How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Anxiety and Lying
A classic perception of liars is that they are more anxious, and the 'Anxiety Hypothesis' is a formal description of the idea.
If a person is anxious, they may show a number of external indicators that you can pick up. These can include:
When a person is anxious or fearful, including when they have lied and fear detection, then they may well sweat more. This can be seen with shiny skin, clammy hands (felt in a handshake) and adjustment of clothes that are sticking (this is the source of the collar-pull). General rubbing and touching of the body may indicate the discomfort caused by the salty sweat on the skin.
Anxiety may also appear in redness of the skin for example as the body moves blood to the limbs in readiness for fight or flight. Particularly when asked a difficult or embarrassing question, the person may blush, with redness appearing across the face and sometimes into ears and down the neck. Anxiety can also be expressed in anger, which similarly leads to redness.
An anxious person can tend to tense muscles, which may appear as stiff and jerky movements. Tension in the vocal cords may be heard through a higher pitch than normal in the voice. Tension can also cause physical discomfort, leading to rubbing of limbs, neck, etc.
Anxiety in the face may be seen with such as eyebrows pulled together in the middle, biting the lip and 'damp eyes'. In the rest of the body, arms and legs may be crossed or held together and one hand may hold the other arm or hand for comfort. The person may also hunch down, effectively making the body a smaller target.
The hand may touch the body, especially the face and neck, comforting the self or covering embarrassment. Hands generally are held protectively closer to the body. There is less likelihood of touching the chest with an open hand. There may be hiding the self by covering, turning away or avoiding eye contact.
The problem with using anxiety as a sign of lying is that people can become anxious when they are not lying. Being interrogated, for example, is an anxiety-causing experience for many people, even in relatively informal situations.
It is also quite possible that a person who is telling lies does not feel that anxious. This is likely where the person is confident that they will not be detected and are sure of a lack of incriminating evidence, along with certainty in their ability to tell lies without any giveaway signs.
Research does not reliably confirm the Anxiety Hypothesis, for example Gramzow et al. (2008) found that students questioned about examination performance did not detect inflation of reported achievement.
Watch for signs of anxiety, especially when they appear around the asking of particular questions.
Whilst anxiety may appear in lying, do not depend on it as a reliable indicator. It is better to look for other indicators, such as signs of additional cognition.
Gramzow, R. H., Willard, G. and Mendes, W. B. (2008). Big tales and cool heads: Academic exaggeration is related to cardiac vagal reactivity. Emotion, 8, 138-144.