“Anything is better than lies and deceit!”—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
The world is full of lies and the liars who tell them. Chances are if we aren’t telling a lie, we’re probably falling for one. A lot of research has been done on dishonesty, probably because we’re always hoping that we won’t fall for it the next time. Unfortunately, even with all we know about lying, it’s still really hard to catch liars. Worse—some of the stuff we’ve heard about lies are lies themselves (lie-ception, woooah). Let’s not lie to ourselves, we’re all a little fascinated by dishonesty. Here are 42 facts about lies and deception to help scratch that itch for knowledge.
Lies And Deception Facts
43. Honest Healthy Living
According to a study done by the University of Notre Dame, telling the truth can improve your health. The study found that telling fewer lies per week improved both mental health and physical health. Participants who told fewer or no lies reported fewer complaints such as feeling tense and having headaches, compared to the control group which was allowed to continue lying. Telling the truth isn’t only good for your soul, it’s good for your body too!
42. A Liar Born Every Minute
60% of people lie at least once in ten-minute conversations, according to a study published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Social Psychology. According to the research, people do this because they want to be likeable and viewed as competent. This means that during even a brief conversation someone’s probably telling a lie or two.
41. The Doctor is In
Even in places where we’re encouraged to be honest and truthful—like a therapists office—we still choose to lie. According to a survey done by the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, 52% of psychotherapists have been lied to, or suspect they’ve been lied to, by their clients. Why do we do it in therapy? A different study done by Wake Forest University says it’s because we feel ashamed and don’t want our therapist to judge us.
40. Nature vs Nurture
According to Dr. Melba Vasquez, a therapist in Austin Texas, "The ability to be honest requires either good modeling in families or having developed good mental health;" the truth quite literally starts in the home. For people who don’t grow up with good modeling, or haven’t developed good mental health, lying is a way to cope.
39. Lies Find a Way
Our brains adapt to lying, and this can actually cause us to lie more as time goes on. According to “The Slippery Slope of Dishonesty” published in Nature Neuroscience, lies can grow over time. What they call “self-serving dishonesty” increases the more we do it, and as such these lies can grow larger and larger. Lying is like a plant, the more you feed it, the larger it grows.
38. Fantastic Lies and Where to Find Them
A rare condition referred to as pseudologia fantastica is a type of pathological lying. According to Unusual and Rare Psychological Disorders: A Hand Book for Clinical Practice and Research psuedologica fantastica is when people lie telling “eloquent and interesting stories, sometimes bordering on the fantastic, that are told to impress others. These stories may seem to be just on the verge of believability and often involve the patient assuming important and heroic roles.” It’s a hard condition to diagnose and, like the book title suggests, it's quite rare.
37. Big Little Lies
Research shows that Americans lie 11 times a week on average. That’s a little over one lie per day.
36. Human Lie Detector
People suck at telling when someone else is lying. Studies show that people can tell when someone is lying about as accurately as they can call a coin toss—about 52% of the time.
35. Subconscious Awareness
While we suck at trying to figure out lies on a conscious level, studies show that if we’re not consciously focusing on detecting lies, parts of our brain work on a subconscious level to detect deception. Our conscious brain winds up over thinking things, relying on inaccurate information about liars which compromises our ability to tell if someone is lying.
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34. Shifty Eyes
The commonly held belief that people fidget or look away when they lie... isn’t true. We’ve been lied to about lying.
33. Blame Game
Researchers have tried to figure out why we suck at catching liars. One theory believes there’s not one obvious cue for us to look for (no one’s nose grows like Pinocchio), so we have to rely on a lot of complex and varying signs that change from person to person. On top of that, we also have inaccurate information on how to detect lies—like looking for shifty eyes. Another theory states that we have too many resources like food, and we’re generally pretty safe. Because of those two things, we lack the motivation to spot liars. Evidence shows when safety and food are scarce, our ability to detect lies increases. So if you have to take a lie detector test, bring donuts, they'll make the people giving you the test less able to spot your fibs!
32. Monkey See, Monkey Do
Primates can both lie and tell when they’re being lied to. Jane Goodall and other researchers noticed chimpanzees can tell when they’re being lied to—allowing them to find food that’s been hidden from them by other lying chimpanzees. Capuchin monkeys also know when to ignore false alarm calls when lying capuchins are just trying to lure them away from their food.
31. Inner Workings
Aphasics—people who have had the left cerebral hemisphere of their brain damaged—are better at detecting lies than people without that damage. Because they cannot understand sentences, they have to rely on nonverbal cues, and thus are better at spotting lies.
30. Fool Me Once Shame On You
People who have high emotional intelligence are more likely to fall for emotional lies. A study published in Legal and Criminological Psychology tested people with high emotional intelligence, and found the ability to perceive and express emotion lowered their ability to detect when they were being lied to.
29. You Can’t Hide Your Lying Eyes
While shifty eyes aren’t a sign that you’re being lied to, pupil response is. When we’re lying our pupils dilate.
28. Less is More
People are actually better at detecting lies if the liar is wearing a face veil. A study was done after rulings came down from courts in the UK, Canada and United States that said witnesses couldn’t wear a niqab (face veil) during their testimony. Judges worried it would interfere with people’s ability to tell if the witness was lying. In reality, people are better at telling if someone is lying when they’re wearing a face veil because it causes them to focus on more the eyes, which makes it easier to detect deception.
27. When You Can Trust the Eyes
Despite the fact that liars don’t avert their gaze any more than someone telling the truth, there’s an exception to this rule; research has shown that when there’s a high stakes lie (losing a lot of money, or their freedom), that’s when people have a tendency to look away.
26. You Have the Right to Continue Lying
A study done in 2016 shows that police officers are no better at telling when someone is lying than the rest of us. They’re susceptible to the same stereotypes about lies—like that averting your gaze and fidgeting means someone is lying—as the rest of us.
25. Correct Me if I’m Wrong
Overall, liars' stories tend to have less cohesion than someone telling the truth. They’re more likely to correct themselves mid-story than truth tellers. So next time someone goes, “I met them on Tuesday, no wait—Monday!” you might have a liar on your hands.
24. What Did They Say?
Liars are also unlikely to describe what was said in a conversation. For example, “She told me that she was going to get me fired,” isn’t something a liar is likely to say.
23. Best Face Forward
The micro expressions on our face can give away our true emotions. Forensic psychologists are able to detect these micro expressions that act as giveaways when someone is lying. For instance, before Michael White was charged with murdering his wife in 2005, he first gave an emotional plea for her life, telling the world that he was looking for her. Later, White led a search party directly to her body, where he was immediately arrested. Stephen Porter from the Forensic Psychology Lab at Dalhousie University looked over the tape of his emotional plea and said that even in that tape there were signs of anger and disgust that went unnoticed by most viewers.
22. Lie Detector.
Surely the good, trusty lie detector can tell when someone’s lying, right? Nope. According to psychologists, they’re not a good way to tell if someone is lying. Leonard Saxe, psychologist, professor, and polygraph researcher says, “Because of the nature of deception, there is no good way to validate the test for making judgments about criminal behavior. There is no unique physiological reaction to deception." Seems passing a lie detector test means nothing.
21. Tech vs Deception
Psychologists have been carefully compiling a list of facial expressions, body language, and speech patterns that can help people tell when someone is lying. They’re working on creating software that will analyze facial expressions, and catch when people are lying. Hopefully this will work better than than the old-school lie detector.
20. Listening Goes a Long Way
People who listen to liars, rather than watch them, are better at detecting the lies. This is because they describe liars as sounding “more nervous.” Voices tend to reach a higher pitch when people are lying.
19. Lips Don’t Lie
Another facial cue liars often do is rolling their lips together. So rather than looking for someone who’s displaying nervous body language like fidgeting, look for people who are pressing their lips together. They might be the liar you’re looking for.
18. Timing is Everything
The time it takes a liar to start speaking can help you catch them in the act. Liars take longer to start answering questions—unless they’ve been given time to prepare, then they jump right into their story.
17. Talking With Your Hands
People who are lying are less likely to use hand movements when they talk.
16. I Didn’t Do It !
Liars tend to avoid first-person pronouns. They do to this to provide them distance from their lies, and to avoid taking responsibility.
15. Don’t Bring Me Down.
Liars are more likely to use negative words like worthless, loser, sad. University of Texas at Austin psychology professor Dr. James Pennebaker says this is because liars have higher anxiety, and often feel guilty over their lies.
14. Leave Me Out
Liars are also likely to use fewer exclusionary words like not, nor, or, but, except—words that help set apart what the liar has done from what they haven’t done.
13. Truth is in the Writing
There’s computer software that can tell when someone is lying better than people can. It’s called the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count, and it catches liars 67% of the time rather than the 52% that people do. It does this by asking a person to write a sample into the computer and then it looks for the components listed above: first person pronouns, negative words, and exclusionary words.
12. Don’t Think About It Too Hard
Psychologists have been training police officers to spot when people have to think too hard on a response that shouldn’t require any thinking at all. This way they can hopefully catch more people in the act of making up lies, since detecting lies can be so difficult.
11. Friends, Family, Liars
The closer you are to someone, the better you can tell if they’re lying to you. That’s because you already understand their personality, how they talk, how they gesture, and how much eye contact they make. This gives you something of a “baseline” to work off of, and when someone you know deviates from that it can clue you into the fact the they’re lying.
10. Lying To Yourself
People who lie often lie to themselves too! A study done at Harvard Business School allowed students to cheat on a math test. Down at the bottom of the sheet they had the answers, then they were asked to take a second test without an answer key at the bottom. The cheaters truly believed they had gotten a good score on the first test (the one with the answer key) because of their own math skill. This led them to overestimate their ability to do well on the second test.
9. Lies We Can Believe In
People are more likely to believe a lie if it helps them support long held beliefs about the world they live in, such as beliefs about climate change or conspiracy theories. Research shows that debunking those lies doesn’t help us change our world views either. According to George Lakoff, a genitive linguist at the University of California, Berkley, “If a fact comes in that doesn’t fit into your frame, you’ll either not notice it, or ignore it, or ridicule it, or be puzzled by it—or attack it if it’s threatening.” So it seems like the truth might not set us free after all.
8. Little Liar
Some kids start lying as early as the age of two. So parents, be suspicious of your kids early, because studies also show that parents can’t consistently detect when young kids are lying to them.
7. Age Matters
Unsurprisingly, we lie the most when we’re teenagers—between the ages of 13-17. The ages we lie the least? When we’re six through eight years old.
6. Honest and Attention Deficit
Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) struggle with executive function, and have trouble with lying. Silver linings abound!
5. Evolution of Lying
Researchers believe that the first lies started being spread not long after the development of language. Lying was an easy way to get what you wanted from someone without having to hurt them for it. Harvard University ethicist Sissela Bok puts it this way, “It’s much easier to lie in order to get somebody’s money or wealth than to hit them over the head or rob a bank.” She’s not wrong.
4. The Why of Lie
According to researcher Tim Levine, “We lie if honesty won’t work.” National Geographic has broken down the major reasons we lie into three major categories. First, we primarily lie to promote ourselves; promoting ourselves covers lies that have self-impression, economic and personal advantages, and lies to make people laugh. The second category is to protect ourselves; lies to protect ourselves include covering up personal transgressions and avoidance. The final main reason we lie is to impact others; these are lies that are social or polite, and oddly enough also lies that hurt other people.
3. The Gender of Lies
Men and women both tell the same amount of lies, though what they lie about tends to differ. Women tend to lie to make other people feel better, whereas men tend to lie to make themselves look better.
2. Smart Liars
According to some research, lying is a sign of intelligence in children. Studies show that the earlier kids start lying to you, the smarter they are. Toddlers who lie have a higher verbal IQ—up to ten points higher—than those that don’t. Other studies show that kids who lie have better executive functioning skills, ie. the skills that allow us to focus on a task. So at least if your kid is lying to you, there’s a silver lining.
1. Gullible Fools
The person most likely to lie to us is... ourselves. David Dunning, social psychologist puts it like this, “To fall prey to another person you have to fall prey to your belief that you’re a good judge of character.” So before we can even fall for a lie, we have to first tell ourselves we can catch a liar. The most famous example of this is psychiatrist Stephen Greenspan, who wrote The Annals of Gullibility about his years of research in how to avoid being gullible. Then, two days after it was published, famous fraud Bernie Madoff lost Greenspan one-third of his retirement savings.