Ever had the feeling someone means the exact opposite of whatever’s coming out of their mouth? We asked an expert to equip us with the non-verbal signs to look out for…
If you’re a good listener, or even half decent at holding a conversation, you’ll know the usual verbal cues.
A vague ‘We should catch up soon’ rarely means a diarised meeting, while ‘With the greatest respect’ usually means: ‘I’m about to destroy your incoherent argument in the space of a sentence’.
Having said that, even the most proficient liar can be betrayed by their body if the other party knows where to look. It’s something we’ve been trying to look out for in the biggest mystery in our life at the moment – whether Rose or Leah is the murderer in ITV’s new psychological thriller Cheat.
The four-part drama starring former Coronation Street actress Katherine Kelly as university professor Leah, and BAFTA award-winning Molly Windsor as her student Rose, puts into question whether Rose lied in her academic work and the consequences of Leah challenging her on it. And that’s before we even get to the murder that ominously hangs over the series. To be honest, we haven’t got the foggiest who to believe.
To try and help us sleep better, we spoke to psychologist and body language expert Dr Georgina Barnett to round up the non-verbal clues to look for.
1. Giveaway legs
When you’re deep in conversation with somebody, the last thing you’re thinking about is what their legs are doing.
However, if you’re trying to gauge whether or not someone’s feeling uncomfortable with your oversharing, the best thing to do is shift your gaze downwards.
“One of the main reasons people miss body language cues is that they focus purely on the face,” explains Barnett. “But this can be the most difficult part of the body to read as people are practised at composing their features.”
“The most honest part of the body? The feet.
“Turning the feet away, particularly towards an exit, shows that a person has disengaged and is ready to leave.
“Having legs crossed is usually a sign of comfort, but people will uncross them if a situation becomes uncomfortable.
Then you will see both feet planted on the floor. This is an evolutionary behaviour in which the brain is preparing us to run from potential danger.”
2. Freezing up
We all like to play detective when it comes to unravelling the latest thriller and finding out who the bad guy is.
According to Barnett, the key to trying to decide who’s lying isn’t just in dissecting the language they use. It’s also in their body language.
“The key sign of deception is that a person becomes still or even freezes,” she explains.
“When people lie, they rarely gesticulate, their pitch is more likely to be monotonous, and their hand movements will be controlled.
“Contrast this with the person who’s speaking in earnest – they will be animated, lean forward, widen their eyes and raise their eyebrows.
“A person who’s lying usually tries to compose their features, but they’ll often touch their nose – this is due to increased blood supply to the nose as a result of anxiety.”
3. Lying hands
We’ve all heard the myth about looking to your right if you’re lying, but there are a few other tell-tale giveaways that someone isn’t being honest.
“When it comes to deception, lying usually equals discomfort so the first thing to look out for is discomfort behaviour,” reveals Barnett.
“When people are uncomfortable, you’ll see behaviours such as neck-touching, playing with a necklace, rubbing the temple or neck, and furrowing the forehead.
“If someone is in discomfort, the brain requires the body to do something that will restore equilibrium.
“This is when you see self-soothing behaviours such as touching the face, exhaling with puffed out cheeks and rubbing the arms.”
4. Pursed lips
Everyone’s had that uncomfortable family ‘debate’ across a dinner table, but it’s often difficult to work out if Aunty Pam is playing devil’s advocate or genuinely offended.
According to Barnett, you should ignore what’s coming out of her mouth and focus on how she’s using it.
“Although the face can be difficult to decipher, there are still cues we can identify,” she says.
“Our pupils dilate when we are in the company of someone who is interesting or who we feel positive about, but our eyes dart away if something is said that offends us.
“Blocking the eyes by shutting or putting hands over them shows an adverse reaction.
“A key sign that someone doesn’t agree with you which is often missed is pursed lips – a strong indicator that your views are not in accord.”
5. Subtle stroking
When you think of someone lying to you, you probably imagine some serious shiftiness.
In fact, the opposite is often true. While you’re fixed on their face, make sure you watch out for some unusual hand movements.
“Of course, there are always people who’ve learned how to appear honest when they’re lying, and it’s easy to miss the indicators,” says Barnett.
“However, careful examination will show that when someone’s trying to cover up their deception, they’ll engage in slow, studied behaviours such as stroking the cheeks or chin.
“They will give themselves time before speaking as they weigh their words.
“While they attempt to look open, their expressions will appear fixed and their eye contact may actually increase as it’s contrived rather than natural.”
Think you’re equipped to spot a liar? Tune in to psychological thriller Cheat, which continues tonight at 9pm on ITV. Catch up on the series so far on the ITV Hub.