You might think the ability to determine if someone is lying only applies to interactions with lawyers, car salesmen, and late-night infomercial hosts. But it's difficult to imagine that anyone reading this article has never been told a lie. Just go to any nightclub on a Saturday night and you will definitely receive an overdose of bad pickup lines and deceptive statements.

Unfortunately, shouting “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” at someone you suspect of lying to you is not a very effective technique at getting to the truth. And, your chances of running into a wooden puppet named Pinocchio would be slim to none.

So, in this article, we're delving into how you can get complete and accurate information to help you or your loved ones survive when SHTF. While you won't turn into living lie detectors like Colombo or Daredevil, you can read on to find out how to improve your B.S. meter.

Physiology of Lying

As with most things within the behavioral sciences arena, there has been an ongoing battle regarding the validity of people as human lie detectors. Researchers have even gotten to the point where they discuss what are called micro-expressions, which are so small that they need to be evaluated on specialized computers. For this article we're going to stick with those movements, gestures, postures, and statements that might indicate that someone is lying to you or, in the least, attempting to be deceptive. It's going to be your responsibility to determine which one or combination of the lie indicators works best for you.

When you're talking to someone, whether at a party, casual meeting, date, or business, there's typically one clue that holds true in the majority of those situations. We tend not to look other people directly in the eyes for any length of time other than checking for fake eyelashes or plastic surgery. Unfortunately, we spend very little time evaluating the statements of another person by carefully analyzing their facial expressions.

Though most people get uncomfortable after a few seconds, sustained eye contact is vital to detecting deception in others.

Though most people get uncomfortable after a few seconds, sustained eye contact is vital to detecting deception in...

Many scientists have stated that the eyes are the key to emotions. Your eyes may actually be one of the most expressive organ systems in the entire body. Unfortunately, most people are very uncomfortable maintaining eye contact for longer than two to three seconds. In attempting to become a human lie detector, you need to travel into the realm of behaviors that could cause you slight discomfort, but the rewards may pay significant dividends. Maintaining eye contact is an essential part of determining if the individual you are assessing is lying. Very seldom do people lie only once. If they have been telling lies of convenience since childhood, the habit is hard to break and can become an automatic response, especially in high-stress situations.

The most important aspect of lie detection is to realize that, unless someone is a professional liar or a pathological liar, there will in most cases be an automatic physiological response. Reactions such as sweating, increased breathing, increased heart rate, eye movements, and vocalization changes due to constriction of the muscles surrounding the larynx are all typical automatic responses associated with an increase in anxiety levels triggered by lying.

Professional liars spend years perfecting their craft of controlling all aspects that could be a tipoff. If an individual's voice went up one octave every time he or she lied, they would probably not last very long as an individual trying to deceive others on a regular basis. As an example, try to remember back to a time when you may have been called to the principal's office. Even if you did nothing to warrant the trip, you would still find yourself sweating, fidgeting, and may even have a dry mouth and squeak to your voice. Ask yourself if it's possible to stop yourself from sweating. Certain unnamed spy agencies teach their operatives how to mentally block any physiological changes generated by anxiety or fear.

Indications of Lying

In the high-stakes world of poker there is a term used to detect if someone is bluffing about their hand and these are called “tells.” This is why in so many high-stakes poker games the competitors are wearing dark sunglasses; so other players can't detect eye movement. A good poker player is always aware of his hands and fingers, even when they take a drink. What you're going to be doing is looking for tells in other people.

The Hands: When someone repeatedly covers their mouth or puts their hand near their mouth when speaking, that may indicate the possibility of a lie. Wringing of hands or nervous, sweaty, and clammy hands can be indicators of deception.

The Mouth: Small twitching motions at the corners of the mouth or the upper lip can be a clue of untruthful statements. If someone (the liar) is aware that they experience twitching around the mouth, when stressed or lying, this may cause them to try and cover the behavior with their hand when they speak, even the subtlety of pretending that they are yawning.

The Eyes: Our peepers may be the easiest indicator to detect, since a majority of the movements and behaviors are unconscious. For example, an increase in blinking could possibly indicate untruthfulness. But before you call someone out, ask if he or she has allergies since that could also be the cause of the blinking. There are many studies that purport to show that if you look up to the right or up to the left, you are lying. Unfortunately there isn't consistency within the scientific field in this particular category.

Hand movement can indicate a lie, such as when someone covers his mouth.

Hand movement can indicate a lie, such as when someone covers his mouth.

The Twitches: Twitching is a very difficult indicator to quantify. Restless movements may simply be a function of sitting too long, lower back pain, or just being bored. Once again, it's going to take some detective work on your part to determine if the twitching correlates to a lie. Unlike some of the other clues, twitching may take multiple contacts with the individual over a period of time to decipher.

The Throat: Throat clearing or verbal hesitation is a rather easy indicator of possible deception, unless they have a cold or are a heavy cigarette or cigar smoker. Typically, if an individual knows that he's about to tell a lie, he might clear his throat in an attempt to modulate his voice, which inadvertently lets you know that a lie is right around the bend.

The Voice: If the voice goes up an octave or two, or the basic timbre of the voice changes, this may be a good clue that the stress of telling a lie is causing muscles to tighten in the throat and thereby constricting the vocal cords. You need to listen carefully to not only the words, but also what happens to the voice.

The Words: Sentence structure and content can, at times, be good indicators of deception. A liar might try too hard to convince you that their statements are truthful. Shakespeare hit it out of the park in Hamlet when Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's mother states, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” If someone keeps repeating a statement more than a few times, methinks you should seriously evaluate what is being said. Consider saying to the individual, “Let me think about that and I'll get back to you later.” If they become upset and keep pushing, you might have your answer right there.

Learning to Be a Human Lie Detector

Unless you wield Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth, there is no magic tool to learning how to detect deception. You have to develop the skills of observing, listening, and evaluating what people are telling you. This will require you to maintain eye contact, focus on their verbal content, and most importantly, be aware of what is happening to the individual physiologically and verbally when they do attempt to lie.

This is not a skill that is gained in one or two conversations. It's going to require an effort on your part, but it can also reap significant rewards. Here is the five L's to get started:

  1. Look the person directly in his or her eyes when you first meet and maintain a minimum of 70-percent eye contact throughout the interaction.
  2. Listen to the tone and timbre of their voice.
  3. Look for extra body movements, especially if they are repetitive.
  4. Live in the moment. Don't get caught daydreaming.
  5. Leave if all the warning signs go off.

Here are some real life examples: Mandy Miller from Miami went to a specialty store to buy a long-term supply of food for her household. Always preparation-minded, she carefully checked the expiration dates on the outside of the box, which was within the appropriate dates. Normally she would not have opened the carton when she got home, but “something told me that I should open it and found out that everything would expire in two months.” Mandy went back to the store for a refund and thought it strange that the storeowner could not look her in the eye when she complained about the expiration date. Evidently the seller had switched boxes.


Bill Norling from Scottsdale, Arizona, had been looking for an older Jeep to use if SHTF. He liked a particular vehicle and was going to buy it with cash. He noticed that the seller became very hurried and pushed to close the deal even before Bill had fully inspected the car. The seller had begun to sweat and could not stand still. He said that he had to get home to his daughter's birthday and could not be late. Bill realized something was not right and told the seller that he was going to “sleep on it.” The seller then dropped the price another $200, but Bill left. While inspecting the Jeep, Bill had written down the VIN number. The next day he went to the Department of Motor Vehicles and found that the Jeep had been stolen in New Mexico.

So here's the deal: If you want to be a human lie detector, you're going to have to work at it. Although it would be nice if we had superhuman hearing like Daredevil and could detect rapid heart rate when someone wasn't telling the truth, the truth is you'll need to practice just like any other worthwhile skill, such as fire-starting or navigation. This doesn't mean that while talking to someone at a party you should be staring at them like a creeper, but it does mean that you need to develop awareness of not only what the person is telling you, but how they are telling it to you.

Lastly, bring intuition into play. When you can factor in your intuition with your observations, your ability to detect lies and deceptions will be significantly enhanced. If your intuition tells you that something is wrong in the individual's presentation, then it would be a good idea to bring into play your skills of observation.

Ask Dr.O

Do you have your own methods of determining if someone is lying? Want to find more resources or learn more about this topic? Do you have an idea for a column on the psychology and physiology of survival or self-defense? Email Dr. Neal H. Olshan at

About the Author

Dr. Neal H. Olshan is the developer of Evolution of Mindset and is a consulting psychologist for corporations and the sports industry for athletic improvement through the use of the Mindset program. He is also a pilot, an award-winning photographer, an author of both fiction and nonfiction books, and the chief combat psychologist for LMS Defense.

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