Skip to content

How To Tell If Someone Is Lying To You, From Psychology Experts

Sarah Regan
Author:
November 30, 2022
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
November 30, 2022
Our editors have independently chosen the products listed on this page. If you purchase something mentioned in this article, we may earn a small commission.

No one wants to be lied to. But the reality is, white lies abound, and prolific liars are among us. If you think someone could be lying to you and want to know for sure, here's how experts say you might be able to tell, plus what to do when the truth comes out.

Advertisement
This ad is displayed using third party content and we do not control its accessibility features.

5 signs of lying:

1.

Body language

Body language has long been considered a way to spot a liar, according to psychotherapist Babita Spinelli, L.P., including behaviors like:

  • Fidgeting
  • Touching one's hair or face
  • Angling oneself away from the interaction
  • Crossed arms
  • Avoiding looking you in the eye
Advertisement
This ad is displayed using third party content and we do not control its accessibility features.

These kinds of body language cues convey discomfort, which can certainly arise from lying—but take this all with a grain of salt. Studies have shown that certain body language doesn't always indicate lying1, and as such, isn't actually a good measure of whether someone is lying. Eye movements, for example, can simply mean someone is thinking or processing, according to research published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science2. (Plus, there are a variety of other reasons someone may be physically uncomfortable that have nothing to do with their honesty.)

2.

Speech patterns

While body language may not be that reliable for spotting a liar, paying attention to their speech may give you some better insight. According to one 2011 study published in the journal Discourse Processes3, for example, researchers found that people lying outright are more likely to use a few specific speech patterns, including:

  • A higher amount of words
  • Third-person pronouns
  • Numbers
  • Profanity

eHarmony.com

Find your match today with eHarmony. Free to join.

People lying by withholding the truth, on the other hand, are more likely to use fewer words in general, and especially "causation words," or words that connect events together, according to the study.

3.

Avoiding the question, conversation, or you entirely

Spinelli tells mbg that when a liar is confronted, they may avoid your questions or even go so far as to gaslight you into believing their distorted version of the story. As licensed marriage and family therapist Shane Birkel, LMFT, tells mbg, "What I've noticed with certain people [when they're lying] is they'll dodge the question or keep it really vague and general." Because the fewer details there are, the less you can fact-check, right?

Advertisement
This ad is displayed using third party content and we do not control its accessibility features.
4.

Over-embellishing

While someone who's lying may keep things vague, on the other hand, there is also the case of over-embellishing. The aforementioned research from 2011 notes that people who are outright lying may indeed use excessive words. Whether it's to beef up their story or simply out of nervousness is less clear.

Just keep in mind that this is not always the case, especially if the liar in question opts to lie by withholding the truth.

5.

Continuity errors

And of course, one basic way to tell if someone is lying is to catch continuity errors in their story. These will be easiest to spot if the person is going the "over-embellishing" route, and adding a lot of unnecessary details (like numbers, as research says they're likely to do). Notice if certain things are repeatedly not lining up.

Advertisement
This ad is displayed using third party content and we do not control its accessibility features.

How to tell if it's a lie. 

Short answer: There is no surefire way to tell if someone is lying. Long answer: The signs of lying mentioned above—coupled with your own intuition—can help you figure out if they're lying both in the moment and over a period of time.

Of course, you can always open up an honest dialogue and ask them yourself (which we'll get into shortly), but if you're not interested in having that conversation yet, there are some other helpful things to know.

Your intuition, for one thing, may be better than any clues this person is going to give you—and that's according to research. One 2014 study published in the journal Psychological Science4 notes that lies may actually be more accurately detected when "less-conscious mental processes" (like intuition) are used. "In two experiments, we demonstrated that indirect measures of deception detection are significantly more accurate than direct measures," the study authors explain.

It's also important to understand the person you're dealing with, according to Birkel and Spinelli. They both note that regardless of whether it's right or wrong, people have their own motivations or conditioning that compel them to lie, whether they had to lie to get through a tumultuous childhood, or they're engaging in some sort of defensive strategy. So if you think someone could have a clear motivation for lying, that's definitely something to think about.

However, Birkel also notes it's equally important to check yourself if you're someone who tends to think the worst, catastrophize, or experience paranoia.

Beyond that, you can consider confronting the person, perhaps asking them to get more specific with their story, Birkel suggests. But of course, there's no way to know if they're going to be honest, and they may be especially less likely to be truthful if you call them a liar.

Ultimately, Birkel tells mbg, "I don't think there's any way of really knowing, and one of the most important things is to have a really clear sense of your own boundaries."

How to handle a lie.

If you're convinced you're being lied to, then comes the question of how to handle it.

Birkel says it's up to you whether the lie is worth confronting. Consider how important the context actually is, what the consequences could be if the behavior goes unchecked or unresolved, and what you understand about this person, he adds. "It is best to take a pause and reflect on their why," adds Spinelli. And again, it's important to figure out what your boundaries are.

If you do decide you want to confront the issue, Spinelli says it's important to do so gently and without attacking, as this will likely upset anyone. "You may want to approach them with, 'I noticed that there was something off in what you said. Are you sure that what you shared is actually what you meant to say?'" she explains.

You can also let them know you'd like to have a conversation at a time when you're both calm and can have some privacy. "Hear them out first and explore their motivation without criticism but with curiosity," she says, adding, "You can then decide after that what you may want to do with this situation—maintain the relationship, set boundaries, and/or share what you would expect moving forward."

Speaking of moving forward, according to Birkel, this is where it will be really important for you to honor your own boundaries and know when to disengage (either from the conversation or the person entirely). If they won't admit the truth, that's their problem, not yours, he says, noting that you can say outright, "This doesn't feel very open or authentic to me; I need to take a break from this conversation."

And if they have admitted they were lying, Birkel says, you can offer some solutions or expectations for how you'd like things to be handled in the future. For example, you could say, "Let's make a plan about how to avoid these kind of communication issues in the future," he suggests.

Advertisement
This ad is displayed using third party content and we do not control its accessibility features.

The takeaway.

While there may not be a foolproof way to spot a lie, there are some common signs to watch out for—including our own intuition. And if you are dealing with someone lying to you, whether they've admitted it or not, it's ultimately up to you to decide how much you're willing to put up with—and believe.

Sarah Regan
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.