10 Physical Signs Someone Is Lying

Is your friend or man acting shifty? Here’s how to tell if they're being dishonest.

By Olivia Flint3 min read
Pexels/Lany-Jade Mondou

Certain aspects of life would be so much easier if a person’s nose would grow when they lie, just like in the fairy tale Pinocchio. Unfortunately, in the real world, the telltale signs of a liar are not so obvious. 

Although it’s a natural part of human behavior, people are surprisingly bad at detecting lies. In fact, one study found that people were only able to accurately detect lying 54% of the time in a lab setting – and a lot of this may have just been by pure chance!

Our gut instinct may be the best guidance in working out whether or not someone is telling the truth. Studies have shown that our intuitive sense helps detect lying – this is that funny feeling you get when you think someone isn’t being totally honest with you. Dr. Leanne ten Brinke discovered that the unconscious mind is much better at catching a liar, even when the conscious mind has failed. 

In her research, 72 subjects watched videos of suspects in a mock-crime interview, where some had stolen a $100 bill from a bookshelf and others were innocent. All claimed they had not taken the money, which meant that one group was lying. When asked, the subjects correctly picked the liars only 43% of the time and the truth-tellers 48% of the time. 

However, the researchers also conducted behavioral reaction time tests to examine more intuitive reactions. These results showed that the subjects were more likely to unconsciously associate deception-related words with the liars. These are words such as “untruthful,” “dishonest,” and “deceitful.” Words such as “honest” and “valid” were more often associated with the suspects who hadn’t stolen the $100 bill in the experiment. This second experiment suggested that people may have some intuitive sense, outside of conscious awareness, that detects when someone is lying.

10 Signs Someone Is Lying

Humans may be poor lie detectors, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t subtle signals we can pick up on to reveal a person’s dishonesty. Here are a few signs to keep in mind!

Nose Touching

As mentioned previously, a person’s nose does not grow when they lie; however, researchers have found that the nose does become engorged with blood, which causes it to swell. In fact, President Bill Clinton is living proof that this is true. Although this effect is not obvious to the human eye, the person lying is drawn to touch their nose, which is a dead giveaway! In the video of Clinton’s false testimony during the Lewinsky trial, he touched his nose 26 times. In his honest testimony, he didn’t touch his nose at all. 

Eye Contact

Although it’s commonly believed that a person telling a lie can’t make eye contact, the opposite is actually true. Shifty eyes or looking up to the left or the right has been associated with dishonesty, but research has found that liars look you in the eyes more. This is because they want to work out whether you believe them or not.

Looking up or away is a processing behavior while someone may be trying to recall a memory or detail. It’s not a telltale sign someone is lying.

Pursing Lips

Right before someone tells a lie, they’ll often purse their lips. It’s almost as if they’re trying to hold the truth in, bracing themselves to tell the lie. You may notice people do this if you ask someone a question they don’t want to answer – like, what their age is or how much they weigh.

Question Inflection

When someone tells a lie, they will often end their sentence on a high note, almost as if they’re asking a question. This signals they aren’t very confident about what they’re saying. It’s thought that liars do this because they’re subconsciously asking, “Do you believe me?”

Mismatched Nod

A mismatched nod is when someone says yes but shakes their head no. A person could be saying “Yeah, the new girl working in admin seems great,” but if their head is shaking, they’re probably lying.

First-Person Pronouns

“I,” “me,” and “mine” are all first-person pronouns. As people don’t like lying, they tend to drop first-person pronouns from their speech. For example, someone may say, “Oh, that email must’ve gone to spam,” instead of “I didn’t get that email.” Or, simply, they may say “Running late” instead of “I’m running late.” 

The reason researchers believe we do this is because we’re trying to distance ourselves from the lie, to get ourselves away from the thing that will get us in trouble.

Hand Gestures

Fidgeting, such as rocking the body back and forth, can be signs of dishonesty. Part of what may cause this fidgeting is fluctuations in the nervous system (caused by lying), which make people feel itchy or have tingles in their body. In turn, this makes someone fidget more. 

This is different from hand gestures. Liars tend to use hand gestures after they speak as opposed to during or before a conversation. “The mind is doing too many things including making up the story, figuring out if they’re being believed and adding to the story accordingly[…] So normal gesturing that might normally happen just before a statement happens after the statement,” says Traci Brown, a woman who has participated in a deception training program with the FBI and helps work on investigations in a discussion with Time Magazine

Plus, a 2015 study conducted by the University of Michigan found that people who lie are more likely to gesture with both of their hands than those who are telling the truth. After looking at 120 media clips of high-stakes court cases, the study found that people gestured with both of their hands in 40% of the lying clips, but only 25% did in the truthful clips. 

Hide Palms

When people aren’t telling the truth, they’ll also face their palms away from you. According to Brown, it’s an unconscious signal that someone may be holding back information. They may hide their hands in their pockets or slide them under the table.

Sweating or Dryness

If someone is lying, their autonomic nervous system changes and can trigger them to start sweating in the T-area of the face – this is the upper lip, forehead, chin, and around the mouth.

On the other hand, they may begin to have dryness in their mouth and eyes. These effects are even harder to spot, but a person may begin to blink excessively, lick or bite their lips, or swallow hard to help with the dryness, which is a signal that they could be lying. 

Before you go picking a fight with your man the next time he answers a question with one of the above signs present, it’s important to keep in mind that these aren’t a complete guide to tell when someone is lying. A liar may do all of the above, just one or two, or none. Research has found that these characteristics are a pattern associated with lying, but every person and scenario is going to evoke different responses.

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