How to tell if someone is lying and how to avoid being caught


People perceive the world using three different representational systems: visual (pictures), auditory (sound) and kinesthetic (body feelings). Everybody has these systems but they all have a different preferred system. When we’re interacting with someone, we often drop hints about our preferred system. Talking to another person using his preferred system will lead to greater rapport and compliance between you. We like people who are like us.

When a person is interacting with another, his eyes will switch positions, accordingly to what system he is accessing at a given time, as well as to the kind of memory he is accessing: real or constructed. This allows us to find out how someone is thinking and gives us some clues on finding out if someone is lying or not.

In NLP these eye movements are called eye-accessing cues.


The following is usually true for a right-handed person. Lefties often have these functions reversed. The keys are:

  • Vc – Visual Construct (upper right)
    This one is used when creating a picture: “Imagine what your perfect vacation would look like.”
  • Vr – Visual Recall (upper left)
    This one is used when recalling a picture from memory: “How does your mother look like?”
  • Ac – Audio Construct (middle right)
    People access this place whenever they have to imagine a sound or a conversation. “What would he say in this situation?”
  • Ar – Audio Recall (middle left)
    When recalling a conversation or sound you heard in the past. “Do you remember what that song was like?”
  • K – Kinesthetic (lower right)
    When imagining or recalling a sensation. “What did you feel when you heard about it?” “How does it feel to have her fingers run through the back of your head?”
  • Ai – Internal Audio (lower left)
    When somebody is talking or thinking to themselves “What if they don’t respond right away? Does this mean that…?”

The Quick Scanner Method

When you’re talking to someone and it’s their turn to speak, observe their eye movements. Going from left to right usually indicates that the person is unsure, switching between remembering and constructing.

However, going on eyes alone as a clue will lead to wrong conclusions.

Human interaction is much more complex than that.

Beside the eyes, there is also:

  • tonality
  • body posture
  • breathing
  • skin colour
  • muscle tone
  • the element of congruence (which is present or missing according to how these elements act together with the words that are being said)

You can have someone nodding their head and saying “no” with enthusiasm…

…or you can have people saying “sure” in a low voice, with their hands crossed…

The real meaning can be found in the whole puzzle of communication, not just each individual piece.

So you can’t really say “he’s lying/saying the truth” based on just one cue.

You have to be able to calibrate and interpret each element in relationship to the other.

However, as we cited in our original article, researchers have studied and found that deception is a lot harder to conceal as it:

  • Requires more cognitive effort than telling the truth
  • A persons emotions are harder to control in a lie and easy to detect
  • Stress and anxiety plays a major role in deception, easily noticeable as well

The main examples of nonverbal recognition cues are

  • Person looking down at the ground, avoiding eye contact
  • Fidgeting and blinking sporadically
  • Breathing starts to get heavy
  • Fumbling over words and beginning to perspire.

So now whenever you ask someone and find one or more of these cues, you could say that they’re lying with a 98% accuracy.

The 2% would be those that have this kind of knowledge and use it deliberately. However with most people, you will be able to tell if they’re lying to you just by “gut feeling” alone as most people cannot lie (because they don’t have the required knowledge or training to lie).

The “Black & White” Method

This is a fun exercise that you can try on a friend or someone else that you have good rapport with. Rapport is important because when there is rapport, we trust each other a whole lot more so we’re more likely to tell the truth.

Here’s what you have to do:

  1. Have your friend relax in a chair. Ask him to think of someone he really likes without closing his eyes. Tell him describe this person person.
  2. Note his eye accessing cues, his breathing, his skin colour, his muscle tone and any other particularities about his physiology.
  3. Now tell him to think about someone he really despises and then let speak out loud a little bit about him.
  4. Note what you get like you did with step 2.
  5. Talk about a neutral subject for 20 or 30 seconds to get his mind off the subject.
  6. Ask him to think about one of these persons, without saying anything. Note all of his physiological changes.
  7. Based on what you learned in step 2 and 4, you should be able to know who he is thinking about.

You know how good friends can tell if one or the other is feeling sad or depressed and they say that he isn’t “being himself”? By hanging with each other for a long period of time, they had the chance to learn about each other and so they automatically “feel” whenever something is wrong.

The same is true with all types of close relationships.

Doing this kind of observing consciously allows you to cut the time that is required to “get to know each other” and become friends because if you can recognize his preferred representation system, you can talk in “his mother tongue” and understand each other better.

I remember that as a nerdy kid with decent acting skills, I could pretend “to be one of the boys” (in the context of me being an introvert) by forcing myself to be more physical in my interactions and by, not necessarily cursing, but adding more weight to my words that is, talking more from my belly rather using my head voice. Physical contact is kinesthetic and changing the way you breathe and enunciate words, gives your words a different quality. That’s also why dirty talk is so alluring – it excites the senses through a kind of synesthesia.

How to find out another person’s preferred representational system

  1. Ask your subject to recall a time when they had a really fun vacation.
  2. When they say “yes”, ask them to describe what they liked most about it.
  3. Make sure that they’re telling you about it in sensory terms. “It was nice” doesn’t cut it. “I remember the heat on my skin.” is better. Ask subject to go further with their description “Nice in what way?”.
  4. Note the terms that are used to describe the experience. “There was bright orange ball of light and the sun was shades of deep purple.” would indicate a preference for the visual system.
    “It was really quiet and I loved hearing the sound of the sea waves at night.” is mostly likely a preference for the aural system.
    “I remember the heat and how the water felt so soothing on my skin.” is kinesthetic.
  5. Now tell the subject a story using sensory terms from their preferred representational system. Their change in physiology (pupil dilation, skin colour, body posture, etc.) should tell you if you’re “getting to them” or not.


The knowledge shared on this page gives you direct, usable advice on how to influence people. This is the same type of information that people in advertising use to influence buying decisions. Use it wisely.

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