How To Tell if Someone is Lying – Signs To Catch a Liar

Is not it fascinating that we can use psychology to detect lies? Talking to a liar can be an uncomfortable experience, but catching one can be great. It can be a total stranger, your friend, partner or a coworker. People lie because of different reasons, it could be because they are trying to manipulate you or to get away with their behavior, but almost always they do it with a certain body language. Learn to read it and you will be able to easily catch a liar.

Dr. Leanne ten Brinke of the Haas School of Business at the University of California has undertaken recent research that suggests humans have pre-set instincts for detecting liars, however, this is often overridden by our conscious minds.

Instead of relying on our underlying instincts, it’s possible to determine whether someone is telling the whole truth by keeping a lookout for a few key signs. In fact, research shows that learning about human lie detection can improve your ability to spot deception by up to 90%, which is a high increase when considering most humans are only 54% accurate when spotting lies according to the Science of People.

Ideally, you’ll already have a basic understanding of how the person in question usually acts in social situations. This shouldn’t be a problem if they are a friend or relative whom you regularly interact with. Dr. Lillian Glass, a behavioral analyst who has previously worked with the FBI to determine deception in suspects, suggests that once you understand a person’s normal behavior, it’s easier to pick up on uncharacteristic expressions, body language or attitude to the conversation.

1. Head Positioning 

You may notice the person make a sudden head movement when asked a direct question, such as a jerk, retraction or tilt. Glass explains in her book, ‘The Body Language of Liars’ that this often happens just before they would usually respond to the question.

2. Intensive Breathing

Glass describes heavy breathing as a ‘reflex action’, commonly associated with lying. If you’re not close enough to hear or feel the individual’s breath, watch their shoulders, which will rise and listen to their voice, which may become shallow, unclear or cracked. Essentially, the person is experiencing breathlessness due to their increased heart rate and changes in their blood flow, which is caused by the pressure of lying. This also occurs when humans are nervous or tense.

3. Stature

While we may associate nervousness with fidgeting or shakiness, Glass explains that you should be just as wary of those who do not move at all. She elaborates by claiming this may be related to the human ‘fight or flight’ instinct, specifically the option to ‘fight’. As a result of this instinct, the body tenses itself in preparation for a potential confrontation.

When engaging in regular discussion, humans usually move casually, subtly relaxing, swaying or experiencing unconscious movements. Therefore, someone with a rigid demeanor is emitting a warning that something isn’t quite right.


4. Repetitiveness

Repetitiveness may occur when someone is trying to convince you of their point, in an attempt to ‘drill it in’ to your mind. This is a good way to go if you are wondering how to tell if someone is lying. They may also be trying to reassure themselves that the lie could be considered true. Glass uses the example of a person repeating the phrase ‘I didn’t’, as if this will somehow excuse them from the responsibility of their supposed action.

It is also a technique used by liars to buy time to create a more elaborate story.

5. Over-Compensating

Liars will often over-compensate by providing too much information. When a person reels off an elaborate tale that may not even have been requested, it’s a clear sign they are trying to convince you their story is true. Glass suggests that by openly talking, others will believe what they have to say.

6. Covering the Mouth

Someone who is lying may automatically cover their mouth with their hands when they are reluctant to respond to a question or issue. The connotation of covering the lips is clear, even when done subconsciously. It is a direct message that they are shutting down all communication and have no intention of telling the truth.


7. Covering Vulnerable Areas – Similarly, a dishonest person may cover areas that they consider vulnerable, such as the throat, head, chest or abdomen. Glass refers to her own experiences working in a courtroom setting, where defendants would often cover their throat upon hearing an uncomfortable testimony.

8. Shuffling their Feet

This is a trait you’ll likely have heard of when considering the behavior of liars. The shuffling of the feet is the body’s way of using up nervous energy, showing the individual is on edge and uncomfortable with the situation. It is also a sign they wish to walk away from the scenario. Glass suggests that the feet are a key point when detecting dishonesty.

9. Difficulty Speaking

Want to know a great method of how to tell if someone is lying to you? Try to notice if they have a hard time speaking. Even if the person has no history of speech difficulties, they may find it hard to speak when under the pressure of a lie. Glass explains that this is caused by the body’s nervous system decreasing the salivary flow during a stressful time, which dries out the mucous membranes of the mouth.

However, this is not the only giveaway relating to the mouth. Liars have also been known to exhibit lip biting or pursed lips.

10. Infrequent Blinking

Dishonesty traditionally involves a lack of eye contact or rapid blinking, however, in contrast to common belief, the liar may attempt to manipulate you with extended eye contact.

Glass tells of Bernie (Bernard) Madoff, a conman convicted of fraud in 2009 who was handed a 150-year sentence of imprisonment for his 11 federal penalties. Madoff would often overcompensate with eye contact, maintaining it for longer than usual without blinking. When telling the truth, humans will usually shift their eyes regularly and may look at their surroundings. When lying, they will hold a prolonged stare in an attempt to intimidate.

11. Pointing

If a liar is defensive of their argument, whether or not it is a truthful one, they may become hostile and aggressive. A dishonest person who has been angered may attempt to turn the tables’ on to you, according to Glass, irritated that you have discovered his or her deception. This may result in angry gestures, along with pointing in an attempt to reiterate their point.

After analyzing these key points, you’ll stand a far greater chance of being able to spot a liar in casual discussion, helping you get to the bottom of dubious situations and hopefully avoiding an awkward encounter in the process.

 Other Important Ways To Catch a Liar

No matter how strong the clues are when looking at a person’s body language, you can’t still be 100% sure that he is lying based only on that. You need more information and strategical approach to confirm his untrustworthiness. One of the most important ones, of course, is actually what a person is saying.

If a person becomes angry when you ask a question, he might be lying. Displaying aggression after a question is often a big sign and usually, it is not a behavior of an honest person. For example, if you suspect your friend is hiding something from you, you ask her about it and she attacks you verbally, then you know that something is not right. A good way to test this theory is to ask a person few questions in a calm manner and analyze how he reacts. If he will be as calm as you and won’t get agitated, then you need to start looking for another clue.

Stretched-out answers and long sentences are often used by liars. Majority of the people are not trained to be a government spy and they get nervous when they lie. That’s why they tend to overcompensate with words and talk a lot to make sure that their lie is well covered. What they do not know is that it is a quite common clue showing that they are not being honest. Once you ask a question, analyze how specific is the person when answering it. If he is really over-talking and includes things that are not even related to the topic, then you know he is hiding something.

When a liar tells a story, he always uses the same way of doing it. For example, imagine for a long time you suspect your friend is lying about his trip in England (He swears he spent July there for some reason, but in reality, he never left New York). If you listened to the story few times and it always goes with the same structure (eg: “I went to England, saw London, met the Queen, left) and he never changes some details, then you know he is telling you a fiction that was made in his head. Even though they might give you tons of details about it, that specific stuff are usually around the same subject (Londn and meeting the queen) and you can easily notice after some time how repetitive he gets.

Illogical storytelling is the biggest verbal giveaway. If what a person says contradicts something that he said earlier, then, of course, you know exactly he is lying. To figure this out you need to listen carefully and not miss the details. Using the same example above, if your friend is lying about the trip to England entire July and later he briefly mentions his internship in July, you know that things do not add up. This goes back to something mentioned earlier – the people are not spies and they cannot keep up with lies all the time. They often make mistakes and if you will listen carefully, you can catch them easily.

How to deal with a liar

If the signs above helped you to catch a liar, then your next step will be dealing with them. This will not be easy and some cannot even help themselves.  They have a reason behind their lies and they won’t give up their position easily. That’s why we have decided to include a useful guide on dealing with liars.

Collect the facts about his lies if it is possible. If you will simply tell a lying person that he is not honest, he won’t confess and will continue with lies as long as he can. That is, of course, not optimal. Showing them actual facts and their strange behavior could potentially lead them to admit that they are lying. Even then they will most likely deny accusation at first, but eventually, they won’t have any other option but to give up.

Make them feel that it is better to be honest than to lie. Sometimes the people simply lie once and they stick with it for a long time simply because they don’t want to have an awkward situation. They could be suffering from their own lies and you need to make them understand that it is okay to admit. This will definitely give them an incentive to be honest. Instead of having a conversation where you catch them and then punish them for it, be supportive and you will be surprised how effective it could be.

Make them understand the consequences of lying. Some people cannot even understand that lying is a bad thing and they expect others to be okay with that. That’s why it is important for you to let them know what a terrible behavior it is and that it kills your trust towards them. You need to tell them that they will definitely lose you if they continue being dishonest. If they are your close friends or family members and care about you, then they will choose you over their lies.


At this point, you should have enough information to spot a liar. Once you read all the tips above, you should not have a hard time doing it. Remember to observe their body language and look how they behave while talking. After that, you should focus on verbal communication and see what words they are using and how they are constructing sentences. Once you are sure that someone is lying, then you should deal with the situation by giving them facts and avoid being aggressive. Remember, getting angry could only make the situation worse, so it is better to deal with a calm manner.