Identifying Deceit: 10 Key Signs – From Uncontrollable Laughter to Mimicked Gestures.
Twenty-two individuals inside a fortress, Claudia Winkleman putting on an exaggerated performance, various absurd tasks, a significant sum of money positioned at the core, radiating almost like a light, and human behavior exposed. Attempting to dissect the exact elements that make The Traitors so captivating would be missing the essence, similar to scrutinizing the components of a Krispy Kreme doughnut.
Despite its entertainment value, the show becomes increasingly frustrating as each episode progresses. Instead of placing blame or revealing spoilers, let’s discuss this in general terms: why do the characters (the Faithful) seem to lack intelligence? Why are they unable to recognize when they are being deceived? It’s incredibly obvious!
I consulted with three specialists on detecting deception and the common reasons why individuals struggle with it. The first expert was Dr. Linda Papadopoulos, a psychologist, writer, and media personality who gained recognition during the early days of reality television as the standout individual from the first season of Big Brother. This show was one of the first of its kind, offering viewers a glimpse into the lives of everyday people under a microscope, and Papadopoulos, as the resident psychologist, brought an extraordinary level of understanding to the contestants’ emotions, almost like a telepath.
Next, Joe Navarro wrote the book What Every Body Is Saying, which shares his knowledge of nonverbal communication and observations from his time as an FBI agent. The third person mentioned, Gabrielle Stewart, is a former insurance investigator who currently serves as a fraud consultant for the industry.
These three individuals may not always see eye to eye, but it would be unwise to deceive any of them. Below are their ten recommendations for identifying a deceptive person.
Pay attention to actions that provide comfort or relief to oneself.
According to Navarro, the issue with the belief in being able to identify deceit is that even though Paul Ekman’s significant research, including his visual test called Pictures of Facial Affect, was released in 1976, it has been proven that people are not more successful than random chance at detecting deception.
However, this does not imply that you cannot interpret anything from individuals’ facial expressions and actions. According to the expert, the human body has the ability to showcase psychological unease immediately and with great precision. For instance, King Charles constantly fidgets with his cufflinks as a way to cope with social anxiety, while Prince Harry repeatedly buttons the already buttoned button as a comforting behavior.
The act of touching one’s face is referred to as a pacifier, a method of calming oneself during times of stress. As our video call begins, Navarro points out that I am currently covering my suprasternal notch, a way of protecting my neck, because there is a man in front of me. This causes me to laugh, as I have a fondness for men. However, he is correct in the sense that I am acutely aware of the risk involved in the first few seconds of an interview – if you make a mistake, it can ruin the entire experience. This leads to the first principle: every movement someone makes with their hands and face conveys a message. The challenge is deciphering what that message is.
Explore regions where you identify mental unease.
During his time at the FBI, Navarro remembers a mission to find a wanted individual. While speaking with the suspect’s mother, he inquired if she had seen her son. She responded negatively and seemed visibly anxious, but it was impossible to determine if her nerves were related to her answer. It was plausible that she was being truthful and just unsettled by the unexpected visit of two FBI agents.
He altered his approach and inquired about the likelihood of her son secretly entering the house while she was away at work. She responded with a firm “no,” but her body language, specifically covering her neck, indicated nerves. This response seemed illogical and raised suspicion. As expected, the man was indeed found in the house.
Do not interpret obvious gestures literally.
Certain noticeable non-verbal cues stem from ancient human instincts for survival. When we witness something shocking or disturbing, we instinctively cover our mouths to mask our scent, as predators may be able to detect it, according to Navarro.
The issue lies in the fact that the more blatant the action, the simpler it becomes to anticipate and imitate. Therefore, each time a guilty player is eliminated on The Traitors, both the Faithful and Traitors cover their mouths in shock. Significant events with coordinated expressions or gestures may not provide much insight.
Look for mismatch
Papadopoulos notices the gap between non-verbal and verbal communication, specifically the mismatch between words and gestures. Stewart pays attention to changes in pitch and tone in speech. When someone is lying, they tend to mix in true elements to their story, but when they reach the false parts, their speech speeds up and their voice becomes higher pitched, indicating cognitive overload.
“Develop the ability to listen and understand, rather than constantly speaking or sharing.”
According to Papadopoulos, the skill of active listening, often used by psychologists, is not commonly found. Many individuals are more focused on formulating their own response rather than truly listening. Additionally, we tend to overlook the impact our own state of mind can have on our ability to perceive and interpret stress in others.
Papadopoulos shares her experience of being deceived while dealing with a family emergency: “I am knowledgeable on these matters, but in that moment, I was tricked. If I was more focused, it would have been harder for me to fall for it. This is a fundamental concept in psychology: our emotions influence our thinking, which affects the quality of our decisions.”
Be mindful of how your tone influences the conversation (note to Diane from The Traitors): Navarro advises, “If you come across as accusing, it can impact how others respond.” He also suggests avoiding this approach, as it can put people on the defensive and make it difficult to observe their true behaviors. Jumping to conclusions should also be avoided. According to Papadopoulos, traditional signs of deception, such as being vague or stalling for time, may not necessarily indicate lying. She explains, “It could simply mean they were not paying attention.” Making hasty judgments about deceit can limit one’s ability to consider other possible explanations.
Encourage them to share their perspective or version of events.
According to Stewart, the format of the statement is crucial. While speaking with someone in person, you may not follow this format, but every story should have a beginning, middle, and end. Typically, 30% is spent on setting the scene, 40% on the actual content, and 30% on concluding thoughts and reflections. A false statement will not follow this structure because the person does not want to disclose that 40%. The most common structure of a lie is to spend 80% of the statement on setting the scene, quickly mention what happened, and then try to end the conversation.
I would document an occurrence by using timelines and bullet points on horizontal paper. Then, I would mark a line indicating the progression from the start to the middle to the end. Most deceitful accounts tend to have a lengthy beginning, but minimal development and conclusion.
People who blame their memory for forgetting important events are often lying. Even if they remember it incorrectly, there will still be some recollection of the event.
Listen for tenses and dissociation
Stewart explains that individuals tend to use distinct language when deceiving, citing former President Nixon as a notable instance. When directly questioned about his involvement in the Watergate scandal, Nixon responded with the statement, “The president would not engage in such actions.”
To start, the individual displays dissociation, a common occurrence. In a dishonest retelling, there is a deficiency of personal pronouns, as we attempt to distance ourselves from the falsehood. Additionally, the person has also made errors in verb tense. For instance, someone telling the truth about their stolen car would say, “I left it here, returned an hour later and it was missing.” However, a dishonest account may switch to present continuous, stating, “I am walking down the path, searching for my car and thinking…”
Stay alert for unusual sounds or unexpected words.
According to Stewart, there is a concept of “emotional leakage” where a liar may exhibit strange behavior such as random laughter, but it will not seem genuine. They may also make filler sounds to fill in the gaps while they are trying to deceive. This adds an extra mental burden on them, similar to trying to do two tasks at once. As a result, they may be more on edge and unable to tolerate silence, often resorting to coughing or unnecessary speech. Additionally, they may use non-committal language like “probably” or “possibly” as a way to protect themselves from being held accountable for their words.
Ask character questions
During the 1980s, my father, who worked as a prison psychologist, developed some tests for police recruitment to determine if candidates were truthful. One of the questions was: “Are you married? Have you ever been unfaithful? Have you ever considered being unfaithful?” If a candidate answered yes to the first question, their response to the second question didn’t matter as long as they didn’t answer no to the third question, since most people have thought about being unfaithful. In The Traitors game, a player could ask another: “Do you find Zack irritating?” If the person answers no, it doesn’t prove they’re a Traitor, but it does suggest that they’re someone who is capable of lying.
“Consider this: are you viewing things from the correct perspective?”
Each of these hints – whether they are spoken, unspoken, or somewhere in between – hinges on one thing: the dishonest person’s unease. Not everyone will experience discomfort from telling lies; some may actually enjoy it. According to Navarro, “We are aware that in any given population, about 1% – and potentially more in America – are psychopaths.” These individuals are capable of lying effortlessly due to certain areas of their brain that do not function properly. Additionally, “4% of the population is antisocial, meaning they engage in criminal behavior,” he explains. Even if they weren’t inherently inclined to deceive, they may have become accustomed to it.
Some individuals are required to deceive as part of their work. Navarro includes examples of spies and doctors, but also highlights the fact that everyone uses lying as a means of social survival. This can lead to some individuals becoming highly skilled at deception. However, the underlying motivation for this behavior is the desire to maintain our membership within a group and the fear of being excluded. In certain cultures where lying is valued, such as in politics or among traitors, the act of lying may actually make someone appear more confident rather than less.
If you compare the verbal and non-verbal signals and analyze the tests to become adept at recognizing a truthful, anxious individual, you could use a process of elimination to determine who was being dishonest. This would still hold true even if they were extremely skilled at deceiving others.
The downfall of both The Traitors and real life lies in becoming overly confident with insufficient or uncertain evidence. According to Navarro, who studied 261 DNA exonerations in the US, none of the police officers were able to accurately detect deception, and all of the accused men were found innocent.