By: Lauren Brown
While many people might like to believe that they do not lie or use deceptive behavior around friends and colleagues, I can guarantee that at some point in our lives we have all lied and been lied to. We fall victim to lies often, so wouldn’t it be nice if there were ways to tell if someone is trying to deceive us? Let’s be honest. No one likes to be deceived. Luckily, there is a way to tell if someone is lying to us, and it requires doing two things: one that might seem a bit unusual and one that is more natural.
The ability to protect yourself from deception begins with knowing characteristics of deceptive behaviors so that you can notice when a person engages in those behaviors. Simply put, non-verbal cues used in deceptive behavior are not as complex or diverse as those used in truthful behavior.
Recently, many researchers have studied the nonverbal behaviors that are used when engaging in deceptive behavior. Three researchers from Arizona University conducted a study where 26 participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups – the deceptive condition where they were asked to steal a wallet, conceal it and lie about it when questioned, or the truthful condition where they were innocent bystanders to the theft. The experiment, published in The Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, found that truthful individuals’ patterned behavior is more diverse and complex than deceivers.
An interesting finding that came from the study that contradicts popular belief is that “deceivers are able to regulate their displays so that outward behaviors convey the opposite of the internal states – conveying composure rather than distress and expressivity rather than tension.” This disconfirms the popular belief that the person who stumbles around trying to find the right words, is fidgety or has sweaty palms is engaging in deceptive behavior. In fact, it may be just the opposite.
Additionally, the deceivers in the study engaged in more anticipatory behavior than those who were telling the truth. Between feeling the guilt and knowing that they would be questioned about the event, the theft group was more likely to focus on anticipating the questions ahead of time and preparing their answers than the innocent group. Because of the great amount of brain power spent on maintaining a consistent story to convey credibility, the answers given to the interviewers were less spontaneous and more patterned and predictable. The patterned and predictable behaviors remained consistent in hand gestures as well, in that truth tellers use freer gestures while the deceivers used more patterned behavior in what the researchers describe as “a forced-attempt to use speech-related gestures.” In an attempt to use normal gestures, deceivers actually isolate their behavior even more, making it easier for the victim of the deception to point it out.
How many times per day do you think you are lied to by friends, family and colleagues? Chances are that the actual number is even higher than you would expect. Even though we may not realize it, humans are naturally skilled detectives when it comes to determining if they have been deceived. Research has found that humans naturally know what to focus on when they think that they are being lied to. Research shows when individuals suspect someone is attempting to deceive them, they will mainly focus on the simple and more easily determined behavioral evidence as cues to the deception, and we know from the aforementioned study that deceptive behavior is usually patterned and not complex.
Lead researcher Eric Novotny with the Department of Communication at Michigan State University and his colleagues set out to find if there would be a difference in what individuals noticed about a person that they suspected had lied to them or that they had discovered lied to them. The study, published in The Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, found that when people were asked about discovering a lie, they were more likely to cite non-behavioral evidence than behavioral evidence as methods of spotting a liar. Additionally, those who were asked about suspecting a lie reported using behavioral evidence from the liar as cues more often than those asked about discovering a lie. In other words, if you only think that someone is deceiving you, you will focus on aspects such as hand motions or fidgeting, but if you know for a fact someone has lied to you, you will use evidence such as a verbal confession when reporting the lie.
This research focused on the difference in individuals who had discovered they had been lied to, in which they would focus on verbal evidence, such as a confession, and those who suspected that they had been lied to, in which there was no verbal confirmation, so the victim would focus on the individual’s nonverbal behavior. This finding is good news for those who don’t like to be deceived. It is a natural inclination to focus on the nonverbal aspects of an individual’s communication when attempting to confirm a suspicion of deception.
These studies have shed light on the misconceptions between truth-telling and deceiving. Now that we know that human’s naturally focus on the nonverbal behavior of an individual that they think is trying to deceive them, all that is left to do is determine if that behavior is more patterned and predictable than normal behavior. Take note – the next time you are wondering if someone is lying to you, remember when it comes to spotting a liar, sometimes the person who seems the most put-together, may be the one who is deceiving you.