characters / descriptors

How to Tell if Someone is Lying: Body Language

658925_lil_pinoccioOver half of our communication is done with body language, not words. I study it so I can characterize the people in my books–their actions, hand gestures, facial expressions–and it has taught me a lot about reading people’s interior monologue–those ideas they don’t want to share, but inadvertently do. Even the best speakers have a difficult time preventing twitches, unconscious  hesitations or muscle movements from giving away what they truly feel.

Here are some of the ‘tells’ (movements the person doesn’t realize they are doing) that someone is lying:

Verbal Context and Content

  • A liar will use your words to answer a question. When asked, “Did you eat the last cookie?” The liar answers, “No, I did not eat the last cookie.”
  • A statement with a contraction is more likely to be truthful: “I didn’t do it” instead of “I did not do it”
  • Liars sometimes avoid “lying” by not making direct statements. They imply answers instead of denying something directly.
  • The guilty person may say too much, adding unnecessary details to convince you. they are uncomfortable with silence or pauses in the conversation.
  • A liar may leave out pronouns and speak in a monotonous tone. When a truthful statement is made, the pronoun is emphasized as much or more than the rest of the words in a statement.
  • Words may be garbled and spoken softly, and syntax and grammar may be off. In other words, his sentences will likely be muddled rather than emphasized.
  • Listen for a subtle delay in responses to questions. An honest answer comes quickly from memory. Lies require a quick mental review of what they have told others to avoid inconsistency.
  • Lowered heads indicate a reason to hide something. If it is after an explanation, s/he may be lying, unsure if what they said was correct.
  • Look into their eyes. Liars will consecutively look at you and look away a number of times.
  • Avoiding direct statements or answers
  • Leaving out pronouns (he, she, it, etc.)

Other signs of a lie:

  • Watch their throat. A person may be either trying to lubricate their throat when he/she lies OR swallowing to avoid the tension built up
  • Watch hands, arms and legs, which tend to be limited, stiff, and self-directed when the person is lying. The hands may touch or scratch their face, nose or behind an ear, but are not likely to touch their chest or heart
  • If you believe someone is lying, change subject quickly. A liar follows along willingly and becomes more relaxed. They want the subject changed. An innocent person may be confused by the sudden change in topics and will want to go back to the previous subject.
  • Or, if you believe someone is lying, allow silence to enter the conversation. Observe how uncomfortable and restless the person becomes.
  • Liars more often use humor or sarcasm to avoid a subject.
  • Under the eyes, small pockets of flesh pop up when someone smiles, but only if the smile is genuine.

Deception–maybe they aren’t lying, but they’re hiding something

  • covering the mouth with the hands
  • rubbing the side of the nose
  • leaning away from you
  • micro shrug
  • voice pitch increases
  • Liars, he says, use more “negative emotion” words (hurt, ugly, nasty) and fewer first-person singulars.

Sound complicated? It isn’t, but it requires listening with all of your senses, not just your ears.

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blog,Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculumK-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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9 thoughts on “How to Tell if Someone is Lying: Body Language

  1. Pingback: Writers Tip #54: Do You Know Your Characters | WordDreams...

  2. My old boss who was once a high school teacher used to say to any upset female students – “how can you tell when a boy is lying?” This would usually grab their attention away from whatever ‘love interest’ was upsetting them and they’d ask “HOW?”
    Then he would come back with this answer “When he opens his mouth” – LOL!

    If you know someone well enough you can usually tell when they’re lying because they ‘grasp’ thoughts from their brain and you can see this through their eye movements. I know with me, when I’m thinking of a story to write and I need to use my ‘imagination’ I’ll glace up to the left. When I need to get information from my ‘memory’ I glance up to the right. But you need to be careful when you calibrate someone to ensure you know where their ‘imagination’ and ‘memory’ glances are (and don’t get them mixed up!) 😀


    • High school is a good time to learn that trick. I love how humor defuses so many situations.

      I do notice body language much more than usual. That right brain-left brain stuff is pretty good indicators. I’d say I don’t do it, but I bet I do.


  3. Insightful indeed Jacqui. It will surely give authenticity and depth to anyone’s writing. I will save it for use in my own writing. Thank you Jacqui. Arun


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