Using Body Language To Spot Liars in Mediations

How to read liars and learn the trick to telling a whopper – and getting away with it

By: Ben Paynter

You know your son better than anybody else does, but you can’t tell if he’s lying to you or if he’s just nervous talking about cigarettes. Or maybe you have an employee who seems to have an unusually high frequency of doctors’ appointments. If you were fluent in body language, you’d always know guile from gospel, says Marc Salem, a self-described mentalist who holds advanced degrees in psychology and cognitive science from the University of Pennsylvania and New York University, respectively. For the past 30 years, he has made a career out of reading people. He has taught interrogation tactics to the FBI, the Secret Service, and the New York City Police Department. Salem has even beaten a polygraph, and now he shares the secrets of his craft in his book, The Six Keys to Unlock and Empower Your Mind, out this month. Here, the master interrogator explains how to read liars and reveals the trick to telling a whopper–and getting away with it.

Best Life: How can you discern genuine from dishonest body language?
Marc Salem: Think of a conversation as a package of related signals. What you’re looking for are breaks in a person’s normal pattern, abrupt gestures like hand clenching or head movements, or someone shifting his posture away from you. Imagine you’re watching the scene back as a video: You might think slowing down the frames will help you pick out inconsistencies, but with lying, it is just the opposite. In fast-forward, suddenly you see repeated movements that you didn’t realize were there before, because at normal speed, they are spaced farther apart. They’re sort of like guilty tics.

BL: Do all liars have tells?
MS: Yes. When you lie, you’re subconsciously trying to get out of your own insides, and so you overly externalize. A person who covers his mouth with his left hand while talking is usually lying. If someone looks up and to the right, he’s probably trying to invent an answer rather than tell the truth. People look to the left, either up or down, when recalling the truth. But the ultimate red flag is pupil dilation. Almost no one can escape that.

BL: Why do the pupils dilate?
MS: Pupil dilation is a direct biological response to an emotional reaction. It shows a high level of excitation. Anyone who is telling a lie, unless he’s pathological, will experience some sort of emotional discomfort, no matter how slight. That discomfort registers in this uncontrollable physical response. You can’t fake it, and it will give you away almost every time. The only way to tell a lie successfully is to use the tools of a method actor and become someone else. You have to believe what you’re saying.

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