The eyes are one of the most expressive regions of the body. Learning to read the nonverbal message contained in ocular behavior can give you a nice head start on evaluating the rest of a person’s body language. So what, exactly, are you looking for in terms of eyes that reveal a deceptive nature?
Imagine that you’ve just arrived at work, early as usual. You say hello to the other regular early birds, Dick and Jane. There are no other employees in the building at the moment. You set up your workstation with your coffee and doughnut before remembering that you left your phone in your car. You rush down to retrieve it. Upon returning, you notice that someone has taken a big bite out of your doughnut. You immediately call Dick and Jane on the intercom and ask them to report to you, pronto.
Although you’re not a detective, you’ve watched plenty of cops work on TV shows, so you know how to get to the bottom of this mystery. Your first instinct tells you to look for signs of powdered sugar on the culprit, but it appears that both Dick and Jane have been wiped clean. You throw the accusation out there and wait for a confession.
Of course, they both deny pilfering your sweet. Dick’s denial is accompanied by two raised brows; Jane, meanwhile, is frowning. Which set of eyebrows is telling you the truth and which is lying?
Remember, the brows are just the beginning of this process. Dick’s raised brows are telling you that he wants you to believe him; Jane’s brows are telling you that she’s highly irritated with you. You can’t make a judgment of guilt based on this one feature, so you’ll have to move on and assess some other nonverbal cues.
Excessive blinking is a sign of anxiety and can indicate lying. The next time you’re suspicious that someone is telling you a fib, take note of whether their eyes are fluttering like deceptive little wings.
Eye contact is a skill that compulsive liars almost always take the time to perfect. In fact, body language in general is something that a lot of big-time fibbers know a lot about, so you may fall for someone’s tall tale even if you’re looking for signs of untruthfulness. And just to be clear on the issue, this says a lot more about the liar than it does about you—you just can’t always defend yourself against someone who is determined to deceive others and does so on a regular basis.
For people who aren’t professional-grade liars, eye contact can be a bit of a tricky thing. Many of these folks—the particularly defiant ones who know they’re at fault but also know you can’t prove it—will hold your gaze far too long, as though staring into your eyes will break your concentration and convince you of their innocence. It’s their way of deflecting guilt by turning the tables on you and saying, “How dare you doubt me?!” A liar who feels ashamed of himself will do just the opposite—he won’t be able to look at you for more than a second or two.
Take a look at Dick and Jane now: Jane won’t look at you and Dick has his eyes fixed on yours. Since these are equally incriminating nonverbal cues, you’ll have to keep assessing other nonverbal cues to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Lying does interesting things to the body. When a person knows he’s being deceitful (and he feels badly about it or is worried he’ll be caught), his body reacts with increased heart rate, increased respiration, and increased blood pressure—all of which are human reactions to fear, or the fight-or-flight response.
The physical changes that accompany lying prepare the person to make a run for it or to fight to the death, and they date back to when your ancestors were living in caves, defending themselves against saber-toothed tigers. How does this information relate to the eyes? Well, in an effort to make your eyesight as sharp as possible (so that you can theoretically spot potential trouble) your pupils dilate during the fight-or-flight response. Liars may appear to have dinner plate-sized pupils—that is, if you can see those pupils at all. (As you’ve already read, many fibbers will refuse to make eye contact with you.)
At the moment, Dick’s pupils appear to be larger than Jane’s, but since this can also be a reaction to being accused of misdoings, you’ll have to dig a little deeper.
Wide-open eyes are often used to emphasize a point, but they can also be the result of anxiety.
Positioning of the Eyes
Do liars hold their eyes wide open or half-closed? This seems to be based on the personality of the liar and whether he thinks he’s going to get away with fibbing to you.
Squinty eyes may indicate that someone is lying to you.
Professional half-truth tellers (like salesmen) are very careful to keep their eyelids steady, lest they come off looking too eager (wide eyed) or suspicious (squinty eyed). Someone who’s less skilled at lying is more likely to widen his eyes to emphasize his point and convince you of his innocence. Unfortunately, this can also be a sign of anger or nervousness, so it’s not the most reliable way to nail a fibber.
Squinty eyes might give you a good indication of a person who’s being deceptive, especially if you know this person doesn’t usually scrunch up his eyes. Hiding the eyes in this way could be a subconscious attempt to minimize eye contact and/or hide the widened pupils that usually accompany a bold-faced lie.
Hmmm … You see on the right that Jane’s eyes appear to be opened to a normal degree; Dick’s are opened extrawide. It appears that you’re starting to crack this case wide open.