Spot the liars with these five telling traits. (Photo: Getty Images)
Want to know if someone is telling you the truth? Are you unsure whether or not your son or daughter is really telling you what they were up to on Friday night? Hesitant to believe your friend’s explanation for missing your dinner party? Not quite convinced your husband or wife was really just working late last night? First step – look at their hands.
Researchers at the University of Michigan studied video clips from high-stakes court cases in an effort to identify the language and gestures used by people being dishonest and found that, among other things, people who were lying waved both hands around far more often than those who were telling the truth. To identify the body language and verbal cues most commonly used when telling lies, the researchers, who published their findings as part of the International Conference on Multimodal Interaction, carefully examined more than 100 courtroom videos, including testimonies from the Innocence Project, a nonprofit that specializes in the legal cases of the wrongfully convicted.
The real-world, high stakes nature of the footage analyzed was crucial to the study, Rada Mihalcea, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan who co-led the project alongside UM-Flint professor of computer science and engineering Mihai Burzo, told Yahoo Health. “We wanted to see what it would be like if you had real deception. We can do lab occurrences, asking subjects to lie imagining that they are in a certain situation, but we then don’t get that high stakes occurrence of deception because it can be difficult to create a setting that truly motivates people to lie. But in the real world, there is true motivation to deceive.”
The videos analyzed included testimony from both defendants and witnesses, and with the exception of the Innocence Project clips, researchers established who was lying based on the trial verdict. Audio from the videos, including vocal fillers such as “um,” “ah,” and “uh,” was transcribed and analyzed, while physical gestures were coded and counted.
All data was then fed into new, unique lie-detecting software created by Mihalcea and Burzo, alongside research fellows Veronica Perez-Rosas and Mohamed Abouelenien, and their one-of-a-kind algorithm was impressively found to accurately identify who was lying 75 percent of the time — making it much better, in fact, at detecting falsehoods than people. (Humans presented with the same information by the researchers were only able to accurately identify liars at a 50 percent accuracy rate.) And this return rate impressively puts Mihalcea’s algorithm on par with the most commonly accepted form of lie detection, polygraph tests, which are found to be roughly 85 percent accurate when testing guilty people and 56 percent accurate when testing the innocent.
And while Mihalcea, who hopes that this research could assist law enforcement personnel in the future, is not suggesting that you start fastidiously tracking the behaviors of those you talk with in order to catch them in a lie, does recommend “just acknowledging that there are differences between liars and truth tellers that are encoded in these low level factors of communications. Just realize that they are there” and proceed accordingly.
With that in mind, here are five common tells the University of Michigan team saw exhibited repeatedly. They may not help you catch a thief (sorry, Gwyneth), but they just might help you spot a fib from a mile away.
1. Gesturing with both hands
Liars were found by far more likely to use animated hand movements than truth tellers. While only 25 percent of truthful people were seen gesturing with both hands, that number jumped to 40 percent for liars, a correlation Mihalcea says “might have to do with them trying to fabricate something. When there is more explanation going on, they need both hands to create more of the story.”
2. Scowling and grimacing
“Frowning with anger occurs more often with lying than with truth telling,” explains Mihalcea. While just 10 percent of honest people pulled a full-faced grimace, 30 percent of liars were noticed scowling with their entire face. (Grumpy Cat, we’re hoping you’re the exception to the rule here. Surely that fur face only speaks the truth.)
3. Making direct eye contact
Despite many a preconceived notion that liars avoid eye contact, researchers found that fibbers actually looked the questioner in the eye more often than those being truthful. In the videos studied, 70 percent of liars looked directly at their interrogator, versus 60 percent of honest people, something Mihalcea said may be because “the liars are trying so very hard to convince that they are not lying, that in a rational way, they’re just using everything they can” to emphasize their trustworthiness.
4. Peppering speech with filler words
Liars are more likely to trip over their words and unintentionally use filler language like “um” to draw out the conversation as they struggle to concoct a believable story or to remember a prefabricated narrative. “This is something that is hard to control,” explains Mihalcea. “When you are thinking about what you are going to say, the words are rational and logical to convince other people of what you want to in dialogue. But the other sounds, you can’t control as much,” and they may inevitably slip out despite a liar’s best attempt otherwise.
5. Avoiding the first person
When telling a lie, people are more likely to distance themselves from the action itself by using third person pronouns like “he” or “she” instead of first person words like “I” or “we.” Sometimes, they’ll even truncate their language and drop the subject noun entirely (“Really liked running into you last night,” for example) to give themselves a bit of psychological distance from the lie.
Sure, it’s far from foolproof. But considering that the majority of adults can’t go 10 minutes without telling a lie, little white or otherwise, we’ll take all the help keeping things on the up and up that we can get.
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