How Can You Tell If Someone Is Lying?

by Maryann Pisano on July 22, 2011

How can you tell someone is lying?  Psychologist Dr. Carsi Hughes helps us decode the meaning behind the deception.

Wouldn’t life be so much easier if every time someone spoke a lie, their nose

grew like Pinocchio’s?  Unfortunately, discerning veracity is no easy feat and

even those that think they can spot a liar immediately are incorrect just as

many times as they are correct.  To understand this, first you need to know a

little bit about lying:

The theory behind determining whether or not someone is telling truth is simply


someone is lying, you need to assess how uncomfortable they are.  This would be

relatively easy if everyone who was uncomfortable behaved the same way.  They

don’t.  Some people talk fast or touch their hair or act vague or give too many

details while others laugh nervously, get angry, or cry.  An additional problem

is that sometimes people lie but do not realize they are lying.  For example, if

someone tells you they saw your boyfriend out with another girl at a movie and

they truly believe that’s what they saw, they will not consider themselves to be

lying and will not manifest any anxiety, even if they were mistaken.

If it was only this easy...

All that said, here is some advice on how to determine whether or not someone is


1.  Know the person well.  Know how they usually behave and be aware of strange

behaviors.  If your usually very chatty, overly detailed girlfriend starts

answering questions quickly and with vague answers, something is probably amiss.

2.  Watch body language.  People who are lying, particularly if they are

unprepared, often fidget and have trouble maintaining eye contact.

3.  Listen to them.  If you ask a question that seems to have an easy enough

response yet they repeat the question several times, this could be a problem.

People who do this are sometimes trying to stall to compose a mistruth.

Additionally, watch for overly vague responses when questioned directly (for

example, if your friend says he went to a movie but you suspect she went to a

party and you ask her about the movie she might say, “Oh it was just one of

those big blockbuster movies” rather than giving more details) and watch for

overly detailed responses (with the movie example, if your friend gets very

specific about the parking at the movie theater, the name of the usher, and

starts giving you an analysis of the plotline, she may be overcompensating for

her lie).

4.  Last but not least, very good liars show none of these signs and are often

very confident and direct in their speech and actions.  In fact, they have a way

of presenting data that routinely causes the other person to doubt their own

perceptions, even when the facts are right in front of them.  For example, if

you ask your boyfriend to text you when he comes home after a baseball game and

he doesn’t, he may respond by saying, “You never asked me to text you.” rather

than say, “I forgot to text you.”  A good liar will make the point so well that

you will find yourself doubting whether or not you actually had the original

conversation.  Truly good liars can convince anyone of just about anything.  Be

sure you aren’t the kind of person who is quick to take the blame for

misunderstandings, especially if there is a pattern.


The information presented in this website and the comments from Dr. Hughes are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or psychological disorder. The information presented is not a substitute for medical, psychological or psychiatric treatment. You are advised to seek professional medical and psychological help as necessary.

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