Lying and Avoiding Eye Contact
Part 1

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Do they have anything to do with each other?

In the general opinion, the answer is a resounding "yes": avoiding eye contact is one of the first non verbal cues people will interpret as being dishonest. But is there really a truth in the saying "look me in the eyes and tell me the truth"?

Well, detecting lies in nonverbal communication is not a magic formula… especially when it comes to the eyes. We can identify some signs of stress and anxiety, but it would be unwise to call somebody a liar based only on the fact that he won't meet our gaze.

Furthermore, good liars also aware of that notion that "eyes cannot lie", that avoiding eye contact is a sign of deception and lying. So instead of shifting their eyes, they train themselves to look you square in the eyes and lie through their teeth…

So what can we do? Are there any other signs to rely on?

I thought you wouldn't ask…

Do it Smart

First, let's acknowledge the fact that there isn't any single gesture or expression that yells "I'm lying right now". It's not like we're programmed with a self exposing sign. We do, however, feel uncomfortable lying and little 'glitches' in our body language appear.

These glitches are nonverbal cues that suggest stress and deception. In these posts I will focus mainly on the signs that can be revealed through the eyes, but there are many signals in other parts of the body.

If you spot 2 or more of these signals you can start to suspect that something is wrong…

Trust your gut feeling and look for inconsistency between what you see and what you hear. Like a good bloodhound you will find the right tracks.

When it comes to avoiding eye contact - look for deviation from the normal behavior. If, for example, a shy person who usually avoids your eyes will speak to you suddenly with an intense glare – it's a major change in his usual behavior that can suggest some sort of deception or stress.

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Darting Eyes

Darting eyes can be a stronger signal of stress than simply avoiding eye contact. The eyes will rush around in different angles as if to look anywhere but in your eyes.

Darting eye

This behavior usually appears when the emotional state of a person is escalating with tension. The eyes 'dart' back and away to quickly find some solution or escape route from the current encounter.

Take note, however, that there are some people with medical condition that makes their eyes 'jump' to the side sometimes, other people have "shifty eyes" when they think: it helps them to look away for one moment and organize their thoughts. These behaviors are very different from the stressful eye shift – in their intensity and intention. Hence, keep your eyes open and don't jump to conclusions.

Avoiding eye contact in darting glances may also derive from other sort of uneasiness, or a general disliking towards the other party. If, for example, you notice the eyes of your listener dart around the room, while he\she hardly makes any conversation, besides "ok" and "ah-ha" once in a while - it's a good chance that this person is not welcoming your company and searching for some escape route out of it.

The Gaze Down

It's a classic gesture of defeat and shame. Often, it can also hint at deception, especially in children: head down, hands behind the back and "I didn't do it" or some mumble commentary will follow.

gaze down

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Kids are bad liars because they don't know how to mask their emotions in their body language. That's why they bow their head and avoid eye contact – they understand they did something wrong and in the same time feel uncomfortable about the lie.

Adults can be caught doing that too, but in a much subtler way – pretending to search something in their bag, for example.

This type of deception is connected with guilt - the speaker is not really proud of his actions. When accused of something, it's the nonverbal way of admitting defeat, it's just too hard to look in the eyes and say it.

A gesture that typically accompanies the gaze down is rubbing the neck – it helps dissolve the tension (even if it's a psychological one) gathered in the neck area.

Let's Continue

As you can see, detecting lies through the eyes is not so simple, because avoiding eye contact can also indicate nervousness, indecisiveness or just allow us a moment of thought. Sometimes it's even desirable to avert the gaze.

While these signs don't always point to being deceptive or lying, most people think they do. It means that avoiding eye contact will be generally treated with distrust and suspicion.

So Keep that in mind when interacting with other - look them in the eyes. It's better to be smart than just in this case. Besides, maintaining eye contact has many other benefits.


OK, let's move on:

Lying and avoiding eye contact – Part 2

You can always return to Eye Contact section for the whole rundown of the subject

or return to homepage – Study Body Language

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