How To Tell If Someone Is Lying (Or Can We?)

Attorney Mike Bottaro looks at the art of deception and nonverbal body cues.

Do you know when someone is lying to you? Not really, according to most experts. I once attended a R.I. Bar Association seminar on this topic and the panelists reported that much of the research into this topic is equivocal.

The question is important to all of us, spouses, employers/employees, poker players, people who vote.... In fact, you may have better luck telling if someone is lying at a poker game rather than in a courthouse. In this video, the “Mad Genius of Poker,” provides 10 cues for when a poker player may be “bluffing.”

The Mad Genius is practiced in the art of looking for people’s “nonverbal cues.”  Even the Mad Genius emphasizes that “there is the occasional exception to the rule.” At the legal panel I attended, we spent considerable time debating the more well-known nonverbal cues. For example, many people assume that Avoiding Eye Contact can be an accurate “tell” of a lie. But consider: In many non-American cultures, making eye contact is a sign of aggression or disrespect. It has been reported that Japanese children are taught to direct their gaze at their teacher’s Adam’s apple; East Asians avoid looking into the eye of a dominant person out of respect; Muslims (and other religious followers) often lower their gaze and avoid focusing on the opposite sex’s features. As an RI personal injury lawyer, I have to factor this in when evaluating witnesses.

In fact, an article on the FBI’s website reports that, “Twenty-three out of 24 peer-reviewed studies published in scientific journals reporting experiments on eye behavior as an indicator of lying have rejected this hypothesis.”

What about other nonverbal cues? Turns out there are many other behavioral cues (facial behaviors, gestures, body movements, voice and speech characteristics), and physiological indicators (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure, skin conductance, respiration rate), that may help us discern whether someone is lying. The research here is mixed. Taken in isolation, any one cue may not be significant. As stated in the FBI article, “It is not the mere presence or absence of behaviors, such as gaze aversion or fidgeting, that indicates lying. Rather, it is how these nonverbal cues change over time from a person’s baseline and how they combine with the individual’s words. And, when just the behavioral cues from these sources are considered, they accurately differentiate between lying and truth telling.”

This last paragraph has some relevance to our greater Providence injury lawyers and the public at large. Spouses, employers, and others within the context of a pre-existing relationship may be able to discern deception based on changes in baseline behavior. And for us R.I. lawyers, judges, and jury members, the more we see and hear a witness, the more we may be able to evaluate nonverbal cues.

So, do you think you know when someone is lying to you?

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Naome Lixes November 12, 2012 at 10:33 PM
I love GOP math - it handicaps every loss. Face it - if hypocrisy won votes, the GOP would sweep elections. It's the "Moral Majority" in a tri-cornered hat. "All politicians are liars, liberal ones doubly so." Prove it, or kindly take twelve steps off an eleven step pier.
Ryanthegirl November 12, 2012 at 11:50 PM
@ A taxpayer, you MUST post a link in order to have a voice here. I think we all know who is lying here in RI we just don't care as long as the color is the same, similar to the Bloods/Crips mentality. Weird the colors and ability to point the finger in every other direction but inward are the same. Please ignore, I didn’t add a link.
A Taxpayer November 13, 2012 at 01:03 AM
Read the article. And please try not confuse math with statistics
daparyo November 15, 2012 at 01:44 AM
Richard Nixon was more liberal than both Clinton and Obama...
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