybe it is trying to buy time to think about how to reply.

Q: “Did you stole the money from the desk.”
A: “Do I seem the kind of person who would steal money.”

Ignoring the question- Let’s say you ask, “What computer system you use when you are in the office.

Their reply,“ Are you interviewing all of IT, too.”

When someone ignores your question and ask a new one at the same moment a trying to find out how much do you know. Here, it may try to determine whether you have noticed something suspicious.

Offensive statements- It is an indirect way of answering. The person is trying to put you on the defensive.

Say you ask the employee:“ What exit you use when you leave the building at the end of the day.”
If she is trying to avoid the question will make a statement to put you on guilt.
“I bet you are not hounding others about their comings and goings.”

She is hoping that you will abandon the question while defending yourself. Don’t take the bait.

Protest Statements- When someone will use a statement that has nothing to do with your question.

Q: “What exit do you use when you leave the building?”
A: “It depends on the day. Look, I’m a mother, I go to church. I don’t understand why you’re talking to me like a criminal!”

Try to ask open-ended questions to collect facts, and yes/no questions to assess behavior.

Emphatic phrases- Liars want to sound convincing so they will use phrases like

“I swear to God…”

“I swear to you…”

“…To be honest.” “Honestly”

“Honest to God, I didn’t do it!”

Honest people turn to their religious faith for personal support and comfort, not for proof of their honesty.

Distancing statements- No one likes to call himself a liar, fraud, or criminal. So we will perform all kinds of mental and linguistic techniques to avoid labeling ourselves as such. People who intend to lie try to avoid referring to themselves.

For example, a salesman trying to sell a used car might say: “This is a terrific model.” “It sells out all the time.”

They will avoid using the personal pronoun “I.” Instead of, “I think this is a fantastic car. It sells out of it all the time.”

Try to pay attention to general estimations.

“I usually process orders in the morning…” Ask-“Did you process all the orders on Friday?”

Euphemisms- are a form of distracting language. 

People think about the words they have to say to be more convincing.

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Direct question- “Why did you steal the money?”
An innocent person might answer quickly- “I didn’t steal anything!”

A guilty person- “I did not take anything.” Note the lack of emotion in this answer. It has replaced the word steal with taking.

Verbal leaks

Verbal leaks include inconsistent grammatical choices, “Ums” and “ahs,” and many other errors.

Slips of the tongue- It is a mistake when someone is talking and uses a different word.
In January 2003, bodies of Laci Peterson and her unborn son were found on the shore of the San Francisco Bay.

Two months before, Diane Sawyer interviewed Lacis husband, Scott, on Good Morning America.

Sawyer asked Scott, “What kind of marriage was it?” He replied, “God, it was glorious. We took care of each other. She was amazing. She is amazing.”

His use of past tense suggests that he already knew she was dead.

In November 2004, the trial convicted Scott of the murder of his wife.

Specific Denials- People who are telling the truth offer categorical denials of doing something wrong.
“I’ve been in business for thirty years, and I’ve never cheated anyone. We don’t do backroom deals, and we don’t intend to start now.”

Liars often prefer to be much more specific: “I did not try to cheat you,” “We are not negotiating with United Motors.”

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Unskillfulness in speaking- During our communication we make sounds, sighs, and pauses that color and interrupt our normal talking.

When people know what to say and are confident about it, they express themselves straightforwardly.

“I came home last night around ten-thirty.”
“No, I’ve never met her before.”
“What do you want to know?”

People stressed out trying to slow down and gain more time to think about what they will say. They try to fill the pauses with sound.

“Uh, I came home last night around ten-thirty.”
“No”—short laugh—“I’ve never met her before.”
The speaker clears her throat: “What do you want to know?”

You should consider that when someone is being questioned makes him more nervous.

Not using the pronouns- Pronouns give us responsibility, and we tend not to use it when we are lying.

“Got up this morning. Went out for a run, then took a shower and changed. Got to work and went straight to the meeting.

Another way someone might distance himself through language is by replacing the pronoun I with you.
“You just don’t cheat,”

Analyze the story

How someone narrates his story will give you a clue for its truthfulness.

When we are telling a true story, we tend to dramatize the event that has caused us more strong emotions.

Also, we tend to tell a real story in less chronologic order. The reason is that our brain organizes the memories more according to the emotions and less the time they happen.

Truthful stories have three stages- prologue, main event, epilogue.

Someone telling the truth will begin the story from the main event, with the real cause of why he did a particular action. This part of the story will have fewer details, and it will take less time to tell.

In a lie, the prologue might be detailed and often may contain lots of truthful elements such as time and space. The liar feels more comfortable in this safe zone- after all, he is not lying yet.

When the person is telling the truth, the main event is usually the longest part. In a false story, the main event is short.

An honest storyteller will usually provide an epilogue. Ninety percent of the time, a liars story will not include an epilogue, he will only conclude with the main event.

An end would require him to express the way the event affected him. Of course, it didn’t affect him all, because it didn’t happen.

Make the liar retell the story

Force him to jump around in his story.

Since there are no facts to anchor the sequence of events, liars will spend a lot of mental energy making sure the details of their story will follow a logical pattern.

Real stories rarely make perfect sense. The person won’t worry too much about making sure all the details line up correctly.

Now, lets learn how to understand their lies by reading their face.

7 Basic emotions

It is important to know basic sincere feelings so we can make the difference between them and lies.

#1 Fear – When we feel fear, our eyebrows shoot up, and our eyes are more open. Our jaw drops open lips stretch horizontally, and we pull our chin back.

Image source
Image source

#2 Sadness – Corners of our lips pull down, we raise our cheeks in a near squint, and upper eyelids droop. Some researchers say that a sad face is the lower intensity version of the crying face.

#3 Happiness – We show happiness with a genuine smile, where both checks are in symmetry. It causes involuntary movements of the muscles around the eyes and narrowed eyelids.

Image from Nico Borie

#4 Surprise – Our eyebrows rise, eyelids widen, and our mouth drops down.

Image Tobias Scheck

#5 Anger –Eyebrows down, lips narrowed and pulled in tight.

Image source

#6 Contempt – Asymmetric face, one lip corner pulled back and in.

#7 Disgust – We show disgust by scrunching up the nose and raising our cheeks and upper lip.

Image Nicolas Connault

Some people may have skills in manipulating their facial muscles than others, but no one can control the face entirely. 

The reason is that brain areas like the amygdala and prefrontal cortex process emotions making challenging to control.

When we feel an emotion, our brain sends a message to our face so that we can show that feeling.

The process happens so fast that often our facial expressions show what we feel even before we’re conscious of the feeling.


Micro-expressions are involuntary expressions that can flash in the face in 0.25 seconds. They show the real underlying emotions someone wants to express.

Hidden expressions

Hidden expressions involve the signaling of multiple emotions, and they performed on purpose. 

Sometimes we try to cover what we are genuinely feeling with a smile.

A smile is the most natural voluntary facial expression a human can make and is often used to camouflage feelings.

We learn to use fake smiles since we are babies. Studies have shown that 10-month babies will give a false smile when they see a stranger. But, they will give a sincere smile when they look at their mother.

Muscle patterns

Some muscles you may control easily are eyebrows or muscles that govern lip corners and lower cheeks.

The muscle that you cannot control is orbicularis oculi. It is the muscle that narrows the eyelids.

The rule is only genuine happiness will produce genuine smiles.

If you doubt if someone is really sad or not, look at the chin muscles. Only 10% of people can pull down the corners of their lips without letting their chin muscles move.

Blink rates

Some people say that when someone is lying, they will not look you in the eyes. The average level of eye contact is 30-60%, so this is not true. Good liars often stare at the other person’s eyes.

Blink rates are a more useful indicator than eye contact. When people tell a lie will often blink more than they do when they are telling the truth.

Pupil dilation

A large dilated pupil indicates that the person is experiencing intense emotion. Since no one can control the size of the pupils, it is possible that may be feeling fear or other emotions.

Asymmetrical expressions

Genuine emotions except for contempt, are presented in the face in symmetry. When we express a feeling that we don’t feel, we tend to override our natural movements of muscles.

Asymmetrical expressions are easy to spot.


To spot a lie, we should use intuition and realize how someone behaves when is telling the truth or lying.

The Northwestern University study showed that even when people did not realize they had seen a micro-expression. Their brain activity was affected by its fleeting appearance on someone’s face.

Just because we consciously recognize a micro-expression doesn’t mean we don’t respond.

Trust yourself! Lie detection and intuition have a reciprocal relationship. Most of our decisions, both large and small, are informed by intuition.

The image is from pixabay

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