Sure, you may think you’re pretty good at reading people. But can you really catch a smooth liar in action?
It’s possible, and body language is the crucial clue: your body language, that is. It turns out that you may actually be able to detect deception by paying attention to your own body’s reactions.
“Typically we think about watching and observing the other person to catch them in a lie,” body language expert Patti Wood, the author of "Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language & Charisma," told TODAY. “Paying attention to your body can be incredibly useful.”
That’s because your subconscious picks up thousands of cues per minute, Wood said — far more than you could ever detect by watching someone for a particular tic. Typically, liars subtly demonstrate a number of stress cues that your body will pick up on, she explained.
As it takes in those subconscious cues, your body will start to respond: You may feel a little nauseous, get a headache or funny feeling in your stomach, start sweating or change the pace of your breathing. According to Wood, that’s because your body is actually alerting you that something is not quite right — that the person in front of you is stressed for some reason.
Body language and communication expert Dr. Lillian Glass agreed. “When someone lies, your own autonomic nervous system can pick it up,” she told TODAY. Your face might then react, for instance, you might automatically purse your lips, squint your eyes or cock your head to the side, Glass said.
“If you pay attention to your own reactions in terms of the nuances of your own body language, it can help validate that you have just heard a lie,” Glass said.
There are a few caveats, though. First of all, an experienced liar (such as a sociopath) may not give off as many stress cues, meaning your body may not react the same way. Furthermore, you could be creating that stressful situation yourself if you go into a situation trying to “catch” someone in a lie, Wood said — meaning you can’t trust your own body’s responses there, either. Instead, try to cultivate a demeanor that is credible, honest and trustworthy, so someone feels safe entrusting you with the truth, Wood advised.
And always remember exactly why you’re hoping to catch someone in a lie.
“We sometimes are looking for these cues so that we don’t have to have a difficult conversation with somebody,” Wood said. “Ask yourself, what is the result that I want?” Be honest with yourself about your motivations — because even if you do catch someone in a lie, you have to be prepared to handle the truth after that.