Twentieth Century philosopher Elbert Hubbard said, “I love magicians because they are honest men. They tell you they are going to fool you and then they proceed to do exactly that. But no matter what happens at the show, when you get home you will still have your watch, your pocketbook, and your appendix. And that is more than I can say for some of my non-magician acquaintances.” As someone who deceives for a living and with all of the politicians in the news lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about deception; namely lying. You could say that I lie for a living. But like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, I lie within an agreed frame for entertainment purposes. Some have no “frame” and lie for selfish gain. In an ideal society there would be no need for lies, but we live in a world of deception, and whether you want to play or not, you’re in the game. The question is, do you want to win? I thought it might be useful to share how I know whether or not someone’s telling the truth in everyday life. Who knows, it may come in handy some day.
People can develop deception detection. However, police departments usually do not provide more than a day of training for their detectives, if that, and the available research shows that you can’t improve much in just a day. There are signs of deception. Once you realize that you’re being lied to, should you confront the liar immediately? Usually not. The best approach is to note the fact in your mind and continue with the conversation, trying to extract more information. Once you confront someone who has lied to you, the tone of the conversation changes and gathering additional facts becomes difficult. Therefore, wait until you have all the evidence you want and then decide whether to confront the person at that time or hold off to figure how you can best use this insight to your advantage.
There is usually body language that gives a liar away. He or she will make little or no eye contact. A person who is lying to you will do everything to avoid making eye contact. Physical expression will be limited, with few arm and hand movements. What arm and hand movements are present will seem stiff and mechanical. Hands, arm and legs pull in toward the body; the individual takes up less space. His hand(s) may go up to his face or throat, especially to the mouth, but contact with his body is limited to these areas. He is also unlikely to touch his chest with an open hand gesture. He may also touch the nose or scratch behind the ear. If he is trying to appear casual and relaxed about his answer, he may shrug a little.
There are also emotional states associated with deception. The timing is off between gestures and words. If the facial expression comes after the verbal statement (“I am so angry with you right now” … pause … and then the angry expression), it looks false. The head moves in a mechanical fashion without regard to emphasis, indicating a conscious movement. Gestures don’t match the verbal message, such as frowning when saying “I love you.” Hands tightly clenched and a statement of pleasure are not in sync with each other. The timing and duration of emotional gestures will seem off. The emotion is delayed coming on, stays longer than it should, and fades out abruptly. Expressions will be limited to the mouth area when the person is feigning certain emotions – happiness, surprise, awe, and so on – rather than the whole face.
In deception interpersonal interactions will give signals. When we are wrongfully accused, only a guilty person gets defensive (see my blog Wrongly Accused). Someone who is innocent will usually go on the offensive. He is reluctant to face his accuser and may turn his head or shift his body away. The person who is lying will probably slouch; he is unlikely to stand tall with his arms out or outstretched. There’s movement away from his accuser, possibly in the direction of the exit. There will be little or no physical contact during his attempt to convince you. He will not point his finger at the person he is trying to convince. He may place physical objects (pillow, drinking glass, et cetera) between himself and his accuser to form a barrier, with a verbal equivalent of “I don’t want to talk about it,” indicating deception or covert intention.
There is a lack of precision of language with lying. Actual verbal content will shift. The liar will use your words to make his point. When asked, “Did you cheat on me?” The liar answers, “No, I didn’t cheat on you.” In addition, when a suspect uses a contraction – “It wasn’t me” instead of “It was not me” – statistically, there is a 60% chance he is truthful. He may stonewall, giving an impression that his mind is made up. This is often an attempt to limit your challenges to his position. If someone says right up front that he positively won’t budge, it means one thing: He knows he can be swayed. He needs to tell you this so you won’t ask, because he knows he’ll cave in. The confident person will use phrases like “I’m sorry, this is pretty much the best we can do.” Watch out for the good old Freudian slip. He depersonalizes his answer by offering his belief on the subject instead of answering directly. A liar offers abstract assurances as evidence of his innocence in a specific instance. For example: “Did you ever cheat on me?” and you hear, “You know I’m against that sort of thing. I think it morally reprehensible.” He will keep adding more information until he’s sure that he has sold you on his story. The guilty are uncomfortable with silence. He speaks to fill the gap left by the silence. He may imply an answer but never state it directly.
Implication and how something is said shows how true it is. The liar will have a deceitful response to questions regarding beliefs and attitudes take longer to think up. However, how fast does the rest of the sentence follow the initial one-word response? In truthful statements a fast no or yes is followed quickly by an explanation. If the person is being deceitful the rest of the sentence may come more slowly because he needs time to think up an explanation. Watch out for reactions that are all out of proportion to the question. The liar may repeat points that he has already made or be reluctant to use words that convey attachment and ownership or possessiveness (“that car” as opposed to “my car”). The person who is lying may leave out pronouns and speak in a monotonous and inexpressive voice. When a person is making a truthful statement, he emphasizes the pronoun as much as or more than the rest of the sentence. Words may be garbled and spoken softly, and syntax and grammar may be off. In other words, his sentences will likely be muddled rather than emphasized. Statements sound an awful lot like questions, indicating that he’s seeking reassurance. Voice, head and eyes lift at the end of their statement.
Liars have a psychological profile. We often see the world as a reflection of ourselves. If you’re being accused of something, check your accuser’s veracity. Watch out for those people who are always telling you just how corrupt the rest of the world is. Beware of those asking you if you believe him. They may respond with, “you don’t believe me, do you?” Unlike our politicians, people who tell the truth expect to be believed. I don’t “expect” to be believed when performing my magic show. After all, I’m trying to put an illusion across. When it comes to everyday life however, let us protect our “watch, wallet and appendix” from those Elbert Hubbard referred to as less than honest.