Whether it’s a harmless lie, or one that’s likely to ruin relationships, how do you spot it? Image Credit: Pexels/Tima Miroshnichenko

Are you being lied to?

Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we learn how to spot a ‘liar’.

The average person lies about a minimum of once to twice a day. However, according to an April 2014 study in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, most people are honest, and the majority of lies are told by the same small group of people, known as ‘prolific liars’. Researchers were able to create a statistical model for this group, to compare them to regular people, and found that prolific liars tell 19.1 lies for every one big lie told by an average person. They also tend to do so for the sake of their own self-interest, such as to protect a secret, rather than because of their concern for others.

Whether it’s a harmless lie, or one that’s likely to ruin relationships, how do you spot it? A November 2014 TED-Ed video by Noah Zandan, author of the 2020 book, Insights into Influence: The Strategies, Tactics, and Secrets of World-Class Leaders and Social Scientists revealed four tell-tale signs to look out for, to find out if someone is lying to you:

1. Liars distance themselves

Listening to how people phrase their sentences is an excellent way of spotting a liar. If someone is lying, they are less likely to refer to themselves, and more likely to use the third-person pronoun. For instance, they would say, “Absolutely no party took place here!” rather than “I didn’t host a party here”.

2. They tend to be negative

On a subconscious level, liars tend to feel guilty about what they’re doing, according to Zandan, so they tend to be excessively negative. You’ll find that if someone didn’t return your call because their phone died, they would simply apologise for it. But a liar would add some negativity to their response, for instance: “Sorry, my awful phone’s battery died. I hate that thing!”

3. They make up simple stories

In order to keep their tall tale straight, liars won’t create an elaborate story. Since lying takes work, they’ll keep their story simple to lighten the cognitive load on their brain. So, often, lies are simple and straightforward, not complex or elaborate, as is the common misconception.

4. They overcomplicate language

Although their story might be simple, the way they tell it may not be as straightforward. According to Zandan, liars tend to use long, convoluted sentence structures, insert unnecessary words, and details that sound fact-based (but clearly are not) in order to bolster their lie. Former US President Richard Nixon’s speech during the Watergate scandal is a great example of this. He declared: “I can say categorically that this investigation indicates that no one on the White House staff, no one presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident."

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