When was the last time your husband lied to you? Are you absolutely sure about that?
After all, one study found the average man fibs four times a week. In contrast, women stretch the truth only three times a week.
Most of these are little white lies: the missed bus which made you late when, really, you overslept; the headache that was actually caused by one too many beers . . . But, over time, lying can be a slippery slope.
The tale of the wooden boy whose nose grows every time he tells a lie isn’t actually far from the truth, according to Sarah Rainey
Studies have shown that the more fibs we tell, the more the brain becomes desensitised to the guilt which usually accompanies dishonesty. So the more we lie, the easier it is — and the bigger the lies get.
The other consequence is that it’s actually hard to spot an untruth, particularly in people we know well. Our hit rate of lie-detection is just 53 per cent — not much better than flipping a coin.
Last week, however, researchers studying the science of lying made a breakthrough. While a man may give away his lying through his behaviour, you can usually tell if a woman is telling the truth through her language.
So how can you tell if your husband is telling you porkies? With the help of three deception experts, SARAH RAINEY presents the ultimate guide to spotting a liar — from the pitch of their voice to the position of their feet . . .
HIS NOSE REALLY WILL GROW . . . JUST LIKE PINOCCHIO
The tale of the wooden boy whose nose grows every time he tells a lie isn’t actually far from the truth.
A man’s nose really will look bigger when he lies thanks to an area at the bottom of his nose — called the ‘columella’ — which twitches when he’s lying, causing nostrils to flare and his nose to appear bigger and wider on his face.
This area is larger on a man than on a woman, meaning it contains more blood vessels and will get more inflamed with stress. It may also go red or twitch. ‘The stress of the lie can make the blood vessels dilate, making the nose itchy,’ explains body language and behaviour expert Judi James. ‘Nose or face-touching can also be an attempt to perform a cut-off — or a shield — with the hand to mask the facial expression.’
IF HE LOOKS AT THE DOOR, HIS STORY HAS A FLAW
The average person, when telling the truth, blinks once every ten to 12 seconds at a speed of 100 to 400 milliseconds.
Liars blink more often and for longer, closing their eyes for a second or two to shield themselves from scrutiny and give them time to think.
‘Blinking equals nerves,’ explains Renee Ellory, deception expert and author of Eyes For Lies. ‘If someone tells you they are not nervous, but they are blinking a lot, something is up.’
Dilated pupils suggest a person is concentrating hard or feeling anxious, as does unusual eye contact — either avoiding another’s gaze completely or holding it for longer than usual.
But by far the biggest giveaway is which direction they look.
A regular, right-handed person will look up and to the left when recalling the truth (towards the memory centre of the brain which is on the left-hand side of the brain), while a gaze up and to the right suggests they’re making up an answer (from the creative part of the brain, which is on the right).
If they’re recalling something they heard, a look directly to the left (towards the left ear) suggests the truth, while a look to the right indicates a liar.
People who are fibbing often look towards the door, unconsciously checking out their escape route.
BEWARE THE HIGH-PITCHED TONE ON THE ‘DOG & BONE’
It’s harder to catch a liar if they’re not standing right in front of you, but experts say truths and lies can easily be picked apart over the phone.
First, pay attention to the pitch of their voice. If your usually husky-voiced husband suddenly acquires a ladylike lilt, chances are he’s lying through his teeth.
‘Stress tightens the vocal cords, which can often raise the pitch of the voice,’ explains Judi James. ‘There can also be a slight breathlessness caused by stress.’
A dry mouth and repeated throat- clearing or swallowing are all signs of the physical discomfort caused by anxiety, as is an increase in pace: they’re talking fast to get the lie over and done with.
Speaking in a lower volume is another clue. As Cliff Lansley, body language expert and CEO of the Emotional Intelligence Academy, explains: ‘Liars tend to lower their volume to distance themselves from the lie they are telling.’
Listen for the word ‘Well . . .’ in answer to yes/no questions — a sign they’re trying to buy time. They’re also likely to avoid exclusionary words like ‘but’, ‘nor’, ‘except’ as they require complex thought processes, which is too much for someone already entangled in a web of lies.
BE ON YOUR TOES IF HIS FEET SHOW SIGNS OF RETREAT
Studies have shown that liars tend to position themselves not face on, but at right angles to the person they’re lying to. This is a subconscious way of avoiding scrutiny, by turning half their body away from the other person.
If that isn’t proof enough, watch where their feet are pointing: if their toes point towards a door, it’s a physical sign they’re hoping to make a hasty exit. The same is true if someone who’s sitting down stands up or appears agitated.
Experts say we show our true feelings through our feet, because they haven’t been trained to dissemble our thoughts. They’re also easy to forget about when covering a lie.
Someone who shuffles their feet, curls and uncurls their toes or crosses and uncrosses their ankles while speaking is more likely to be lying than someone standing still.
MANY A SLIP BETWEEN EYEBROWS AND LIPS
There are 43 muscles in the face, which move our eyes, mouth, cheeks and brow. Even the most convincing stone-faced liar will struggle to control all these muscles, some of which simply won’t be activated in the absence of any genuine emotion.
‘People don’t realise that our subconscious brain is constantly leaking out how we really feel, despite what we say,’ explains Renee Ellory.
A liar’s lips, for example, may tighten so much with the effort of the lie that they appear pursed and white, while others may inadvertently raise the corners of their mouth into a smile, thanks to the involuntary response of the zygomaticus major muscle in the cheek.
Eyebrows also rise during a lie, due to the ‘corrugator supercilii’ – the muscle between the brows. These tiny changes in the face are known as ‘micro expressions’.
‘These twitches are signals, originating from deep in the emotional brain,’ says Cliff Lansley.
‘When we experience emotions that we don’t want to show, we can suppress facial expressions once we feel them half a second after the trigger.
‘The onset of these expressions can show on the face for 1/25th of a second.’
It’s for this reason that poker players wear caps and eye shades, so even trained deception experts can’t read their expression for signs of a bluff.
ADJUSTING HIS TIE? HE’S READY TO LIE
If A person repeatedly touches their upper body — scratching their head, twirling their hair or rubbing their chin — it’s a sign of deceit.
There are two reasons for this. First, it’s a classic ‘grooming gesture’, a way of easing anxiety by focusing on simple, familiar gestures which can then distract the listener.
For example, a deceptive man might adjust his tie or shirt cuffs, or straighten his glasses, while an untruthful woman might tuck a strand of hair behind her ear or straighten her skirt.
The second reason is protective. A liar subconsciously ‘covers’ their untruth by hiding their mouth or eyes, or shielding their vulnerable body parts.
So a person who puts their hands to their throat, chest or neck is likely to be telling a fib.
Cliff Lansley says these signs are reliable only when they ‘appear as clusters and occur within seven seconds of a person being “stimulated” with a good question’.
If their gestures are at odds with what they’re saying — such as saying ‘yes’ but shaking their head — their body language is betraying their lie.
And if you’re still not sure, touch the palm of a person’s hand: we sweat more when we lie, so if it feels damp, don’t believe a word.
THAT PREGNANT PAUSE IS HIS GET-OUT CLAUSE
What he doesn’t say can be just as telling as what he does. A long hesitation before answering a question is a sign they’re searching for inspiration or trying to throw you off the scent.
According to Cliff Lansley, attempts to fill in the pause — with verbal fillers like ‘umm’ and ‘err’ — are also revealing, as are sudden changes in how long it takes a person to answer your question.
‘Those who don’t answer the question, or answer with a question, or those who don’t offer a direct denial, are practising evasion,’ he adds.
‘Another indicator is when a person switches to “convince” mode. We hear this in phrases such as “Honestly”, “Trust me” or “Ask my mother — she’ll tell you that I’m a good person!” ’
Judi James says the quickest way to call out a liar on the phone is to ask for extra information.
‘A liar might have concocted their story but asking for more detail will floor them,’ she explains.
‘Lying is a complex process for the body. You have to think of the truth first, then suppress it, manufacture the lie, and then perform it.
‘It’s common to use a verbal “swerve”, too. A liar will often come back fighting: “You went through my phone messages?” or “How could you distrust me?” ’
Finally, listen to their breathing. When someone is lying, their heart rate and blood flow quickens, which makes them breathe more heavily.