Skip to content

The Secret Trick for Catching a Liar Every Time, Say Psychologists

Successfully spotting deceptions requires you to make the liar try to lie more.

If you ask top psychologists, they'll tell you that the usual things you hear for spotting a liar in action—body language "dead giveaways" such as fidgeting and poor eye contact and foot tapping—don't actually work. "The cues that people normally rely on are based on wives' tales or social stereotypes—that liars tend to avoid your gaze, or they tend to act nervous or they tell stories that are very abstract with few details," Matthew McGlone, Ph.D, a communications professor and expert in deception at the University of Texas, once explained Vice.

The truth is, the science of lying as a human behavior is far more complex than most of us realize, and the reasons behind any casual—or less casual—deceptions we may enter into the world are myriad. According to the calculations of a study conducted by the University of Massachusetts Amherst, roughly 60% of all people will usually tell upwards of three lies over the course of a 10-minute, everyday conversation.

The lies may not be of an insidious nature. People lie for a number of reasons, which run the gamut from avoiding awkwardness to embarrassing situations to even confrontations or some form of punishment. For a glimpse of just how irrational our daily deceptions can be, know that a 2018 study published in JAMA Network Open found that 81% of participants in a survey group said they lie to their doctors.

"Most people want their doctor to think highly of them," Angela Fagerlin, Ph.D, a senior author of that study and a professor at the University of Utah, described of the study. "They're worried about being pigeonholed as someone who doesn't make good decisions."

That being said, if you'd like to spot a liar in the act (for whatever reason), a fascinating new article in Huffpo UK reveals how you actually can. Read on for how to do it, and why you should always reserve your judgment when it comes to the liars in your life. (After all, the science shows that you lie, as well.) And for more on the crazy science of your mind, see why This Is the One Thing You Should Think About When You're Stressed Out, Says Science.

You Can Actually Spot a Liar

Couple talking in waiting room

"There are ways to approach a possible liar that will elicit the truth, and there are ways to think about lying that will inform your view," Pamela Meyer, founder and CEO of a company called Calibrate that specializes in deception detection, explained to Huffpo UK. The best way to do it is to make them think harder.

How to Spot a Liar

couple having coffee together at the coffee shop

According to Huffpo UK, consciously lying is actually harder for people than telling the truth. It requires more brain power and cognitive energy. "You can use that to your advantage," the article instructs.

So if you think someone is lying to your face, make them think harder by increasing their "cognitive load."

"When you are trying to think what to say, act composed, appear spontaneous, the load on your cognitive system is high," Meyer describes to Huffpo. "It's as if many wheels are already turning in your head as you try to process in real time how to present yourself and what to say."

So if someone tells what you think is a bogus story, you can ask them to tell it again in a different order.

Use Phrases Like These

Two male friends drinking coffee and chatting in outdoor cafe.

As a noted psychologist explained to The New York Times, you should ask them vague and open-ended questions that will trip them up by requiring them to pack on additional details. In effect, you're asking the liar to lie more, and the truth is, that is incredibly difficult. So your follow-up responses should include things such as "speak a bit more about that, please," and "could you elaborate on what happened here."

But Remember: You Should Reserve Your Judgment

two women talking in kitchen

Again, the reason why we lie aren't always clear, and it's not always an act of controlling and insidious deception. "We misunderstand motivation for lying and often judge liars too harshly," Meyer told HuffPost UK. "The word 'liar' is a trigger for finger-pointing and moral superiority. Lying, however, is part of the human experience." And for more on the psychology of the human experience, make sure you're aware of What Being Stressed Out Every Day Does to Your Body.


William Mayle
William Mayle is a UK-based writer who specializes in science, health, fitness, and other lifestyle topics. Read more about William
Filed Under