Criminology Epistemology Psychology

7 Signs That Someone Is Lying

The signs that someone is lying can vary from person to person. Getting to know the common signs, though, can alert you to something being off.

Lie detection is both an art and a science.

Many of these tell-tale signs are fairly common, though compulsive liars can get away with lying for a long time, sometimes indefinitely.

It’s extremely rare for anyone to be able to completely fool everyone all the time. Even the best liar will eventually slip up in one way or another.

As a polygraph proves, lies always come out differently to the truth.

Then it’s up to you to interpret the crumb trail they’ve been leaving behind the whole time.

A Liar Will Often:

1. Jump Into Present Tense

  • Common: somewhat to very
  • Reliability: medium to very
  • Exceptions: retelling someone else’s experience; telling a rehearsed story

When someone is fabricating a story they are much more likely to speak in present tense than to use past tense.


Police, lawyers, and judges often see how differently a person responds when they are lying as opposed to a person telling the truth.

Let’s say if one person has been a witness to an assault in an elevator and the other had not they would each have quite different ways of expressing this.

In the first case the person was not a witness to anything.


Interviewer: What happened in the elevator?

Answer: Nothing. I got in the elevator. It went down.

In this next example the person was a witness to a crime, but doesn’t want to let on.


Interviewer: What happened in the elevator?

Answer: I get in the elevator. There’s people talking. I get off. That’s it.

The person’s brain is creating a new event and as it is being created is being relayed into words.

There are times though when someone will use present tense to talk about something that may in fact be true, but since it didn’t happen to them will be relayed in the present tense.

Another exception could be where a person has rehearsed a story and it is in effect “in the past” having already created the event in their mind previously. In this case they may be able to stick to the past tense in the retelling.

2. Require Additional Lies

  • Common: very
  • Reliability: very
  • Exceptions: some people manage to draw on real memories related to a different event, though this is extremely rare as small details can trip them up.

As soon as a person is quizzed on a lie they have just told they are likely to require additional lies to support the first lie.

If someone says they were somewhere at a certain time when they really weren’t they are inevitably going to have to back that up with more lies.

If they are asked who was with them, well, they are going to have to make something up.

Just about any detail is going to be a fabrication.

If every lie needs, say, 4 or 5 lies to support it, well the amount of invention is going to grow exponentially under sustained questioning.

two women talking
Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

3. Be Short on Certain Types of Detail

  • Common: very
  • Reliability: very
  • Exceptions: pathological liars may sometimes know to add these type of details as “convincers”.

A person making stuff up is obviously not going to recall smells, or any other sensory experience as the event they are relaying never happened.

Their story is naturally going to lack those types of detail.

There are exceptions to this.

For example some people may work particularly hard at being convincing and make special effort to include sensory details.

This may be due to the fact that they are aware that sensory details are generally lacking in fabricated stories.

However for the most part sensory details are not going to be included in a description that is being made up on the spot.

three women talking
Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

4. Have Unusually Slow Responses

  • Common: very
  • Reliability: very
  • Exceptions: pathological liars can sometimes be very fast at making stuff up.

If a person has the answer to a question their brain will usually access that information instantly.

If they do not want to provide a truthful answer they will need to make something. It will take a second for their brain to go through the unlimited range of answers available, gauge the consequence of the best one, and furnish that reply.

Some people with very fast language processing skills can use stalling tactics while they select the best answer. This is an attempt to cover up the delay in response.

But it’s extremely rare for anyone to be able to avoid a slight delay altogether.

Especially when fielding a surprise question which they do not want to answer.

Which leads us to the next point.

graffiti  of the words What Do You Mean?
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

5. Stall With Questions

As explained in the previous point the brain needs a little time to process the possible consequences of the unlimited options available if the truth is to remain concealed.

In order to prevent looking suspicious a liar will use stalling tactics.

This can either give them extra time to think about the answer or derail the interviewer.


  • Sorry, could you repeat that?
  • Are you asking if I [ and repeats the question ] ?
  • How could you ask that?
  • Do you realize what you are asking?
  • What’s this all about?
  • What do you mean?
  • Are you asking about me personally, or in general?
  • Is this really necessary?

There are some exceptions to this, of course. There may be a case where someone is resentful of being interrogated and is being difficult because they like playing games or messing with people. Or they may be afraid of accidentally incriminating themselves due to some previous bad experience and are extra cagey as a result.

6. Use Physical Barriers

  • Common: somewhat
  • Reliability: fair
  • Exceptions: some people may be nervous due to the setting and their body language may come across as being reticent. Some people’s normal body language shows they are cautious or fearful in general.

Psychologically a person will feel like getting away from the discomfort of being interrogated. This discomfort will be greater for a person who has something to hide.

A person may unconsciously begin placing barriers between themselves and the interviewer.

For example they may cross their arms, or shield their throat or face with their hands.

They may unconsciously place a chair between themselves and the interviewer, or find themselves sitting facing the back of the chair.

If seated at a table facing their interviewer they may find themselves shifting items on the table to create a small barrier between themselves and the interviewer.

Sometimes the attempt to reduce vulnerability is very subtle, like excessive blinking, or leaning away.

7. Offer an Alternative

  • Common: very
  • Reliability: very
  • Exceptions: some people may not know what happened and could be trying to figure it out too.

If a person is offering ideas as to what might have happened it is often a sign that they are in creative mode and are trying to deflect from the truth.

A person who suggests that “maybe this happened”, or “maybe that happened”, is not necessarily being helpful. It is quite likely they are hoping a few red herrings will throw doubt on themselves as a suspect.

A person who has no knowledge of what happened has nothing to offer.

It is only if they are also trying to investigate that they will begin coming up with different hypothetical scenarios. Most people won’t do that unless they are invested in the outcome.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

On The Reliability of Physical And Verbal Clues

These clues, while extremely common due to human nature, are not always guaranteed to expose a liar. Sometimes a person may look suspicious for a different reason than is assumed, too. This is why it’s important to remember that lie detecting is an art as well as a science.

Polygraphs are much more reliable, some would say practically infallible, because there are certain physical reactions that happen automatically. Sure in film and television shows you have people beating the polygraph, but it’s so unlikely as to not just be improbable but impossible.

Articles with titles such as “How to Beat a Polygraph” have steps that are virtually impossible to follow. Don’t count on advice in those types of articles to give someone enough ammunition to actually beat a polygraph. At best they can provide muddled results as to make the test inconclusive. But that’s not beating the polygraph. That’s just rendering the results unusable, which could be seen as a sign of guilt in any case.

Sources and further reading:

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