Is there a liar in the room?
Lies occur between friends, teachers and students, husbands and wives, lawyers and clients – yet nobody wants to be caught.
“I’ve interviewed crooks more apt to admit to a major crime than to lying,” says Glenn Woods, a criminal profiler, who’s been studying deceptive behaviour for more than a decade. “Everybody lies to some degree.”
Of course, there’s a gulf that separates little white lies from the whoppers, but learning how to tell if someone is lying is a skill that’ll always come in handy. Here’s what to watch for.
1. Listen to the voices
Pay attention to voice changes like change in pitch or cracking; they may well indicate deceit.
“A person’s voice pitch tends to be a bit higher when they’re lying than when they’re telling the truth,” says Dr Mary Ann Campbell, assistant professor of psychology. “It doesn’t mean they’re lying for sure, but there’s a higher likelihood.”
2. Watch those words
What about written material? Can we spot misleading behaviour in letters, emails and even resumés?
Professor David Skillicorn and his students in the School of Computing at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, created software – based on the deception model developed at the University of Texas at Austin – that can sniff out lies in emails and other written material by studying the frequency and kinds of words used. Skillicorn says liars tend to use fewer exclusive words such as but, or and except. They also tend to use more negative-emotion words such as ashamed, upset and embarrassed. “These are the words that send up red flags,” says Skillicorn. “It’s as though some part of the brain is feeling bad and this comes out in the writing.”