How to Tell if Someone is Lying: The Ultimate Guide

Is it possible to know if someone is lying to you?

Yes! When you know how to decode hidden emotions, read body language, and spot deception tells, you will be able to have more honest interactions with the people in your life.

We don’t even realize that we can be lied to as much as 200 times per day. But fear not—you can learn lie detection, just like any other skill.

I’m here to let you know that anyone can tell if a person is lying.

All it takes is knowledge and a little bit of practice. 

In this master guide, I will show you:

  • The most common lying myths
  • How pathological liars lie (and serial killers, too)
  • How to tell if someone is lying
  • The 3 types of lies
  • How to become good at spotting lies

So before we jump into anything else, it’s important for you to find out…

How Good Are You at Detecting Lies?

Here at Science of People, we came up with our own liespotting quiz.

You’ll watch five people tell you two truths and one lie. This is all real footage, sent in to us from our real readers, just like you.

Here’s the deal: If you’re able to accurately detect all of the lies—and from our results, very few people have—then you might actually be a truth wizard.

Ready for the quiz? Good luck!

Okay, how did you do? If you didn’t guess the lies too well, that’s perfectly normal!

The fact is, the majority of lies go undetected. Why? Because most lies actually sound like the truth, so we have a hard time telling them apart.

There is however, a small group of people who can detect lies.

This small group of people can detect lies with a remarkable 80% accuracy… whereas the average person—if they are really trying—can only pick up on lies around half the time.

So who are these people?

They are known as Truth Wizards.

Are you a truth wizard?

What is a truth wizard?

A Truth Wizard is a person who can detect lies with 80% accuracy. They are natural-born lie detectors that are remarkable at detecting lies without any prior training. Truth Wizards usually do not rely on just one clue, but rather use a variety of clues to detect lies.

In the original study of Truth Wizards, only 50 people out of 20,000 people were lie detection aficionados.

So, if you weren’t able to pick up on the lies, don’t feel bad. Remember: on average, people can only detect 54% of lies. 

Want to learn more about truth wizards? Check out this video:

Here’s the deal: deception detection is not just about genetics.

Lie detection is a skill that CAN be learned.

And I’ll show you exactly how you can train your lie detection skills to accurately spot lies like a Truth Wizard (more on that later).

But first, we need to bust some lying myths.

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Lying Myths Debunked

First, let’s get this out of the way. Most people believe that it’s easy to spot a lie.

That is, they believe in a secret “formula” for spotting lies. The eye movement. The fidgeting. The nervous sweats. “Oh yeah, gotcha now, you liar!”

But reality isn’t that simple.

Hollywood movies and popular TV has influenced us that we’re all the Dr. Cal Lightman’s in Lie to Me… when in reality, we can barely tell if our own partner is lying to us— “You look so good in those pants, sweetheart!”

Here are some of the most common lying myths debunked.

Lying Myth #1: If people look to the left, they are lying.

Although there is some science about eye direction, which we talk about in the course, it is NOT a reliable form of lie detection. The course will show you more accurate (and easier) ways to spot lies.

Lying Myth #2: Liars can’t look you in the eyes.

We often think of liars as shifty in their gaze. However, liars actually look you in the eye more because they want to see if you believe their lie or not.

Lying Myth #3: Children are the biggest liars.

While we may think that children lie a lot, their lies are often the easiest to spot. Studies show that children usually give themselves away before age 8, and their lies become better with age. Take a look at this video, for example, of a young girl who lies about eating cake (with cake covering her face!):

Lying Myth #4: Emails, texts, and IMs are filled with lies.

A lot of people believe this myth because they think it’s easier to lie when others can’t see or hear you. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

According to Stanford Magazine, it’s not the technology that causes lies, but the goal of the liar.

In other words, people often lie over technology when they want something from someone

In the dating world, for example, someone might be lying about their good qualities to a potential partner, simply because they want to appear more attractive themselves! (eg. “I love cooking!” when he / she doesn’t.)

But there’s a more dangerous form of communication other than email or texting you should be more concerned about—the phone.

If you’ve ever been a victim of the “Hello, this is Microsoft customer service. Your computer has been infected with a virus” scam… then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

People lie the most on the phone because not only can they not see the other person’s face…  but there’s also no paper trail. No record? No proof!

And it might be even harder to tell if someone is lying over text— luckily, we have an article on that, too.

Bottom Line: There are a lot of myths surrounding lies. Don’t believe everything you hear, just because you watch it on television or read it online. In the words of Abraham Lincoln…

“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time. Especially not everyone on the internet.”

— Abraham Lincoln

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The Characteristics of Pathological Liars

In order to examine the characteristics of liars, let’s turn to some of the best liars in the world… pathological liars. Or more specifically, serial killers and cold-blooded murderers.

What is psychopathy?

Psychopathy is a personality disorder that is characterized by antisocial behavior, a lack of empathy, egotistical traits, and a lack of ability to make meaningful connections.

Famous serial killers, like Ted Bundy—who was quoted saying, “I don’t feel guilty for anything. I feel sorry for people who feel guilt”—or John Wayne Gacy—who said his only crime should have been “running a cemetery without a license”— display psychopathic traits that make them really good liars.

That’s because, unlike you or me, cold-blooded killers have an easier time lying. In fact, a research study by scientists from the University of Hong Kong proved this correlation.

In their study, psychopaths were found to lie much faster than normal… and the parts of the brain that are supposed to “light up” when we come up with a lie had a lot less activity.

Why is this? Lead researcher Dr. Tatia Lee says that: “Lying requires a series of processes in the brain.” This is because it takes us a lot more effort to make up a lie than to tell the truth.

In killers and psychopaths, however, these brain processes are effectively desensitized… Telling a lie and a truth is one and the same for them.

And in the more extreme psychopaths? This lie-making brain process can even be completely shut off. Yikes!

Some serial killers are also serial liars—for example, Henry Lee Lucas confessed to killing over 600 people. Of course, most of the killings he confessed to were completely made up… but his expert lying skills were able to fool countless law enforcement officials (you can even watch the series on Netflix: The Confession Killer!).

This just goes to show how hard it is to detect some of the world’s best liars. However, most killers aren’t professional liars. In fact, some killers can be right next door—as was with the murder case of Lauren Giddings in Macon, Georgia…

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Case Study: Stephen McDaniel

!!! Warning: Gruesome details below. !!!

Are you familiar with the murderer, Stephen McDaniel? He’s the guy that choked his classmate and neighbor, Lauren Giddings, and hid her corpse… only to discover—while being interviewed on camera—that the body was just found.

In June 2011, Stephen McDaniel choked his Mercer Law School classmate, Lauren Giddings, while she was asleep.

Yeah, he’s not exactly a good guy…

The reason I’m bringing up Stephen is because his interview is a goldmine of lie detection knowledge—from the moment he gets on camera, to the moment the body is found, Stephen displays certain lying cues that are easy to detect.

Watch this short clip, where you can see him fabricating lie after lie. And keep in mind… this is the cold-blooded killer who murdered the same woman he’s talking about.

When thinking about lie detection you have to know there is no single cue that signals someone is lying. Rather, in our research we focus on statistical cues to deceit. A statistical cue to deceit is nonverbal or verbal tic that studies have found liars often do. 

The best way to accurately spot if someone is lying is to look for multiple statistical cues. We have found 44 in the research and list all of them in our lie detection course. For now, let’s focus on what you might have seen in the video:

  • Most honest people speak in complete sentences–they have no reason to hold back or watch their words. Liars often have false starts and odd explanations. In this video, Stephen says, “body.” Not even as a question, but as an odd statement. An honest person would either answer the question or exclaim, “There was a body!?”
  • Liars often (but not always) have longer pauses as they think about the “Correct answer” versus the “truthful answer” he has EXTRA long pauses. An honest person would know right away, “No! I didn’t see the body!”
  • Did you notice his odd head shaking? Sometimes in the yes motion, sometimes in the no motion. He had trouble shaking his head, “No” because he did see the body! And then shook his head yes at first.

But here’s the most interesting part

Later on in the footage, the interviewer says that a dead body was found at the exact location where McDaniel hid Giddings’ body. Here, you can see the exact moment where McDaniel’s face turns pale white. This is the moment where he realizes that he’s been caught in his own web of lies. This is the moment he realizes he is in trouble.

Warning: Detecting lies is a powerful skill to have, almost like a mind-reading superpower. It can have deep consequences, especially if you don’t learn how to use this skill properly. Expert lie detectors will consider the consequences of their actions before they call out someone on a lie.

Here’s the second part of the footage, where the interviewer reveals that the body has been found:

You can watch the full interview here: McDaniel’s first media interview

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How to Tell if Someone is Lying

Okay, so we’ve gone down the darkside of murderers and psycho killers. But most liars are just normal people, just like you and me. 

From your coworker that says her part of the project is going “good,” to your significant other who says the relationship is “just fine”… These are the top tips on how to spot when someone is lying.

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#1: Know Your Prolific Liars

The first tip is to identify the liars in your life. And here’s the good news: most people are honest.

In fact, recent research shows that a majority of lies are told by a small group of people. These groups of liars are known as prolific liars.

What is a prolific liar?

A prolific liar is someone who has a chronic or compulsive behavior of lying. Prolific liars usually lie multiple times a day, sometimes for no apparent reason at all. 

Chances are you’ve encountered a prolific liar before. And chances are you have a prolific liar or two in your life right now.

Ask yourself: who are the prolific liars in my life? Is it a friend, coworker, or family member? Do I tend to catch them in lies, or do they cause harm to others or themselves by lying constantly?

Prolific liars can be hard to identify. That’s because they might be closer than you think.

If you’re having a hard time thinking of someone, don’t worry. Identifying a prolific liar can be difficult. Their lies may not always be the dramatic, over-the-top, grandiose lies that we may expect from liars. Prolific liars can lie about small, simple things.

Luckily, we’ve got a way to identify prolific liars. In the study Variance in the Prevalence of Lying, researchers created a statistical model for distinguishing prolific liars from the everyday  “normal” liar.

Here are some distinguishing characteristics of prolific liars:

  • Prolific liars are those who report that they tell five or more lies per day. 
  • Prolific liars tend to be younger, male, and have higher occupational statuses.
  • They are likely to lie the most to their partners and children.
  • They are more likely than the average person to believe that lying is acceptable in some circumstances. 
  • They are less likely to lie because of concern for others and more likely to lie for their own self-interest, such as to protect a secret.
  • Prolific liars tell five and a half lies for every one white lie told by an average person.
  • They tell 19.1 lies for every big lie told by the average person.

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#2: Find The Nose

Now we all know the old story of Pinocchio and how, whenever he lies, his nose gets really big.

And while it’s a funny way to portray lying, there’s also quite a bit of truth behind Pinocchio’s nose.

You see, whenever we lie, our nose gets a little itchy. I know… It sounds a bit weird. Especially when you hear that our nose contains something called “erectile tissue” (yes, the same tissue that forms our sensitive parts!).

According to neurological director Alan Hirsch, when a person lies, “blood flow increases to the erectile tissues in the body, including the erectile tissues in the nose.” This is why liars often touch or scratch their nose.

So if you were wondering why Pinocchio’s lying cue is his nose… it’s no coincidence.

And do you know who a great example of nose touching is? Bill Clinton.

In Clinton’s 1998 grand jury testimony in the Monica Lewinsky case, neurologists found that when the former president “was truthful, he never touched his nose.” However, when Clinton lied… “he gave a split-second frown and touched his nose once every four minutes afterward.”

And here’s the most surprising part—Bill Clinton ended up touching his nose a total of 26 times during the testimony. Was he lying? Most undeniably, refutably, 100%…

YES!

Here’s a short clip of Bill Clinton, where you can see him rubbing / scratching his nose as a lying cue.

But wait! This doesn’t mean all people who touch their noses are liars—sometimes a person might have a runny nose, or it might just be cold outside. Nose touching is just one statistical cue to deceit.

So how do we know for sure when someone is lying?

Apart from certain lying cues like nose touching, people often give away certain microexpression “tells” when they are lying.

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#3: Look for The Microexpression Tell

In the tip above, I mentioned that Bill Clinton would often give a “split-second frown” before he touched his nose.

That’s the true feeling Clinton felt when he forced himself to tell a lie—sadness.

Think about it for a minute…

When people tell lies, they are usually sad, angry, or fearful. They want to hide from the truth.

“Human beings are not creatures of logic; we are creatures of emotion. And we do not care what’s true. We care how it feels.”

— Will Smith 

So the problem goes…

  • We don’t want to tell the truth.
  • We tell a lie instead.
  • We feel bad about lying.

Somewhere in that equation, we tend to give away little facial cues to signal that we’re lying. For example, here is the fear microexpression—which liars may use when they are afraid they will be caught—down below. 

Fear Microexpression:

  • Eyebrows are raised and drawn together, usually in a flat line.
  • Wrinkles in the forehead are in the center between the eyebrows, not across.
  • Upper eyelid is raised, but the lower lid is tense and drawn up.
  • Eyes have the upper white showing, but not the lower white.
  • Mouth is open and lips are slightly tensed or stretched and drawn back.

The fear microexpression is closely linked to shock, so there are a lot of similarities. But it also has its own purpose—when we are scared and widen our eyes, our field of view increases. This lets us see any threats that might lurk nearby.

Our mouth opens when we are scared because it helps us prepare for two things. First, it readies us in case we need to shout for help if we feel threatened. Second, it prepares us to breathe in a large amount of oxygen. This oxygen is helpful in case we need to run away… or fight the enemy!

And if you have ever seen someone frightened, you might have been frightened, too. That’s completely normal—mirroring other people’s fear is a natural response. A study in 1996 shows that when we see fearful facial expressions, the activity in our amygdala—the part of our brain responsible for fear—increases. 

So when one person displays a fear microexpression, others around them will also open their eyes wider. This allows people around to be better prepared to seek out signs of danger.

If there’s a mismatch between facial expressions and what a person is saying, chances are they may be lying. 

You can find out more about microexpressions in our article: The Definitive Guide to Reading Microexpressions.

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#4: Become a Human Lie Detector

Now that we’ve talked about prolific liars, nose touching, microexpressions, and personal pronouns… It’s finally time to take things one step further. If you really want to be a lie-detecting wizard, there’s only ONE way to greatly and reliably improve your lie detection abilities.

In fact, after many years of teaching lie detection skills to real students, real employees, and real people…

I’ve come to the conclusion that:

The best way to improve lie detection is to use a science-based, systematic approach.

And I’m not talking about a lame test, where I give you an A for effort.

No—I’ve found that the best way to learn is with 3 F’s. That is, learning from:

  • Factual and science-based information,
  • From real-life examples, and most importantly…
  • Fun! It certainly makes reality shows more interesting.

That way, you can discover the real hidden emotions that people truly have deep down inside.

That way, you can walk in a room and know EXACTLY who is lying and why. Yeah, it’s kind of like having a superpower.

THAT is why I created How to Be a Human Lie Detector

I truly believe that detecting lies is one of the most important skills to learn in your life… So if you’re ready to join me, check out my course:

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Types of Lies

One day, while enjoying a nice dinner with my friend John, out popped a question: “Vanessa, how did you feel about Samantha?”

Samantha was my ex-friend and ex-neighbor. She had smelly breath, always let her dog poop on our lawn, and even had loud karaoke parties until 2 in the morning! So naturally, I said:

“Samantha? She’s great!”

But the thing is… I didn’t like her. I told a lie, and not only was I lying to John… but I was also lying to myself.

This type of lie is called a lie of commission. And there are many types of lies—not just the obvious ones. 

Do you remember that little oath. “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”?

Other than being used in the courtroom, it’s a great way to identify the types of lies.

How? Let’s dive into it!

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“I swear to tell the truth” – Lies of Commission

If someone tells you something that is not a fact… we call this a lie of commission. This can be anything from lying about how you feel, to lying about your social status, to lying in a relationship.

Basically, when someone tells a lie of commission, they take the truth and twist it to create a (usually more favorable) version of something that happened.

Like when I told John that Samantha was great. Or when people go about our day, telling others they feel “good” when all they really want to do is go home and cuddle with the blankets.

How to tackle these lies:

If people go about their lives just telling others that they’re great, or this person is fantastic, or the world is all fine and dandy when it’s not… how do we tell the lies from the truth?

That’s when it hit me.

For these lies to succeed, you have to be willing to believe the lie. Not just hear it, but really, truly, believe in it.

In other words, you have to stop living in autopilot mode. Stop accepting that everything is true. Stop believing the words, and start listening to the deeper meaning of what people say.

Become skeptical, and ask questions. This will make you think before you nod and agree, “Yes” to everything that people say.

Here’s another trick— when someone says something you suspect is a lie… first, wait.

A day, or a week later… Come back to them and ask them to repeat it. If he or she suddenly tells you a different story, then this probably means that there is something else going on. Time to investigate!

Next up is our second type of lie…

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“The whole truth” – Lies of Omission

Unlike the first lie where it’s just plain wrong info… Lies of omission are lies because there is something missing

When a lie of omission is told, important details are left. Does this make lies of omission any better than lies of commission?

Nope…

In fact, they can be even nastier because they’re harder to spot and take less effort than making up a whole new lie. And it’s not just giving a shrug when you get home and your spouse is asking about the dirty socks left in the kitchen.

Think of it like this—suppose you are buying a used car, and you spot a 2019 Honda Accord. You ask the car salesman about more details.

“Oh, don’t worry about that! This car is great! Only 1,000 miles, one owner, pet-free, full tank, it’s a steal!”

He fails to tell you, however, that the engine was just submerged in salt water. Or that all the tires were blown out and replaced. Or that the car needed a new paint job.

That’s 100% a lie of omission that he told you, and a lie you could have avoided.

How to tackle these lies:

Detecting these lies can be a bit tricky, so you’ll have to do some digging. And make no mistake about it: if you don’t ask all the questions, you might not uncover all the truth.

It’s just like the saying: “Ask the right questions, and the answers will always reveal themselves.”

Except in this case, it might be more appropriate to say:

“Ask ALL the questions, and the answers will always reveal themselves.”

It’s not just about asking the right questions, but being thorough in your questions as well.

In the salesman scenario, if you had any doubts about the condition of the car… you could simply ask the salesman to show you the maintenance log of the car. That way, there’s no chance of lying.

But again, the key here is being thorough. Being ignorant is not enough, because you might just let that car salesman put a happy smile on your face and take your money. You have to know when someone is omitting critical information from you, and that usually comes from experience or practice.

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“And nothing but the truth”

The last part of the oath is important. This is when sometimes people will tell you information completely unrelated to the truth in order to cover up a lie.

This is what we call in the lie detection business, a character lie or a lie of influence. These lies are meant to make you believe the liar… or at the very least, pump them up to make them sound like a great, magnificent human being incapable of telling lies.

Let’s look at an example. You work at the local Walmart and a colleague has been taking money from the cash registers. It’s your job to find out who it is. You interview Mary and ask her if she took the money. Her response is, “I’ve worked here for 15 years!” This is a typical character lie. By telling you how long she’s worked at Walmart, Mary is trying to make it seem highly unlikely that she took the money.

Note how she only told you how long she’s worked at Walmart! She has not told you that she didn’t take the money. Be very wary for these types of lies. Whenever someone is trying to convince you of how great they are like in the example above, they are probably attempting to cover something up.

How to tackle these types of lies:

Catching these lies is actually pretty easy. All you have to do is really listen to what someone is telling you. Are they giving you an answer to your question or are they just making a statement about themselves? If it’s the latter, then you need to ask the question again to get to the truth.

Now OBVIOUSLY there are some good actors out there (like the murderers mentioned above), so detecting lies if you’ve never done it before can be HARD. So bear the following in mind…

I’ve studied and been formally trained in lie detection for YEARS… and still, my success rate is not 100%.

HOWEVER, my lie detection is good enough that I can confidently say I am at the level of a Truth Wizard (mentioned above).

Over the years, I’ve formulated a LASER precise method of practicing lie detection (and there’s plenty of practice material in the course). “Practice” might not sound so glamorous, but let me make this absolutely clear…

Practicing lie detection is ESSENTIAL to becoming good at it.

In the course, I outline the best methods to practice spotting lies—even in real life.

Now it’s your turn…

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Practice!

Now that you know how to distinguish the different types of lies, let’s see if you can manage to tell which type of lie is used in the following sentences.

A – I would never do something like that!

B – Q: Do I look fat in this dress? A: No, honey.

C – Q: Where were you yesterday? A: I went to the office (neglecting to tell you he also visited his mistress)

D – Q: Is this a good neighborhood to live in? A: Yes, we’re good friends with the people next door (not telling you the people across the street are really very nasty people).

E – Q: Are you having an affair? A: I’ve been happily married for 20 years!

F – Q: How much money are you making? A: About $3,000 a month (While actually making $2,200)

Answers

B and F: Lies of commission. Of course B is kind of a trick question because you would never tell your partner she looked fat in that dress. Right? Either way, both are straightforward lies that tell you something other than the truth.

A and E: Lies of influence. These people are trying to make themselves look better to avoid suspicion. Saying, “I would never do something like that” isn’t the same as “no”, which is the answer someone telling the truth would give you.

C and D: Lies of omission. Here, an important part of the truth is left out to avoid having to tell a lie of commission. That, of course, doesn’t make it right!

How well did you do? Did you get your 3 types of lies right? Getting this stuff down 100% will literally TRANSFORM your ways of thinking and believing what people say.

But even if you’re only at 50%, you’re already further than everyone else if you’ve read this far. 

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How to Train Your Lie Detection Skills

While detecting deception is never easy, quality training can improve a person’s ability to detect lies.

The fact is, many people—without any prior training—think they can detect lies…

However, what they think doesn’t matter.

The proof is in the numbers. Most people are terrible at detecting lies because they still believe in old lying myths. Because they watch what they see on television, and think catching lies is easy.

But here’s the interesting part…

Spotting lies can be easy—much easier than you think.

In my course, I teach my secret lie-detecting knowledge that helped thousands of people become lie-detecting masters and take control of their own life…

So are you ready to take on this course and develop a world-class skill? You’ve already made it this far… You will not be disappointed.

So here are the keys—now it’s your turn to start the engine.

Sign up for the course: How to Be a Human Lie Detector

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