The Truth About Lying

The Truth About Lying

Amelia Corcoran, Editor & Writer

What was the last lie you told? If you’re like most people, you probably didn’t tell it that long ago. Americans tell an average of 11 lies per week, but 60% of people can’t even go 10 minutes without blurting out a fib. But some lies are harmless, right? Wrong. Telling lies, no matter how insignificant they may seem, has a snowball effect. When you tell a “harmless” lie,  you don’t feel guilty. This trains your brain not to feel the guilt that comes with bigger lies, causing you to tell more and more. Your brain is essentially saying, “What’s the harm?”

People have motives for lying, though. They may lie to protect themselves from embarrassment or punishment, or to get what they want, be it physical or not. They also lie to avoid wasting time on something they don’t want to do, or to make an excuse, in other words. Another common reason someone might lie is to make others feel good. Imagine your grandma got a new shirt that you thought was ugly. If she asked you what you thought of it, you might say it looked really good on her, in order to protect her feelings. But you also might say it for your own sake as well as hers, because a lot of people just want to be liked. And for this reason, they might lie to the crowd about a lot of things, just to seem “cool”.

So how does the brain create these tall tales? It’s simple. It merely recalls the truth in order to figure out what isn’t the truth, so it can use that as a lie. But it doesn’t just use anything that isn’t true. It has to make sure that the lie is believable, and it does this by using background knowledge and figuring out what’s possible in the first place. After doing this, it ensures that the lie it’s creating doesn’t go against the things that others already know about the scenario it’s lying about. Then, when the liar is actually telling the lie, their brain keeps an eye out for signs of disbelief in their victim, as well as working hard to keep back the truth. All that in just a simple “Nice shirt, Grandma!”

Getting lied to can be pretty embarrassing, not to mention enraging and even offensive. This is why it’s beneficial to know some of the common giveaways that someone is lying… because the length of your nose isn’t going to cut it in real life. The most important thing to know when you suspect someone of lying is their baseline. If you know the liar, and have talked to them before, you most likely know how they talk. Vocal norms like the pitch of their voice, whether or not they use filler words like “uh” or “like” a lot, and the speed at which they talk can be useful to establish a baseline, as well as their common body language such as whether or not they tend to play with their hair or rock back and forth on their feet. Once you have a baseline, always compare it to their current behavior. If it strays from the baseline, chances are they’re lying about something. With that said, a common behavior that signifies lying is if the liar is touching their face. Any behavior such as scratching, rubbing, or tapping, as well as the biting or licking of the lips might mean someone is being dishonest with you. This occurs because the question you ask might make them anxious and there’s something they want to hide from you in the response. Their autonomic nervous system attempts to get rid of that anxiety, which in turn drains blood from their face. This is perceived as an itch to the liar, which they touch their face in order to scratch. The draining blood also might cause them to seem a bit paler than normal, which is another thing to watch out for. Signs of stress like drumming on nearby surfaces or rocking back or forth on their feet, as well as any “neatening up” gestures like tucking their hair behind their ear or rearranging surrounding objects can all mean someone is fibbing, too. Liars might sweat, stare at their victim, swallow, clear their throat, yawn, blink or breathe rapidly, suck in their lips, or hide their mouth and eyes before and while the lie is being told. Their pupils also might dilate or constrict. And if they usually make hand gestures while they speak, they’ll do it afterwards if what they said wasn’t true. This is because their brain is busy coming up with the lie before they talk and scanning their victim for signs of disbelief while they talk, so it essentially forgets to move their hands. When a liar makes hand gestures like this, their palms are usually facing towards themself, signifying that they are keeping something from you. They additionally might hesitate before answering your question in order to concoct a lie, though take it easy on them if it’s a question they might need to think about before answering. Another interesting telltale sign of lying is a fake smile. When someone smiles for real, the top half of their face expresses the same emotion as the bottom half of their face (in other words, their eyes are happy as well as their mouth). However, a fake smile consists of mismatched emotions: happy on the bottom half of their face, but something different in their eyes, like fear or disgust. Also, if someone’s lying about their emotions, their face actually might flash their true feelings- for as little as a twenty-fifth of a second. There are some vocal clues, too. If your suspected liar uses filler words like “uh” or “like” a lot, they could be allowing more time to come up with their lie. Or they could be trying a little too hard to prove their honesty. If they use phrases like “to be honest” or “to tell the truth” a lot, chances are their statement is less than truthful. Also, if their voice is louder or higher than usual, or it’s cracking, they might be a liar. Possibly the most obvious sign of lying is if they start to spill the beans but then catch themselves and say something else. It’s pretty hard to cover up a slip like that.

Now that you know all about lying, what will you do with this newfound knowledge? It might be an idea to prevent the snowball effect of even the smallest lies to express the truth in a different way – not just to protect others, but also yourself. 


Works Cited

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Temple-Raston, Dina. “Neuroscientist Uses Brain Scan to See Lies Form.” NPR, NPR, 30 Oct. 2007,