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Becoming Honest & True

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How to Tell when Someone is Lying:
Tell-Tale Signs of

  by Matt Moody, Ph.D. 

Contrary to the impression given on television shows, the degree to which Lie Detection is successfully done by observing non-verbal, body language is greatly exaggerated.

Lie Detection can happen at higher levels of reliability by applying principles described in my book, "Changing Your Stripes." But the intent of my book is NOT primarily to detect the lying behavior of others (although you could do this), but to detect the lies that you are telling and living yourself.

It is often hard to catch yourself telling and living lies, because you and I will "lie" unwittingly; meaning, we lie, but we do not know that we are lying. These betrayals of truth are not always lies told by the mouth, but through emotion: They are the Emotional Lies that we Live, which are the hardest lies to detect in yourself, yet quite easy to see in others.

When you have a problem, but don't realize you have a problem . . . that's a problem! How could you ever solve a problem, if you don't think you have a problem? The blindness of being unable to see yourself living a lie is called "Self-Deception" — Freud called it "Denial."

"The worst lies are the lies we tell ourselves. Denial is a way of lying to ourselves.
Denial is not a cocoon, but a cage: Denial is not a budding step to something beautiful,
but a self-imposed prison that blocks transformation. De Nile is not just a river in Egypt,
it's the ocean that thousands drown in whenever they fail to own their part
in a problem. Facing the Truth is the key to metamorphosis."

~ Matt Moody 

The built-in bias for psychological research is to look for physical correlations: How does lying relate to factors of body-language, genes, dna, brain chemistry, etc — that's Psychology. But there are more reliable correlations to be found beyond physical confines: specifically, paying attention to tell-tale signs within verbal-language and human relationships — that's Social Psychology.

According to Miller and Stiff (Deceptive Communication, 1993) the reliability of body-language cues for detecting deception is no better than a flip of a coin. Further, Ekman and O’Sullivan (1991) found that people in occupations where detecting deception is advantageous (federal polygraphers, judges, crime scene investigators, and psychiatrists) were not more accurate at detecting deception than average college students. In his book "The language of confession, interrogation and deception," Roger W. Shuy concludes that "human beings are not good lie detectors."

What follows is a list of Body-Language Signs of Deception — signs that you and I may be lying. But remember, these signs are as reliable as a coin flip. After this list, I detail highly reliable Tell-Tale Signs of Deception.

Body-Language Signs of Deception

1. Avoiding Eye Contact

This tell-tale sign is not always reliable because, for example, telling the truth is often accompanied by a lack of eye contact. Admitting the truth when you've made a mistake, is often a hard thing to do; here, lack of eye contact correlates to guilt and shame . . . and NOT lying.

Also, Liars who are aware that “Eye Contact” is the #1 sign of lying, they may try to defeat detection with too much eye contact -- eye contact that seem unnatural and contrived. paradoxically, Giving Too Much Eye Contact can be a tell-tale sign of Deception.

2. Increased Blinking Rate

Is the person lying, or does he or she have a speck of dust in the eye? You need a "base-line" Blinking Rate to compare against, if this indicator will be valid. Some people naturally blink a lot, while others . . . not so much.

3. Changes in Voice Pitch and Pauses

High or low vocal tones may correlate to tight underwear. Excessive pausing may indicate that a liar is making up a story on the fly, or it may signal that a person is simply not articulate. For example, consider a sports interview: most of the time athletes are NOT lying, but some athletes are also NOT articulate either — hence "pausing" is present in their speech.

3. Nervous Fidgeting.

Hands touching the Face, Nose, or Mouth are typical signs of lying, BUT itching and stroking the face can happen because a person has allergies. Remember, people are often nervous at the prospect of telling the truth; thus, this Tell-Tale sign of Lying, along with the others mentioned here, are as reliable as a coin flip.

4. Verbal Defensiveness.

Those who have nothing to hide . . . hide nothing. Freud identified "defensiveness" as a mechanism for resolving conflict between the ID (Instinctual Desire to reproduce) and the SUPEREGO (Social Conscience for doing right and conforming to social mores). Freud is responsible for coining the term: Defense Mechanism

Defensiveness definitely indicates something: While the "defensive" person may not be telling a lie in a defensive moment, he or she is likely living a lie — people who live in alignment with their own inner truth exhibit peaceful emotions, not defensiveness.

5. Physical Defensiveness.

Body Language is guarded. The body of the liar may turn away or fold arms or cross legs to create a defensive shield.

6. Changing the Subject

Liar may try to change the subject to defect attention away from topic tied to their guilty behavior? On the other hand, people will change the subject because they are bored with the topic of conversation. So, is a person Lying or just Being Bored. As the astute observer combines multiple signs of deception, the probability that a person is Lying goes up.

7. Avoiding Straight-forward Seriousness with Sarcasm and Humor

People who use excessive Sarcasm and Humor, may be Lying; hence, they try to cover the seriousness of a sensitive moment with levity? On the other hand, you may be in the presence of a person who tends to be a comedian generally? This is why a BASELINE of behavior must be established first, so a comparison can be made between what you are observing in the moment . . . and how the person is question normally behaves.

8. Contradictory Statements:

Because they are making up a story as they go, Liars slip up with details that don’t match reality. On the other hand, a person be making a honest mistake . . . a misstatement. Observations over time will tell the tale!

9. Contradictory Body Language:

Saying one thing with the mouth, but body language is incongruent. For example a person might say: “Yes, I really want to go with you” (but the non-verbal cues show no excitement for the idea). Also, a Lying Person may do just the opposite (because they are Lying), they contrive excitement with fake smiles and fake enthusiasm as visual evidence to support their Lie.

10. Language is garbled and muddled

This may be a sign of Lying, or it may point to a person merely being inarticulate. Again, if you want to detect signs of Lying, you need a baseline of behavior to which to compare. Remember, some liars are very articulate and verbally smooth — they've learned to be skillful verbally through much practice, to compensate and cover their deceptive intentions.


When confronted with a direct question “Are you lying to me?” . . . liars will typically become uncomfortable, and do some of the body-language signs of deception; in contrast, an innocent person may simply say “Of course not” — with no defensiveness or hesitation.

Even when a person is NOT lying in a particular instance, if they are “Living a Lie” in their life generally, then the direct question “Are you lying to me” may result in that person taking offense — and becoming "defensive." People who consistently live with honor and integrity do not waste time in taking offense.

So when a person is NOT lying, the kind of approach you make creates a constraint that can bring about Defensiveness — again, the person is NOT lying, but merely responding to YOU in the moment! This partially explains why many false confessions and inaccurate information comes during aggressive interrogation.

People behave IN RESPONSE to the conversational context that constrains them: Because a person is trying not to hurt you, he or she may speak deceptive words so YOU won't get upset or disappointed at a straight-forward answer.


Here's a Sign that is pure baloney: Looking up and to the right. This is a myth conjured up by psychologists hell-bent on finding correlations between Deception and the Brain:

Certain brain-oriented psychologists believe that looking up and to the right triggers the part of the brain linked to the imagination. Conversely, when someone looks down and to the left, he or she is activating the section of the brain associated with memories.


Nonverbal cues previously identified are Signs of Lying "on average" — this is how many, but not all, people are liable to behave when Lying. Such generalizations will NOT necessarily apply to particular person.

To illustrate, imagine a group of 1000 men and a group of 1000 women, and you know that, on average, the men are 2 inches taller than women. Now, assume that you find out that a person is 5'9". Based on that information alone, can you tell with any certainty, whether that 5' 9" person is a man or a woman? Why not?

This is the problem with "averages" and "generalizations." This means you cannot consistently apply generalizations from a large group to make claims about specific individuals. Remember, there are tall women and short men, and all sizes in-between. Hence knowing someone's height, by itself, is not conclusive information for trying to a person's gender. In the same way, the previous body-language cue for "lying" will not always apply.

Why Do People Lie?

To serve themselves for their own personal gain: to get what they want which includes:

1) Avoiding trouble; the trouble that a Liar may have caused
2) Increasing power and influence with other; power that only appears temporarily
3) Selling a superficial self-image the Liar desires to project, but isn’t genuine from the heart
4) Gaining more material possessions; getting more things that eventually rust and rot.

Lying is about selfishness: a way of living that is opposite to that which brings true self-fulfillment and happiness in the long run. We lie at the price of our integrity and honor -- our quality of character -- the only thing we do take with us when mortal flesh dies and our eternal soul lives on.

The following are superficial non-verbal cues that may indicate that a person is lying. I say “may” because unless a baseline for behavior is established, you cannot discern whether the cues characterizes behavior outside of that person’s norm.

For example, certain people may have allergies that cause them to rub their eyes or nose -- which can be a nervous twitch indicating a lie - but in this case, it indicates allergies.

Most lie detecting experts agree that a combination of body language and other cues must be used to make an educated guess on whether someone is telling the truth or a lie.

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Now for the good stuff! The following Principles from Dr Matt's book,
Changing Your Stripes, are highly reliable for detecting lies in
your life, and discerning deception in the lives of others.

Lies told by Mouth and Emotion:
Tell-Tale Signs of Living a Lie

Feelings that are False: BRIAR Emotions. When people are being true to their own sense of truth, they display peaceful emotions in their bodies and upon their faces. Integrity of character is evidenced by a calm and contented countenance—an absence of agitated emotions. In betrayal, the tell-tale signs of Justifying, Accusing, & Resenting are expressed outwardly, but what brews beneath all accusing, self-excusing words are anxious and unsettled emotions:

* * * * *
You can lie with your MOUTH or EMOTION:
"When you're in the BRIAR, . . . You're a LIAR."
 * * * * * 

While the lies from our lips are more obvious, lies can also be "told" without words. Resentful and accusing emotions are nonverbal lies that we live; wordless emotional lies that are more subtle and insidious. As we harbor irritated and tense emotions, we are entangled in the thorns of the BRIAR.

                                      The BRIAR represents Lies that we "tell" via Emotion.
                                      The BRIAR represents Lies that we Live!

                                              B = Bothered Blaming & Bitter
                                              R = Resentful & Raging.
                                             I = Irritated Impatient & Irate.
                                              A = Angry Agitated Annoyed Anxious & Accusing.
                                              R = Rationalizing.

These unsettled emotions openly show in our very countenance; they reveal our betrayal of Truth. Because these feelings are false, . . . we are Being False as we harbor them. BRIAR Emotions are yet another set of tell-tale signs that signal the loss of Life's inherent harmony.

* * * * *
When I am False . . . I feel
Tension, Agitation . . . Disharmony.
My Unsettled Emotions signal falseness.
When I am True, I am at Peace;
the Peace that flows freely
signifies Harmony.
 * * * * * 

In Contrast to Pure White. Visualize a canvas of pure white, the kind of canvas that an artist uses to paint a portrait. Think of your life as a collection of colors being painted upon this clean, clear canvas. With every word you think and every deed you do, the portrait of your life is painted, and in contrast to pure white, any tint or shade less than white is obvious and conspicuous. Against an immaculate backdrop, you are able to see . . . with perfect clarity, how some motives and emotions fall short of pure white.

In your mind's eye, imagine that all loving words and deeds possess the unsullied shine of bright white. The purity of love would have no hint of darkness, not even the slightest shade of gray. Every word, deed, thought, or emotion that is "less-than" pure white, is a shade of betrayal:

                                               Pure Love                                                         Less-than-Love
Emotions of Bright White                                  Black & Gray Emotions

                                  calm           approachable                                  impetuous               edgy
                                  lovely           enthusiastic                                  suspicious            angry
                                  amiable           nurturing                                  defensive            cranky
                                  engaging             friendly                                  arrogant             forlorn
                                  fascinating              happy                                  jealous              resentful
                                  welcoming                sweet                                  galled                annoying
                                  cherishing                giving                                  mean               impatient
                                  animated            genuine                                  bitter              malicious
                                  gracious           generous                                  bored               apathetic
                                  cheery             passionate                                  listless                worried
                                  lively           comfortable                                  irritated              fearful
                                  real           warmhearted                                  conceited                tense

Shades of Betrayal: Less-than-Love. When we are being less-than-loving, the portrait we paint upon the white canvas is clouded by confusion; instead of vivid hues of red, blue, and green, a quarreling collision of colors makes the muddied shades of black and gray. Thus the portrait of our Life loses clarity . . . and beauty. Against the backdrop of bright white, even the subtlest shades of gray are easily exposed.

* * * * *
The Light of Innocence shines in the Heart of all Humanity;
It carries the Clarity and Purity of Bright White.
When I betray the Light of Innocence,
tense and agitated shades of black and gray
stand in stark contrast: Emotions Less-than-Love,
these Emotions signal my departure from Pure Light.
.* * * * *.

Foul-Able Feelings: A Sign of Leaving the Light. Feelings are fundamentally of two types: feelings of Light and feelings of darkness; emotions of Bright White and emotions of black and gray. Again, emotions are Life's exclamations . . . that point to moments and matters that need attention—what to reinforce in Bright White moments, and what to avoid when black and gray emotions arise. Emotional feelings "kick in" as a function of how you perceive your world; thus, if your perceptions are incorrect or impure, you will generate body physiology in support of a "false alarm."

* * * * *
Fallacious Feelings should not be followed,
but should be "listened to" and "learned from."
 * * * * * 

The most important function that foulable feelings serve . . . is to let us know we have left the Light. Negative emotions can be useful exclamation points that help us correct our course; however, they are only helpful if we hear and heed their warning, otherwise the experience of feeling negative emotions is just one more useless, needless occurrence of Self-Inflicted Suffering. Listening to what anxious emotions are willing to teach is one way that Life is Self-Correcting.

A thorough understanding of the tell-tale signs of self-deception can provide awareness sufficient to catch yourself and correct your course. The patterns are predictable and observable; they are signs central to the aim of Un-Doing! Seeing these signs in yourself will provide a huge clue . . . to what you need to Un-Do:

* * * * *
When I go against my own sense of Truth,
I go against myself, . . . I am false. Being false, the
way I experience the world is colored by my falseness:
I see darkness in my world, because of the darkness in me.
My thinking, my emotions, and how I behave are all
tainted by betrayal. My search for solutions is
skewed; It is wrong, because I am wrong.
 * * * * * 

When caught in the trap of betrayal, we encounter the connected consequence of diminished vision; betrayal and blindness always occur together. People will not even attempt to correct a problem if they don't think they have a problem--yet they do . . . and are blind to it! Thus, having an intellectual awareness of the tell-tale signs of betrayal is a good start in "seeing" beyond the blindness. Intellectually identifying the tell-tale signs can be quite easy; the harder task is "seeing" the full implications of these outward signs and humbly admitting one's betrayal. Even though there is intellectual acknowledgment of tell-tale signs, yet we will continue to be blind as long as we remain in betrayal. Clear vision only comes with harmony of heart. (Changing Your Stripes, pages 194-200)

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