Everyone lies. Rather, everyone is capable of doing it. In fact, Scientific American deemed lying to be “among the most sophisticated and demanding accomplishments of the human brain.” While lying can be hard to pin down, some studies show that, on average, we’re lied to at least 10 times per day, ranging from tiny fibs to white lies to full on deceptions. A recent — albeit small — survey found that people, on average, tell about four lies per day. It also showed that more than 50% of respondents felt confident at their ability to tell when someone was lying, citing body language as one of the giveaways.
“Body language is so telling because it is a subconscious response to our thoughts,” says Alison Henderson, a body language expert and a certified Movement Pattern Analyst who trains executives in the art of non-verbal language. “Studies have shown that our bodies respond even before anything is spoken. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to control your body language. While we can control our speech, the body gives us away when you know what to look for.”
When it comes to someone tipping his or her hand that they’re being less than truthful, Henderson says that it’s important to consider context. For example, the classic pose of someone with their arms crossed is often seen as a sign of a person being closed off. However, it’s not always that simple.
“If you were to see the context or a video versus a photograph, you may see that the person is still nodding, smiling, and engaged,” she notes. “Usually people don’t know what to do with their hands and crossing is an easy answer. Or what is the temperature in the room? Is this person cold and has crossed arms for warmth?”
The key is, according to Henderson, to learn what people’s patterns are in terms of how they carry themselves. Subtle movements or changes in the way one carries him or herself can be an insight into what is actually going on in their heads.
“Everyone has what I call a ‘movement signature,’ says Henderson. “You know when something is wrong with your partner or your kids because they are acting differently than their norm. Parents know when their child feels guilty about something.”
So it’s about observing and noticing small deviations in standard behavior. But if you’re looking to see whether someone you know might be hiding the truth from you, these are a few telltale signs that can let you know if something is off.
1. Mouth Covering
This can be a subconscious gesture that suggests that someone is deliberately trying to suppress their words, an indicator that they know what they’re saying is dishonest. “If someone covers their lips or mouth while speaking, they are trying to cover up or hide their words because they aren’t true,” says Henderson. “It’s similar to holding an object behind your back and saying you don’t have it.”
2. Lip Biting
This is often a sign of nervousness, stress, or anxiety, all of which can be brought about by being dishonest. Henderson says that it can also be seen almost as an act of suppression. “Keeping the mouth closed and hiding the lips is an attempt to keep the truth inside and not let a lie escape,” she says. “This will often be accompanied by the eyes looking up and off to the side.”
3. Rubbing Parts of the Body
Concealing the truth from someone, especially someone that one is close to, can be a stressful, nerve-wracking experience. Because of this, people engaged in dishonesty may actually engage in self-soothing activities to try and calm themselves down. “If someone is lying, they are usually stressed and subconsciously they are trying to ‘get a grip,’” says Henderson. “You may see wringing of hands, wiping sweaty palms, stroking the throat, or rubbing the arms.”
4. Moving or Speaking Quickly
As a deceitful person works to keep up with their lies, the tone and cadence of their voice may increase, and their movements may become faster and more erratic. This is in part because of the brain going into overdrive to try and stay ahead of the truth. “If someone suddenly begins speaking and moving quite quickly, be wary,” says Henderson. “Moving quickly can be trying to divert attention from the lie. Like the magician who makes you look one place to hide the trick.
5. Not Moving at All
On the other side of the coin, a person who is not telling the truth might try and curtail their movements entirely. If someone is aware that their body language can give them away, you definitely could be trying to suppress their “tells” in hopes of not tipping their hand. “Where this goes awry is controlled movements look controlled to the trained eye and to the untrained, the person simply seems ‘off’ or inauthentic,” says Henderson. “Controlled body language leads to people being mistrusted.”
6. Eye Contact
The eyes can be a dead giveaway when it comes to spotting a liar. Some experts used to maintain that if a person shifted their eyes to the left, that meant they were telling the truth, while shifting them to the right meant that they were lying. However, that idea has since been debunked, and Henderson also maintains that eye shifting is not a good indicator of lying. Instead, see if the person is willing to look you in the eye. “If someone usually has good eye contact and suddenly won’t look you in the eye,” she says, “that is a sign to dig deeper and see if there is deceit.”