Are you always stressing over the idea that you might be deceived by people? Do you ever feel like people have no problem selling you falsehoods, but you don’t know how to weed them out? Have you ever wished you could understand how to differentiate lies from reality?
Sadly, deception is something inherent to humans. For whatever reason, people often think that avoiding truth will make life easier for them. And these people will not be just strangers trying to scam you. They will be your friends, your family. If you want to learn how to spot deception from now on subtly, just keep reading.
What Is Deception?
Simply put, deception is the act of causing someone to accept as accurate something false or invalid. This act can be significant, small, cruel, or kind; it depends on the context and the deceiver’s intent. The most common form of deception is lying. But, on the more extreme ends, it can manifest as gaslighting.
The average person lies several times a day. Most are little white lies. Telling someone they look fine when you don’t personally like their clothes. Lying you were stuck in traffic to avoid consequences. White lies help to avoid awkward and uncomfortable situations. And sometimes, if the mistake is small, they are used to avoid punishment.
Most often, the sheer invention of things is not the core of lying. Instead, people deceive by omitting or exaggerating information and denying the truth. Liars might agree with something they don’t believe in to gain an advantage, like staying in someone’s good graces.
Psychologist Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., notes that “lies are like wishes.” Often, what is said is what people wish was true. The lie “I won’t be able to attend that, I’ll be in Bali” stems from that person’s wish to have a higher status. The more you understand someone’s desires, the easier you’ll catch them in lies.
A large body of research indicates that there are three reasons why people lie:
- Getting something they want (instrumental reasons)
- Protecting or promote themselves
- Harming others
You can try to understand the reasoning behind someone’s lies. But being able to pick up on certain subtleties to know for sure when you are being deceived is different. It’s not enough to know a particular liar wants to present in a certain way.
Three Subtle Ways To Detect Deception
The key is knowing how to distinguish truths from lies. So, how exactly can you learn to understand where reality ends and lies begin?
1. Look For Physical Cues to Help You Detect Deception
Have you ever noticed how, when you lie, you tend to elicit some physical response? Your stress levels go over the roof, and you start feeling a knot in your throat.
According to Dr. Paul Ekman, who has studied emotion for over 40 years, there is no definitive sign of deceit. There are just physical cues.
That is because lying and being deceitful takes a toll on a person. Whenever someone lies, they risk being caught. They have something to lose. Because of that, anxiety levels rise. As a natural follow-up, physical cues begin to show. Sweaty palms, lack of eye contact, fidgeting, heavy breathing, are all signs of someone being stressed. There is also an association between increased pupil size and lying.
Covering your neck with a hand, compressing the lips, raising the inside edge of a foot are all signs of tension. And they have all been linked to lying. People often believe that the body and face always provide reliable cues to lying. But remember, these are only signs that might indicate you should investigate further. They aren’t flawless methods. It would be best if you took notes when you see these behaviors, but there is more investigation needed.
Another thing to take into consideration is when someone displays fake emotion. Whenever you talk to someone, and they exhibit any kind of dishonest emotion, that might be a tell. If someone smiles without their eyes, they are probably deceiving us into thinking they are genuinely happy. Try to take note of how someone emotionally interacts with you, and weed out the people who tend to fake how they feel. They are probably deceiving you in some way or another. Again, don’t rush into blaming them. Take note of when they are faking and why, but also look for other evidence.
But liars can act in unusual ways sometimes. According to Dr. Bella DePaulo, when liars are more motivated, they can be unusually still and make notably less eye contact. Because of these unusual mannerisms, relying too much on body language alone can impair your ability to accurately detect lies. Remember to never jump to conclusions too fast and double-check everything.
2. Detect Deception by Identifying Inconsistencies In Story Telling
When it comes to stories, they are bound to vary a little bit every time you tell them. It is normal. As time passes, details become hazy. But the main storylines remain the same. This is not true in cases of deception, though.
Liars always sound more discrepant and ambivalent when relating an event. The structure of their stories is less logical, and what they say sounds less plausible. The reason why they’re trying to deceive you also changes the way they shape their stories. Someone who wants to fool you into thinking they are rich, famous or whatever, will overly exaggerate things. The ones who are hiding something will withhold information to make it easier to get their stories straight. This idea is supported by Dr. DePaulo and her colleague, Dr. Wendy Morris.
Stories Might Lack Details
Ray Bull, Ph.D., professor of applied social psychology, has stated that liars have a dilemma. They have to make up a story on the spot. This adds to the stress of knowing you are doing something immoral. Being under pressure, it is highly likely that their ability to make up something plausible lessens. They also don’t know what information you have about what they’re about to tell you. They’re always at risk of saying something you already know isn’t true. This makes them have to be vague and offer incomplete information, or chance of being caught red-handed.
Often, they will skip details to the point where it’s clear that they are not conversing in good faith. They provide fewer details about time, location, things they heard, or conversations they had. They tend to speak slower to have time to remember how exactly the lie goes. More grammatical errors than average are also a pretty clear sign of deception. They ramble more and seem less confident of the facts. If you ask them to repeat a particular attribute, they will struggle to make it seem plausible. The most obvious clue is the overuse of utterances, like “um”, “ah”, and so on.
Along with the stories they tell being illogical, the stress adds other means in the mix. Research conducted by Aldert Vrij, Ph.D., supports the idea that liars have to make a convincing impression, not just tell a story. They have to make you believe them without a doubt. If you start asking difficult questions or otherwise make them elaborate, they will eventually crack. A subtle way of doing this is asking them to relate the story backward. If they are telling the truth, they will have memories to rely on and they will manage to do that. But liars have learned the story like they would a poem. They can recite it, and that’s about it.
Vocabulary Clues to Help Detect Deception
Vocabulary is another big thing. Psychologist James Pennebaker has outlined three primary vocabulary cues to look out for:
- Fewer first-person pronouns (liars avoid ownership, they strive to distance themselves from the story and avoid taking responsibility)
- More negative emotion words (they overuse words like hate, worthless and sad because they tend to be more anxious)
- Fewer exclusionary words (words like but or nor because they avoid having to distinguish what they did and didn’t do)
3. Detect Deception By Noticing Deviations From The Baseline
When being deceitful, people tend to act in unusual ways. Not necessarily uncommon from an objective point of view, but different than they would otherwise act. Even you’ve been overly excited at some point when telling your friend you love that outfit that’s actually horrid.
Someone’s baseline is their typical reaction to a specific event taking place. If a kid is usually loud and gets quiet when you ask why the cup is broken, that’s a sign. The way to spot deviations is to study the reactions of those around you. How do your friends usually react when you wear a nice outfit? Are they excited or are they less impressionable? Understanding the baseline of your peers will make it obvious to spot the deviations. If your hard to impress friend is unusually excited about your shoes, chances are they might be deceiving you. If your kid has the urge to clean the house out of the blue, they probably messed something up.
Less noticeable deviations from the baseline are hot spots. The usual hot spot is a conflict between the words spoken and the tone, gestures, or facial expressions. If they’re telling you something routine but use an overly energized manner, something might be up. This can translate into micro-expressions. These are flashes in 1/25 seconds of the genuine emotion the person is feeling. Being so brief, most people don’t notice them. But, if you look close enough, chances are you might spot them. And if you do, that guarantees you know how someone truly feels about what they are telling you.
Unfortunately, in this society, being deceived is something everyone will have to deal with. However much you might want to trust people, you will have to be a little suspicious from time to time. When investigating whether someone is deceiving you or not, you have to be as subtle as possible. After all, you wouldn’t want to seem like a lunatic if they are acting in good faith. You always have to be careful not to incriminate someone without a detailed examination.
There are three safe ways to do this. Look for physical cues that might indicate stress or pressure. Examine vocabulary and the logic behind every story you hear. And finally, look for unusual behavior, something that deviates from the standard. When you master these three things, you can make sure no one will be able to deceive you again!