Whether you interview people as part of your job, are a parent, a poker player or dating on-line, people are interested in being able to tell when someone is lying to them. Spotting lies is part art and part science, and for professionals, whether in law enforcement or the private sector, it takes years of study and experience to be confident in their trade. There are several traits that professionals, scientists and educators consider universal—some may be obvious, some may be new to you, but all are valuable if you want to dabble in the psychiatry of lying.
There are really two ways to lie: by falsifying or by concealing. If a person were to choose which method, they would most likely opt for concealment. Why? Because concealing is easier than falsifying; it’s more of the ‘passive’ way of deceiving. In concealment, a liar withholds information without saying anything untrue. In concealing the truth, one doesn’t have to create a false story or series of events that later must be keep straight or possibly have to be retold several times to suspecting persons, authorities or a spouse. Plus, human nature assumes that people will be more forgiving when the truth does come out; since that person didn’t tell an outright lie (they just omitted some details, right?). Well it’s all in the perception, but they are still both methods to deceive.
As an overview for Part 1 of this series, there are general consistencies in traits of both deceptive and truthful people; starting here will provide some basics. The following responses or reactions to different circumstances may also surprise you.
| ||Deceptive Responses||Truthful Responses|
|Story Telling or Explanation of Facts|
Story develops/changes over time
Story is consistent
Gestures and Expressions (smiles, shrugs, etc.)
Expressions are even on both sides
Posture is guarded (For example: crossed arms)
Posture is open and relaxed
Non-contracted (I did NOT)
Contracted (I didn't)
Attitude toward accusations
Defensive/vague denial (if guilty)
Offensive/anger (if innocent)
Responses are general and estimated
Responses are direct and precise
Reaction to tough questions
Repeats question—to stall/think up an answer
Distancing (People think..., This guy said...)
Owning (I think..., George said...)
Verbal and non-verbal communication, the statements and the body language, the slips of the tongue and facial micro-expressions, things you can and can’t control—your own words and body sometimes don’t even believe you!
The psychology of lying is a fascinating subject and will undoubtedly now raise your self-awareness when answering questions or being interviewed and lead yourself to think about how you’ve reacted in your own past experiences, both in circumstances where you were truthful and maybe a few where you weren’t so much.
For a more immediate crash course on deception—with the unavoidable television embellishments of office drama and way-cool technology that doesn’t exist—binge-watch the series “Lie to Me” on Netflix. You can also eagerly anticipate Part 2 of this topic, as it relates to business dealings—if you can believe it.
Author: Richard C. Gordon, CPA/ABV/CFF, CFE, CGMA, Director of Forensic and Valuation Services