The Subconscious Mind & Deceit
The Mechanics of Lying
The most unpredictable and complicated behaviors to understand.
Unlike the show, “Lie To Me”, human deception is not straightforward. Body language, microexpressions, gestures, etc. are part of the tools we use to observe others — yet, these signals can lead us astray or to accidentally accuse the innocent.
Regardless of what gestures or traits we have observed in people who lie, most of us are blocked by the unpredictable nature of humans — the numerous and possible reasons a person would choose to deceive.
Obstacles in Identifying Deception/Lies:
One of the biggest roadblocks in identifying deception is the “perceived” sense of normalcy. What society counts as “normal/abnormal” behavior can allow liars to escape or maintain a persona undetected. As such, the notion of “normal/abnormal” becomes a potential source of perspective bias when interpreting behavior (and should be used carefully). Liars, much like us, know what it feels like to wallow in genuine sadness, anger, contempt, etc. — that that experience itself allows them to copy the intensity of the emotion/s (some can copy to the extent that it looks sincere). While rather scary, a lot of liars started creating their tactics when they were young; such as when a child may hold a tantrum just to get their parents to buy them a chocolate bar.
Another big roadblock is how easily tone of voice can be manipulated. As long as the person has experience in “feeling” something, tone of voice can be controlled and regulated to fit a specific or variety of emotions. For example, a person will talk professionally in a firm tone during an interview and then change their tone when they interact with their friends to a more casual vibe. With liars, they are equally able to do this while fabricating deception and keeping to their plans (or changing it to adapt to current scenarios).
Lastly, the choice of vocabulary, structure, and order is easy to manipulate. At some point, almost everyone has created a speech and spoken in public or at least, in front of an audience. Similar to the goals of public speaking, liars also focus on creating a “polished voice”, a vehicle that will allow them to be heard through a story — whether it be true, partially true, or a fabrication. Because there are so many ways to maximize the impact of a speech, it becomes difficult to differentiate between the genuinely good speeches apart from the specifically crafted “less-truthful” ones.
2 Important Concepts to Understand About Emotions
With so many obstacles in identifying a liar or a lie, it becomes tempting to adhere to signals or indicators to establish certainty. However, with deception, as you would have read in Ignorance is Dangerous, Empathy is Blind or by reading the kicker of this article, — our greatest weak spots are our subconscious processes. The power of emotion in deception is the effect it has on us in the way that it influences our decisions on who to believe in, who to trust, etc. In this way, liars and manipulators both leverage emotion to their advantage and focus less on “trying to escape confrontation or questioning”; but if necessary, will create methods to conceal their footprints not commonly used.
Much to people’s surprise, logic and rational thought patterns are significantly influenced by our emotions, contrary to the belief that logic are separate from emotions. For example, when some people are impatient or overconfident, they may make hasty decisions that satisfy their current emotional state but not really the logical or actual situation they are in. Or, when some people hear about poverty happening in a country and feel compelled to donate money to someone holding the fundraiser — donating the money satisfies their current emotional state but it overrides their usual skeptical nature to ask how the money will be utilized to help those in poverty.
Things to Look Out For
Similar to manipulators, there are many types and levels of liars. The ones we often meet the most are the amateur liars that range from young children learning the reins of deception to those whose main tactics are to avoid confrontation as much as possible (and try too hard to not look suspicious). These people are easily identified through their lack of planning, backups, etc. that end up creating contradictory reasoning that backfire. Or, they are identified through poor planning (ones with a lot of holes and not much backup).
- For amateur liars, look out for how they may try to get out of confrontation or try to escape; may use excuses, distractions, accusations, etc.
The more advanced liars are the ones that are either still undetected or, have been detected after many years have passed. For instance, the Theranos scandal in which Elizabeth Holmes and her ex-partner deceived doctors and patients with lies that lasted for 10+ years. If it were not for John Carreyrou, a journalist for exposing her, Theranos could have deceived people for many more years; in all, her plan was very well thought out. Her plan can be read in the book “Bad Blood” by John Carreyrou.
Additionally, more advanced liars will be able to utilize the study of microexpressions to their own benefit or to mask their true emotion to mislead. Misleading people often buys liars and manipulators the time to adapt to or plan their next move; effective misdirection can give enough time for a liar or manipulator to disappear or relocate elsewhere without damage to their persona/reputation.
- For advanced liars, look out for how they size up a person/group — are they the type to observe and pounce, the type to play their cards slyly all the way, the type to use words to entangle a person, or are they a jack of all trades (and often change in their tactics)?
- For semi-advanced liars, look out for which tactic/s they reuse or interchange between. When do they begin to change tactics? How do they respond when things don’t go their way?
With the exception of bold manipulators or liars, these types like to use the element of surprise and raw “impulsive” emotion to incur an advantage; because raw emotion are the least controlled and easily manipulated by the person pushing the buttons.
- For instance, they may intentionally have someone feel as if they can expose the liar or manipulator to which the deceiver can then take advantage of that feeling to turn the tables at the “right” moment and land that person in the hot seat.
Like manipulators, liars behave in a similar manner. With no universal method to catch them, several weak spots in the nature of being human give us a foundation to trace uncertainties to establish confirmation.