How to Spot a Liar — that’s the title of TED talk by Pamela Meyer, author of the book, Liespotting. A Lovefraud reader recently sent me a link to the video.
How to Spot a Liar, on HuffingtonPost.com.
In my opinion, the tips and techniques that she suggests in the video are helpful if you’re dealing with normal people. I’m not sure how useful they are when you’re dealing with psychopaths.
Meyer does point out that people who think liars look away and don’t make eye contact are mistaken. The research, Meyer says, shows that liars tend to look directly into your eyes. In fact, they hold your gaze longer than would seem normal.
But Meyer also said that innocent people would be infuriated if they were accused of lying, and will stay infuriated throughout the interaction. Hello — has anyone seen psychopaths pull the righteous indignation act when confronted with their lies? Does that mean they are, in fact, innocent? I don’t think so.
Meyer’s conclusion is that if we are explicit about our moral code, and insist on honest interactions, “the ground will start to shift just a little bit.”
Maybe — as long as you’re not interacting with a psychopath.
Lie for power and control
All psychopaths lie. They tell big lies, small lies, outrageous lies. They lie when they would be better off telling the truth.
So why do psychopaths lie?
When normal people lie, it’s generally to escape blame for a failure or shortcoming (as in, “The dog ate my homework”), or to preserve social dignity, (as in, “No, those jeans don’t make you look fat.”)
In contrast, psychopaths lie in order to exert power and control over others.
Sometimes they have an agenda, such as trying to con you out of money. Once we realize that psychopaths have been lying to take things from us, we are outraged, but we can understand the purpose of the lies.
What is truly mystifying are the lies for no apparent reason. For example, I know of several cases in which psychopaths met someone online, showered them with attention, promised them the world, proclaimed their love, and when the targets finally fell head-over-heels, dumped them.
The psychopaths didn’t get any money. They didn’t even get any sex. So why did they go to all the trouble of seducing the targets?
For the thrill of exerting control over them.
This is called “duping delight” (which Meyer mentions in her video). Psychopaths literally feel a rush when they convince people to believe their lies.
Why lying is so easy for psychopaths
Psychopaths lie like they breathe. So why does lying come so easily to them? The answer is in some of the other traits of the disorder.
First of all, psychopaths feel entitled to get anything they want, when they want it and how they want it. If whatever they want is not quickly forthcoming, they feel entitled to use any means necessary to take it. Often, the easiest and most direct approach is lying.
Second, psychopaths do not have a conscience and have no sense of moral responsibility. Because they don’t feel the internal prohibitions the rest of us do, lying is easy.
Difficult to detect lies
This is why psychopaths can pass polygraph tests. A polygraph works by detecting autonomic reactions — changes in the body that are not easily controlled by the conscious mind, like heart rate and blood pressure. The basic idea is that someone who is lying will feel fear about it.
Guess what? Psychopaths usually don’t feel fear, especially fear of lying. So they don’t exhibit the short-term stress response that the polygraph is designed to detect.
Of course, you probably won’t have access to a polygraph during your regular conversations with a psychopath. So are there any “tells” that will indicate when he or she is lying?
Tips for spotting liars
If you look online, you’ll find articles like this one:
10 ways to catch a liar, on WebMD.com.
Here are the tips from that article — and my opinion of their effectiveness with psychopaths.
Tip No. 1: Inconsistencies
Yes, psychopaths are inconsistent — and they always have a reasonable explanation for the inconsistency.
Tip No. 2: Ask the unexpected
This might work for an instant — until the psychopath comes up with a plausible story, or accuses you of being paranoid.
Tip No. 3: Gauge against a baseline
The idea of this tip is to notice changes in behavior. It will never work, because a psychopath’s behavior is always erratic, so there are no changes to notice.
Tip No. 4: Look for insincere emotions
Psychopaths are experts at appearing to express sincere emotions. You may eventually catch on that they are faking it, but it will take a while.
Tip No. 5: Pay attention to gut reactions
Yes! This one is important. Your instincts or intuition will tell you something is wrong. You may not know what it is, but if you get a gut reaction, pay attention!
Tip No. 6: Watch for microexpressions
This is the basis of the TV show Lie to Me. I’m not sure if it works with psychopaths or not. What do you think?
Tip No. 7: Look for contradictions
It’s quite possible that you’ll see a contradiction with a psychopath. But the reason may not be that the psychopath is lying — it may be the result of other traits, like shallow emotions.
For example, a psychopath may say, “I stabbed the guy” with the same emotion that you would show in saying, “I sliced an apple.” The psychopath may very well be telling the truth — but the words don’t affect him.
Tip No. 8: A sense of unease
This means you’ll supposedly notice a sense of unease in an individual who is lying. Ha! Not if the person is a psychopath.
Tip No. 9: Too much detail
Yes, a psychopath may tell elaborate stories. But the psychopath may always tell elaborate stories. So you may be used to it — and only much later realize that the stories were all lies.
Tip No. 10: Don’t ignore the truth
Psychopaths are experts at mixing lies with the truth. You’ll know some parts are true, and because of that, assume the rest is true. Except it isn’t.
The bottom line
All psychopaths lie.
Psychopaths lie in order to exert power and control over others.
Techniques for uncovering lies may not work with them.
Your body, instincts and intuition do not lie. If you get a bad feeling about what someone is saying to you, that is your best chance of spotting the lie.