Identifying and Understanding Deception on Campus

Unfortunately, deception is fairly common in the world, and it is prevalent on college campus as well.  Sometimes it is used to maintain a perception in a relationship or avoid consequences from certain actions.  People can also lie to others or omit the truth and justify it to themselves by claiming it is an attempt to maintain a relationship.  Being able to recognize when people are lying about something or putting on a false front when they’re around you can help avoid a lot of emotional distress down the road.  Whether or not you decide to confront that person, you will at least know to respond differently.  Hopefully this post will help you recognize the various signs or tells that most people display when they are being deceptive and distinguish them from the many myths surrounding how people think others act when they lie.

First, to debunk some myths about how most people think liars act in the moment.  While some of the beliefs are accurate, there are some that are completely wrong.  There are two major common misconceptions: 1) People look around more instead of making eye contact, and 2) They appear unsettled and fidgety while they are lying.  The myth about minimal eye contact is actually opposite of what often happens.  When many people lie, they make an exaggerated effort to make direct eye contact with some as a way of instilling a sense of trust in their listener.  They rely on a concept called nonverbal immediacy, which is a set of behaviors that convey approachability and trustworthiness among peers.  While some people are physically incapable of lying with a straight face, shifting their posture consistently is not a guaranteed symbol of lying.  They may be sore from the gym, need to go the bathroom, or simply impatient for the conversation to end.  There is little evidence that fidgeting during a conversation indicates the person is lying.

Now for the helpful, applicable part: understanding the actions and characteristics of someone lying.  Hopefully these symbols will help you interpret deceitful actions, but they are largely dependent on how well you know someone.  If you are meeting with a group member from a class for the first time, your interpretations will be a little skewed because you have no baseline.  Analyzing the person’s speech pattern will be one of the easiest ways to detect irregularities.  Generally, people who are lying speak slower with more hesitations during their sentences and before responding.  This provides them the time to formulate their sentences in a way that won’t give the lie away.  They will most likely adapt their gestures in some way as an attempt to conceal expressions that leak out as a result of focusing so heavily on saying the right words.  Performing excessive hand motions that emphasize the words (called illustrators) displays an attempt to distract the listener from paying attention to the expressions on their face or the words they are saying.

Lastly, everybody has little, split-second expressions that flash across their faces, betraying their emotions to viewers.  Called micro expressions, they are extremely hard to control and only occur within 1/25th of a second, making them hard to decipher.  Once you are able to recognize micro expressions, they will help you identify lies in nearly anyone you meet, regardless of your familiarity, because they exhibit themselves in the same way regardless of the person’s age, gender, or cultural background.  You can watch this video to see some common emotions that are displayed through micro expressions and learn how to identify them when they occur in conversations.

Being able to identify false conversations, emotions, and characteristics will make you less vulnerable to deceitful people around campus.  There is always someone trying to prey on people.  Whether it be someone lying about the qualities of the product they are selling or a service they provide or simply a person trying to use you for something by pretending to be your friend, recognizing the characteristics of a deceitful person will increase your defenses against these people.



Ekman, Paul.  Micro Expressions. Web.

Knapp, Mark L., others. Book. “Nonverbal Communication in Human Interaction”


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