top of page

The Science Of Lying Part 2. Language Patterns

We are all liars and so are all the people around us. The average person hears up to 200 lies a day, according to research by Jerry Jellison, a psychologist at the University of Southern California. All of us, even the most truthful of us lie. So why do we tell these lies? Maybe not to hurt someone. Maybe because we don’t want to share some information that might hurt us or others. Or maybe because we are selfish. From one end to the other of the lying spectrum, from the occasional liar to the narcissist there is a range of people who lie whether they like it or not.

At the end of this paper is a list of references which you can use a bibliography showing the most recent lie detection research from the last 2 years.

Research in 2016 demonstrates that people who lie more often become better at it and are more likely to lie again. A study that gave a reward for lying successfully showed that if we lied without being caught, or if there were no consequences at all for the lie, we were more inclined to lie more often. There is an internal brain reward for this. The more the people in the study did this, the more likely they were to lie in the future. They also become better at it. Another research paper showed that people who lie in relationships once are 3 times more likely to do it again also. See the study here.

With the rise of artificial intelligence and videography to watch people lying, the art of how to spot a liar has always been a huge topic of conversation. It has been proven that watching body language alone, listening to language patterns, watching facial expressions, even at expert level and by machines is not 100% accurate. For years we have used polygraphs (lie detectors), but even these have been proven to be beaten.

There is no failsafe way to really understand whether someone is definitely lying or not yet. But you can start to learn if people are telling the truth by getting to know their baseline first of usual behavior and then watching or listening to deviations from there. A recent study here showed that simply doing this once and then attempting to read someone again can be inaccurate, but getting to know someone over a period of time and practicing observation, has been shown to make a difference to the ability to read if someone is lying. Also paying particular attention to their language patterns. Knowing what someone does usually and observing changes from the normal, then asking about these changes in patterns is one of the best ways of knowing if there is a lie occurring.

Even when we know them better, we need to get an understanding of why these behaviours and deviations from usual patterns might occur and look at reasons relating to why they may be occurring. Are they sick? Is there something else they are concealing? Could there be another reason for the behaviour pattern changes? The answer is to ask them, then listen carefully!

More recent research has moved significantly towards language patterns, speech and actively talking to people, encouraging them to talk and listen to them give away spoken deceitful information. Create rapport, elicit conversations. Get them to talk more. This will give you more data to work with.

A research study carried out in December 2019 looked at the ability of someone to be a good liar. People who lie regularly and consistently as we’ve seen in the study as outlined above are more likely to escape detection. As they practice further they become better at it. One of the most accurate ways you can detect if someone is a liar is to watch carefully and listen carefully for inconsistencies in storytelling.

Aldert Vrij, is one of the world leading researchers in lie detection. He produced a study in 2019 showing that verbal cues are far more important to detect lying. This includes analysing speech, which was more effective for lie detection than behavioural patterns alone.

He has researched lie detection based on the different cognitive processes or strategies adopted to appear convincing. Aldert has also investigated how to actively interview people to elicit or enhance verbal cues of deceit. Links to the research papers are at the bottom of this document.

One of the best ways to ensure that you start identifying if someone is not telling the truth is to start looking for inconsistencies in storytelling. This is an area where you can start delving further into whether this person is telling you the truth or not. Regular inconsistencies may indicate that this person may not be telling the entire truth. Sometimes liars start to realise that you may have remembered an inconsistency against them. They then respond by changing their statements and trying to provide an innocent explanation for this. This results in liars showing even more inconsistencies. Considerably more than truth tellers.

Truth tellers are generally forthcoming, whereas liars try to prevent revealing incriminating information through avoidance. If they avoid answering questions this is another sign of a potential lie. Lots of avoidance? Then delve further!

You can also start uncovering lies by carrying out another complex task with this person and asking them about an event. Liars have to spend more effort on their storytelling. They are less able than truth tellers to cope with carrying out the storytelling (lying) and another cognitive task. For example, puzzle solving, playing a complex game or something similar. If you ask unusual questions this can also cause inconsistencies to show.

How Is This Related To Coaching?

If we see that someone is lying when we are coaching them we may want to delve deeper ourselves, however what we need to remember is it is our client which decides what they want to disclose and when. We listen without judgement and understand that when the time comes they may want to disclose more.

For everyone else, all of these details are ideas to help you further and give you further reading to help you on your lie detection quest! Remember to use this information carefully, gain as much information as you can and once you have further skills and practiced, start to trust your gut feeling. This may be a combination of subconscious cues telling your brain to search for further answers!

Caroline Langston is the Founder of Successful Consultants Ltd, an Executive, Personal and Career Development Coaching company in Hong Kong and New York. She is also the Founder of a nonprofit providing free information and coaching to people who are unemployed. Caroline is dedicated to coaching people for success and happiness in their careers and lives. She is degree qualified with a Certificate in Professional Coaching from the ICF, Certificate in Team Coaching from the EMCC. Also further certifications in Neuro Linguistic Programming at Master Practitioner and Coach level.

Neil Garrett 1, Stephanie C Lazzaro 1, Dan Ariely 2, Tali Sharot 1

Sharon Leal Aldert Vrij Haneen Deeb Ronald Fisher

Aldert Vrij and Ronald P. Fisher

Eglantine Julle-Danière, Jamie Whitehouse, Alexander Mielke, Aldert Vrij, Erik Gustafsson,Jérôme Micheletta, Bridget M. Waller

Brianna L. Verigin, Ewout H. Meijer, Glynis Bogaard, Aldert Vrij

Aldert Vrij


bottom of page