27 Signs You’re a Terrible Liar
What's your dead giveaway?
Whether you’re doing it to protect a loved one, get away with a naughty deed, or simply try to explain why you’re late to an appointment, telling fibs is a central—albeit distasteful—part of life. But have you ever wondered whether you’re actually any good at passing off these untruths? After all, everything from a higher pitched voice to an overly ambitious cover story can give you away. And just because someone nods their head at you doesn’t mean they aren’t secretly thinking, “Who is this person trying to lie to me?”
So if you are going to invent falsities, at least do it right—and avoid all of these science-backed signs that you stink at lying.
Your Hands Are Way Too Active
According to researchers from the University of Chicago, a bad liar’s hands will often give them away. Because gestures are less under our conscious control, they can often “reveal the information that the lie was supposed to conceal.”
For example, a liar may be saying that they simply don’t know where an item is hidden, while their hands point to its exact location.
Your Voice Increases in Pitch
A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that the average pitch of the S sound was higher when a participant was lying versus telling the truth. Participants’ pitch increased even more as they were asked to lie for longer or to respond to difficult questions regarding their statements. The researchers say it’s the stress from trying to maintain a lie that causes the tonal switch.
You Aren’t a Master at the Red Herring
“One of the easiest ways to get away with a lie is to simply divert the focus away from yourself so that you don’t get caught up in your lie,” says Samantha Morrison, a wellness expert for Glacier Wellness. “Because details break lies apart, good liars know just how to avoid questioning by embracing the red herring method,” she explains.
How do you use a red herring, you ask? Well, it’s when you shift the topic of conversation to something else that’s irrelevant to the actual issue at hand. So, if your boss is questioning you about you why you’re late to an important meeting, and you make your answer less about your lateness and more about, say, the stresses of being a busy parent. Got it? Good!
You Didn’t Do Your Necessary Preparation
According to research published in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, lies most often fail “because the liar has not adequately prepared the false line he or she intends to maintain.”
Without proper preparation and the creation of an alternative, consistent story, a liar will often be tripped up by questions or by having to repeat their lie.
You Don’t Anticipate the Follow-up Questions
When a liar fails to anticipate the questions they will be asked in response to their lie, they are forced to come up with a credible answer on the spot. “When doing so, most people will evidence various behaviors that signify they are thinking about what they are saying as they are talking,” writes psychologist Paul Ekman in his essay Deception, Lying, and Demeanor.
Because an honest person will not have to put in the same amount of effort when speaking, these behaviors are a dead giveaway someone is lying.
You Feel Emotions about Lying
Often the emotions you feel while lying will signal to your conversational partner that you are indeed being untruthful. According to Ekman, “chief among these feelings about lying are the fear of being caught, guilt about lying, and…the pleasure and excitement of putting one over.”
Conversely, a good liar will tell their story with a clear conscience, almost convinced themselves that they are speaking the truth.
Your True Feelings Are Written on Your Face
Even if your story is in order, it seems, your face may be a dead giveaway. According to research published in Interpersonal Relations and Group Processes, a forced emotion is often hard to hide—especially if you’re a bad liar.
For example, a forced smile may “include traces of muscular actions associated with disgust, fear, contempt, or sadness.” That means you might want to consider a phone call if you really must pass off a falsity.
Your Story Is Too Good
According to Ekman in his book Telling Lies, “too smooth a lie may be the sign of a well-rehearsed con man.” In fact, he reiterates stories of con men purposefully contradicting themselves in order to appear more believable. While a completely contradictory tale will also give you away, there is a middle ground between bumbling and debonair that an expert liar is able to achieve to appear truthful.
You Can’t Keep Your Words Straight
According to researchers at the University of Rochester, even if a liar’s story is good, they may often jumble its semantic structure due to the stress of keeping things straight. The study found that participants were able to determine liars from truth-tellers just from the text of a conversation. And for the lies that always go unnoticed, check out these 40 Lies Kids Say That Parents Always Fall For.
According to research in The Detection of Deception in Forensic Contexts, “compared to truth-tellers, liars may seem less forthcoming, and may tell their stories in less compelling ways.”
You Make Negative Statements
According to social psychologist Dr. Bella DePaulo in her article Discerning lies from truths, “liars make more negative statements and complaints than truth-tellers do.” In addition, “they appear somewhat less friendly and pleasant.” Unless the person you’re lying to is just as unfriendly as you’re being, they’re likely to notice your change in demeanor and suspect something is up.
You Press Your Lips Together
According to Dr. DePaulo, “liars were more likely to press their lips together.” A result of stress from attempting to maintain a lie, this out-of-the-ordinary behavior is sure to give you away.
Your Speech Becomes Impersonal
“Liars sound less immediate than truth-tellers do,” writes DePaulo. The way a liar talks will often “seem more distant, impersonal, evasive, and unclear.” Liars will often use the passive voice, something that comes as a result of not actually reiterating a true event.
You Make Less Eye Contact
Liars often “make less eye contact than truth-tellers,” writes DePaulo. A result of nerves, this giveaway actually increases the more motivated a liar is to get away with their falsity. A determined liar will conspicuously shy away from locking eyes with their interlocutor, a clear sign they have something to hide.
You Move Less
Liars often appear “more inhibited” than truth-tellers, writes DePaulo. In other words, their attempt to control their story can often result in their controlling their body, as well. They make conspicuously “fewer foot and leg movements,” she explains.
Your Speech Becomes Stilted
According to research published in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, “deception provoked a greater number of pauses and words and higher eloquence.”
In other words, the foresight necessary to invent a good lie often revealed itself in the liar’s awkward speech and increased vocabulary. While the latter may seem counterintuitive, it’s a sign the speaker isn’t talking fluidly, a major clue that what they are saying does not come as easily to mind as the truth would.
Your Tone Is Flat, Or Erratic
According to a study published in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, a liar’s effort to control their voice will often result in it either being “over-controlled or totally lacking in control.” Either way, a liar’s vocal tone will generally be out of whack.
You’re Too Confident in Your Own Memory
According to research in Psychology, Crime & Law, “truth tellers raise more doubts about their own memory than liars.” While a truth-teller is free to reveal that they are in fact unsure about the exact course of events—as most people are—a liar will be unable to reveal this uncertainty, concerned it will give them away.
You Take Too Long to Tell Your Lie
According to a study in Applied Cognitive Psychology, “response time is a cue to deception.” A liar will often take much longer to tell their story than a truth-teller would. The reason is that they need to not only decide to lie, but also to construct a story to carry that lie. “Each adds to response time compared to answering honestly,” they explain.
You Blink Less Frequently
According to a study in Law and Human Behavior, suspects in police interviews “blinked less frequently during deceptive clips than during truthful clips.” While this factor varied among participants, it was once again likely a result of a liar overthinking their behavior.
You Smile Less
A study published in Legal and Criminological Psychology found that “offenders smiled less when lying.” They hypothesized that this was a result of liars believing that smiling and laughing would be a giveaway they were being untruthful.
You’re Not Believable
Sometimes, just not being believed is a good enough signal that you are lying. According to research in the Journal of Communication, “naive judges can detect deception at higher than chance levels.” In other words, if someone thinks you are lying—even absent any telltale signs—you just might be. Intuition is a powerful thing.
Your Executive Functions Are Lacking
Lying is a very difficult thing, requiring an excessive amount of mental ability. According to research published in Genetic, Social, and General Psychology, “executive processes are central cognitive components for lie production.” If you can acknowledge you’re lacking in any of these departments—such as inhibition and working memory—you’re probably not going to be a very good liar.
You Don’t Use Exclusionary Words
Research published in the APA Monitor found that liars use fewer exclusionary words, such as “except, but or nor.” In other words, any terms that “distinguish what they did from what they did not do.”
While the researchers failed to theorize as to the reason for this deficiency, they conclude that “liars seem to have a problem with this complexity, and it shows in their writing.” And for more things you can glean from someone’s writing, check out these 17 Amazing Things Your Handwriting Says About You.
You Keep Your Responses Short
According to a study in Applied Cognitive Psychology, “message duration [was] negatively related to deception.” In other words, liars kept their responses short and sweet, likely a tactic to avoid providing too much detail. While listing too many facts will also give away that you have invented a truth, a curt response can be a dead giveaway that you’re hiding something.
You Overdo It When Chatting
According to noted deception expert Pamela Meyer in her book Liespotting, liars in an online chat “were more talkative than their partners, using about one-third more words than the truth-tellers.” In addition, they “used more pronouns and included more sensory verbs” to embellish their tale. In an attempt to fabricate a more all-consuming and convincing story, these liars gave themselves away by simply overdoing it.
Your Hand Gestures Become More Metaphorical
According to research published in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, “lying was associated with a decrease in deictic gestures, and an increase in metaphoric gestures.”
Just like the increased use of impersonal verbs and passive voice, this indicates the liar’s feelings of removal from their situation, as their hand gestures cease to refer to their surroundings, and instead become abstract. If you’re looking to cut back on extraneous gestures, learn the 23 Body Language Tricks That Will Serve You Well Your Entire Life.
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