It is useful to be able to detect when someone is lying to you. It may be a student lying to the instructor, a "master" lying to students, a so called "black belt" telling about his glorious past, or an instructor lying to potential students. It may also be a person who approaches you on the street or a person who comes to your door.
Many people who lie give themselves away by their body language. This is not always the case, but it does apply to most people. Habitual liars or people with no conscience are so used to lying that they begin to believe themselves, so they may not display the gestures of a lair. However, people with some sense of integrity will unconsciously express guilt with their body movements when they lie. It is similar to the statue of the three wise monkeys who "Speak no evil," "See no evil," or "Hear no evil." Children exaggerate the movements, but as they get older, the movements become more refined, more subtle, and less obvious, but they still occur.
Five common gestures
The following five common gestures that suggest a person is lying are not infallible, but they should put you on guard.
- Mouth-Guard. This is one the few adult gestures that is as obvious as a child's gestures. The hand covers the mouth, and the thumb is pressed against the cheek. It may only be a few fingers over the mouth or it could be the entire fist. It seems that the brain is subconsciously trying to hide the lie (speak no evil). Some people try to disguise the mouth-guard by giving a fake cough. If a person covers his or her mouth while you are talking, it may indicate that he or she thinks you are lying.
- Nose-Touch. In essence, the nose-touch is a sophisticated, disguised version of the mouth-guard. It may be several light rubs below the nose or one quick, almost imperceptible touch. One explanation for the movements it that, while the hand is moving to guard the mouth, an attempt is made to be less obvious and the hand pulls away from the mouth to the nose. If the person has a real itch, he or she will normally deliberately rub or scratch the nose as opposed to a light stroke. As with the mouth-guard, the nose-touch may be used by a person who thinks you are lying.
- Eye-Rub. This gesture attempts to block the lie that a person sees (see no evil), or to avoid having to look at the face of the person to which the person is lying. Men usually rub their eyes vigorously or, if the lie is a big one, they will often look away. Women usually use a small, gentle rubbing motion just below the eye. Liars do not like to look you in the eyes when they lie, they will look away at the last moment before they lie or stare past you.
- Neck-Scratch. The index finger of the writing hand scratches just below the ear lobe; usually about five small scratches. It is probably a gesture of doubt or uncertainty, characteristic of a person who thinks, "I'm not sure I agree." It usually contradicts the verbal language, such as when a person says, "I understand how you feel" while neck scratching.
- Ear-Rub. This is the adult version of the child's hands-over-both-ears gesture (hear no evil). It includes rubbing the back of the ear, pulling on the ear lobe, or bending the ear forward over the ear canal. This last gesture signals that the person as heard enough.
- A change in the voice's pitch.
- A change in the rate of speech.
- Stalling the conversation by repetitive use of pauses and comments like "um," "ah," or "you know" or throat clearing.
- Turning his body away from you, even if just slightly.
- Suddenly being able to see the white on the top and bottom of a person's eyes, not just the sides.
- Nervous movement of feet or legs.
- Playing with clothing, such as picking lint or smoothing creases.
- Discrepancies between speech and facial or body movements, such as saying "no", but nodding head up and down.
- A liar's pupils may dilate.
- When someone's lying, you're likely to see less smiling.
- More shrugs of the shoulders.
- Excessive blinking could be a giveaway.
- Too much swallowing.
- Rubbing brows.
- Crossed arms or legs.
- Playing with hair.
- A line of perspiration on the brow when it isn't that warm.
- Saying "no" several times in a row instead of just once.
- Continual denying of accusations.
- Being extremely defensive.
- Providing more information and specifics than is necessary or was asked for.
- Inconsistencies in what is being shared.
- May place a barrier such as a desk or chair in front of self.
- Uncommon calmness.
- Unwillingness to touch spouse during conversation.
- Being hesitant.
- Slouching posture.
- Rigidity or fidgeting.
- Differing behaviors. Not acting in an usual fashion.
- Unnatural or limited arm and hand movements.
- Partial shrug.
- Lack of finger pointing.
- Unusual voice fluctuations, word choice, sentence structure.
- Lack of use of contractions. Prefers emphasizing "not" when talking.
- Lack of using many pronouns while talking.
Throughout history, the open palm has been associated with truth, honesty, allegiance, and submission, such as when the open palm is held up when giving an oath. As evidence of truth telling, look for open palm displays, liars often hide their palms. To make yourself appear more credible when talking with others, use lots of open palm gestures.
Pease, A. (1981). Signals: How to Use Body Language for Power, Success, and Love. New York, NY: Bantam Books.