Nonverbal Signs of Lying

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Dishonesty, or lying, occurs when an individual purposely avoids the truth. This can be a significant issue for educators, hiring professionals, supervisors and managers. This list provides the nonverbal signs of lying.

Nonverbal Signs of Lying

Lying might best be defined as the intentional offering of false information. Sometimes it is relatively simple to tell when someone is speaking mistruths, due to outlandish stories or unnecessary details. However, gauging one's speech is not the only way to detect a lie. Nonverbal cues or nonspoken messages can be very revealing in terms of whether an individual is being honest or not.

The Eyes Have It

It is frequently said that eyes are the windows to the soul as they have the ability to convey great amounts of information and emotion without the need for language. Comparing eyes to silent messengers would not be off the mark. This makes the eyes key factors for detecting dishonesty. Let's take a closer look at how the eyes can serve as red flags for lying.

  • Inappropriate eye contact, such as staring or limited blinking, may indicate dishonesty. For example, if someone catches your gaze and won't let go, it would probably be uncomfortable. In other words, if the type or amount of eye contact seems off or uncomfortable, it may be a sign of dishonesty.
  • Odd eye movements, such as looking down and/or looking to the left or the right frequently has been associated with dishonesty. This has to do with the recall process in the brain because certain regions of the brain are related to specific types of information.
  • Excessive blinking can indicate anxiety, which often pairs with lying. If the level of blinking seems exaggerated, it might be because the person is lying.
  • Eyes that don't match up with general facial expressions may demonstrate internal conflict or a covering up of the truth. For example, eyes that aren't engaged in a smile may seem less than genuine.

Lost in Motion

Physical movements and behaviors can be very telling in terms of an individual's state of mind. Keying-in to specific types of movement, or lack thereof, may be helpful in determining if someone is being dishonest.

  • Limited movement or intentional physical distance may indicate that someone is lying. Is the person too close to you or creating distance that exceeds that which is common? If so, mistruths could be at the root of the behavior.
  • Stiff posture demonstrates a lack of comfort, and thus may be tied to dishonesty. Have you ever had a stiff neck that made movement uncomfortable? If so, this type of stiffness will be easily recognizable in someone who may be shrouding the truth.
  • Excessive touching of the face and/or covering of the eyes, nose, or mouth may support one's attempts to cover the truth. These behaviors might be described as intentional means of hiding the truth.
  • Excessive movement may occur as a result of anxiety experienced by a dishonest person. Think of fidgeting or antsy behavior as a potential sign of lying.
  • A closed-off stance, such as arms folded across the chest and/or crossed legs, may be a sign that an individual is lying. These examples might be likened to a barrier between you and the truth.

Is it Hot in Here?

While the average room's temperature may hover somewhere around 78 degrees, this can begin to feel sweltering for someone who is being dishonest. The following behaviors might be demonstrated by a person who is lying:

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