How to Tell if Someone Is Lying

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Researchers in the academic, business, and military communities have spent years trying to uncover a few simple methods for detecting trustworthiness but, despite their best efforts, continue to come up short. All those books promising to teach you how to spot liars through body language? None has empirical support.

The temptation, of course, is to look for one “tell” that indicates someone can’t be trusted. Is it a false smile? Shifty eyes? The reality, though, is that any single cue is ambiguous. If someone touches her face, she might subconsciously be trying to hide something — or she might have an itch.

To accurately infer another’s intentions, you need to look for a set of cues — gestures that together can more accurately predict or reveal motivation. Here’s how my colleagues and I identified the four key ones (with the help of a robot, of course):

This is an excerpt from David DeSteno’s March 2014 article, “Who Can You Trust?” 

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