Behavioral Science

How To Spot a Liar [Animated Video]

by . February 2nd, 2015

In this animated TED-Ed video narrated by Noah Zandan and animated by The Moving Company Animation Studio, the components and “tells” of a lie are compellingly and neatly laid out and dissected.

All in under 6 minutes.

Simple indicators of a lie

  • Liars often attempt to disassociate themselves from their statements. They tend to talk in hypotheticals or use the third person to take the heat off themselves.
  • Liars – especially if they feel guilty about lying – can be more negative.
  • Liars tend to simplify situations, and rarely complicate matters. Cause and effect, and nuance can be difficult for most liars to make up, especially if they’re not given time to prepare. Contrast this with real life where there are nuances and causes to everything.

As an old English proverb goes: “A lie has no legs.”

  • While liars simplify, they also tend to use longer, more roundabout sentences and unrelated padding. They might say something that seems factual – or is actually factual – that has no bearing on the main issue.

How far should you delve?


Actress Monica Raymund is no stranger to lies. Apart from being in a business that largely deals in fiction, she portrayed “Maria “Ria” Torres” on the television series Lie to Me. In the series, she played protégé to Tim Roth’s Master Lie Detector Cal Lightman.  The show has Tim Roth and his team of consultants use applied psychology to help law enforcers solve crimes, and is based on the real-life work of psychologists Paul Ekman and Pamela Meyer, to name a few.

Of the series’ central premise Monica Raymund says

Little white lies are part of everyday life. If you’re in court being charged with a felony, you’re probably going to be tempted to lie. Or if your girlfriend asks you if the sweater she is wearing makes her look fat; you’re going to lie because you love that person. There are different reasons and justifications to lie; it’s human nature.

Despite the fact that she only played one on TV, you don’t have to be a real-life human lie detector to know she’s right. Lies are exactly that — human nature. It’s natural to lie. Which is interesting considering that most of us feel that the truth is perhaps one of the most important things there is.

We have to expect being lied to. In her 2011 TED Talk, reknowned psychologist, author, and real-life lie detector Pamela Meyer estimates that we are lied to anywhere from 10 to 200 times a day. I looked up the source of this, and can’t get my head around the methodology, but suffice to say we do know that we’re lied to a lot.

If the animated video didn’t delve deep enough for you, here’s Pamela Meyer with a more detailed explanation

An uncompromising attitude towards the truth might not be realistic for all our personal interactions. Personally, I feel that it’s fine to let some things slide some of the time.

Explains Meyer:

“We’re against lying, but we’re covertly for it in ways that our society has sanctioned for centuries and centuries and centuries. It’s as old as breathing. It’s part of our culture, it’s part of our history. Think Dante, Shakespeare, the Bible, News of the World.”

The lack of integrity and honesty can taint business and personal life, and it’s all too easy to paint ourselves  or others into corners that  none of us deserve to be in. Think of all the millions of lives ruined by fraudsters like Bernie Madoff, Jeff Skilling, Dennis Kozlowski, and many, many others.

But few can be absolutely truthful either, and it’s likely you couldn’t either. While we should all strive to be as honest in our dealings as possible, it’s ridiculous to expect others to share our values or even to expect to hold ourselves to such high standards.

I personally don’t subscribe to the idea that we have to be absolutely 100% truthful in all matters 100% of the time — especially given the hypocrisy that to me at least, seems apparent and even integral around people and institutions that claim infallibility in these matters.

In the end, personal judgement, due diligence, and the drive to do what is right can matter far more for your business than the absolute truth.


Crossed fingers by Evan Amos via Wikimedia CC

Love the article? Hate it? What do you think? Comment below!