Most people want to learn body language specifically to find out when someone is lying to them, because we all have control over the words we use, but very few of us have control over our body movements and gestures that reveal what our true thoughts are. James Patterson, author of the popular book The Day America Told The Truth found out during his research that 91% of the population lied regularly (either White or Malicious Lies) both at home and at work.
Do you remember when you were little and you didn’t want to listen to what your parents had to say so you’d cover your ears? Or after telling a lie perhaps you’d quickly cover your mouth in an attempt to stop the deceitful words coming out? How about when you saw something really scary or inappropriate and you’d cover your eyes to block those things out? All these facial gestures remain with us as we grow older but become more subtle in the way we use them. Be aware however that some of these gestures can mean other things such as doubt, uncertainty, and exaggeration, so make sure you don’t read body language gestures in isolation, but rather look for a group of gestures or micro gestures such as increased saliva swallowing (more visible in men due to the Adam’s apple), contraction of eye pupils, sweating, blushing and even blinking will increase from the normal 10 blinks per minute to up to 60. Here are a few common gestures of lying:
- Say No Evil: As mentioned above, we unconsciously cover our mouth after lying or being deceitful, as our brains unconsciously send signals to block what we consciously know is not true. The say no evil gesture doesn’t necessarily have to be obvious – sometimes we block our mouth with our whole hand, a single finger as if we were scratching our lip or doing the ‘Shh” gesture (learned in childhood as our parents told us to shut up), to rubbing our mouths with a few fingers, to even sometimes a fist (occasionally masked by a fake cough). As you can read in the mirroring article, sometimes if you are the one lying and the other person is aware of it, they will be the one making a similar mouth block gesture (the same as many of the other ones below) as you are, just like when someone has something in their teeth, and the person they are talking to passes their tongue through their teeth as if subconsciously alerting you.
- Smell No Evil?: This gesture occurs when the person quickly rubs their nose several times or does one quick stroke on the side. Research has shown that chemicals known as Catecholamines are released when we lie causing the inside tissue of our noses to swell up while our blood pressure is slightly raised. The raising of our blood pressure then causes our noses to expand making the nerves inside give us that tingly sensation that makes us want to rub it. Apart from happening during deceit, this also occurs when someone is anxious, upset or angry. Haven’t you ever noticed those ‘cocky’ guys (watch The Sopranos) who are trash-talking or getting ready to fight end up doing the thumb-stroke-side-of-nose motion? If they genuinely had an itchy nose because of a cold or hay fever they would be satisfied by deliberately scratching or rubbing it as opposed to a subtle stroke or touch.
- See No Evil: Instead of covering our eyes with our hands as we did when we were little and saw something unpleasant, as adults we choose to rub our eye instead. Most people shut both eyes while rubbing one of them which provides the perfect way of blocking out what we find deceitful, distasteful or doubtful, and we also subconsciously do this to block out the face of the person we are lying to, hence why many people ask to be “Looked in the eyes” when they are saying something the other finds doubtful. Sometimes we choose to look away as a manner of avoiding eye contact while we tell a lie. The popular belief that people can’t look into your eyes directly while lying is wrong though. Several studies have concluded that 70% of liars keep eye contact while only 30% choose to look away, this is because everyone assumes liars aren’t able to keep eye contact which is why liars will choose to do the opposite of what is expected, yet will still have small deceitful ticks like blocking out the victim by rubbing their eyes. Women aren’t as obvious when rubbing their eyes, however, perhaps to avoid messing up their mascara, so instead, they choose a different approach and scratch underneath the eye or on the upper cheek when being deceitful.
- Hear No Evil: As you can imagine by now, this is the gesture used to filter out what we don’t want to hear. If we can’t cover our mouth from being deceitful we’ll try a different approach and cover our ears from hearing the lies we have to say. There are many different ways we choose to do the Hear No Evil gesture, for instance, we sometimes pull our earlobe downwards as if stretching it, rub the back of our ear, as well as shoving our index finder inside of our ear to appear as though we’re scratching and finally we sometimes bend the top of our ear downwards trying to cover our ear hole. The Hear No Evil gesture can also be used in two other contexts, the first is when a person is feeling anxiety and the second is when someone has heard enough and would like to speak now.
- Itchy Neck: This gesture is usually performed with our writing hand, and is when somebody scratches their neck with their index finger below the earlobe or slightly above the neck four to six times. This gesture is normally a sign of uncertainty or doubt and can be used by someone who is telling you they agree with what you have to say while secretly thinking something else, making up their mind or holding back their own opinion. Always remember though to read the Itchy neck gesture in context with the situation and look out for other deceit gestures to make sure you are not misinterpreting.
- Hot Collar: Similar to the Smell No Evil gesture, when our blood pressure rises we are taken over by hot flushes and sweat causing us a tingly sensation on our face as well as our neck. These tingly sensations are our skin trying to raise our now extinct fur on the back of our necks to appear larger to threatening predators. These tingly sensations can also happen when we feel frustrated and angry. Pulling at our neck collars is an attempt to scratch our necks, as well as to let some of the flushed heat from inside our sweaty shirt out.
- The Pacifier: Quite commonly found in women, the pacifier gesture is directly connected to our infant phase and the security that sucking our mother’s breasts provided. I’m sure you’ve noticed that many people who are under pressure or afraid will start bitting on their nails or using their fingers to fiddle with their lips or teeth. This is an obvious yet subtle chain of evolution, where we substituted our mother’s breast for sucking our thumb, as teenagers we start chewing on pens, gum or glasses frames and go from there to cigarettes or fiddling with our mouths using our fingers.
- Eyes Direction: Depending which way a person chooses to move their eyes, this is a strong indicator of whether they are remembering something or whether they are making something up. If you asked a person a question such as “Where did you go?” and they look towards their top right, they are using the memory channel of their brain to remember, if however, they look towards their top left, they are using the visual construction channel to imagine and make something up. Read more about this in the Eyes article.