3 Ways to Tell if Someone Is Lying

Catching a liar is hard. But you won't always need a lie detector if you can master these tricks.

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How can you tell if someone is spinning the truth? People have been trying to answer that question for millenniums—the search for a way to detect a liar dates back at least to the Garden of Eden, where Satan lied to Eve about the forbidden fruit tree. Yet despite all the research scientists have conducted on lying and liars over the years, there is no surefire way of uncovering a half-truth. People often fib about fibbing, and there are no reliable telltale gestures. There are some solid strategies for exposing deceit, though, and U.S. News spoke with former FBI agent and lying expert Joe Navarro about how best to catch a liar. Here are three methods he counted on:

1. Establish a baseline. When people tell lies, they often feel some anxiety. So look out for any out-of-the-ordinary behavior like excessive sweating or nervous tics. But first, make small talk to get the person comfortable, so that you have a sense of the person's normal, baseline behavior. "We're not looking to detect deception. We're looking to detect discomfort," explains Navarro.

[We're All Lying Liars: Why People Tell Lies, and Why White Lies Can Be OK]

2. Read microexpressions. Discovered by San Francisco psychologist Paul Ekman, microexpressions are brief displays of emotion that show what people are really feeling. If someone is pretending to be calm, but he's actually angry, a microexpression of displeasure will flash across his face. These displays of emotion can hard to catch, though. They're fleeting and involve tiny facial movements such as the twitch of an eyebrow. But, says Navarro, "when they occur, they are very accurate."

[Why We Lie, or Rather, Fib]

3. Pay attention to body language. When people lie, they often feel insecure, and that emotion can express itself in their posture or in gestures such as shrugging their shoulders or folding their arms and legs into their body. Also: Look for submissive behavior like someone making a statement with their palms up as if they want to be believed. But keep in mind that all liars are different, and no clue is completely reliable. "There is no absolute indicator of deception," Navarro says. "There's no Pinocchio effect."

[Why People Tell Lies, and Why White Lies Can Be OK]