Lie detector expert and former federal law enforcement investigator Janine Driver tells us the subtle ways to spot deception.
As told to Kate Rockwood
1. He Sounds a Little Funny
Liars are sometimes called “fast talkers,” but the speed of their speech varies as much as an honest person’s within a conversation. Yet liars will alter their speech rates within a single sentence. Typically a liar might begin to speak slowly, because he’s trying to figure out his lie—but once it comes into his head, he tries to spit it out as fast as possible.
Pace isn’t the only speech pattern that can trip up a deceiver. Research has shown that a person’s vocal tone will waiver from baseline in up to 95 percent of all deceptive statements. If your partner’s baritone is on the rise, you may be facing a fib.
2. He Slips a Verbal Clue
Remembering the truth about what happened Saturday and the story he wants you to believe is a big mental burden. Many liars will buckle under the strain and make a verbal faux pas, like start-stop sentences (“There are many that I didn’t—I hardly had any contact with her.”), using past and present tenses in the same story or repeating your question rather than answering it.
Even if he doesn’t stumble, his sentences could signal deception: Studies have shown that liars tend to drop pronouns from their speech, as a way to verbally distance themselves from the lie. “I got up this morning, I called my mother, went to work, grabbed a bite with Jim.” The person used two pronouns up front and then dropped them afterward—why? There may be more to his story than he’s letting on.
3. His Face Flashes Contempt
Nearly 50 years ago, a researcher discovered that all humans share seven microexpressions—universal ways that emotions are hard-wired to flash across our faces. Whether you’re male or female, black or white, young or old, if you’re surprised, you make the same fleeting expression. These microexpressions are impossible to fake—which makes spotting one the closest thing we have to mindreading.
Contempt—a feeling of moral superiority and disrespect—is one of the most dangerous microexpressions for a relationship: Contempt shows up as a half-smile smirk, with only one side of the mouth raised. It signals, “I’ve justified my lie. I’m getting away with it. You’re a fool.” Researchers can see contempt on chronic cheaters who think they’re too smart to get caught.
4. His Body Is Trying to Run and Hide
Unless someone is incredibly savvy in body language, you can tell where he wants to be in a conversation. People align their belly buttons with the objects of their interest. If he started the conversation with his navel pointed straight at you, and now his body is twisted toward the door, he is aching to leave—that could indicate a hot spot for deception.
When a liar is faced with questions he doesn’t want to answer, he may unwittingly cover his eyes, mouth or entire face with his hand, arm or a pair of sunglasses in a subconscious attempt to disappear. Pinocchios may start to squint, as if trying to block you from seeing the truth. Just be sure to put body-blocking behavior in perspective—your husband’s baseball cap pulled down low isn’t a red flag if he wears it every day.
5. He Makes You Feel Off-Balance
Practiced liars are uniquely able to distort reality and make us feel like the floor is shifting underneath us, that something odd is afoot, but we just can’t put our finger on it. He may spout false information with such conviction that it makes you start to question your own recollections. This particular type of manipulation is called “gaslighting.” Standard gaslighter lines include, “I never said that—stop making things up,” “How come you are always accusing me of horrible things?” and “What is wrong with you? You are so paranoid.” If you get to the end of a conversation and wonder, “Hey, wait a second, what just happened?”—remember that as a generally trusting person, you are a great gauge of dishonesty. Give yourself permission to follow those whiffs of suspicion and to investigate further.