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Nine Clues to Spot the Liar (Part 1 of 2)

Sep 10, 2014

At the recent American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Not-for-Profit-Industry Conference in Washington, D.C., Nancy Young, of the accounting firm Moss Adams, gave a presentation on “Fraud: Spotting the Liar” which discussed methods for spotting the untruths that a suspect may reveal when perpetrating a fraud.

Young pointed out that the average adult can distinguish truth from fabrication only 54% of the time.  The main factor that limits our detection of the truth is our bias towards perceiving events as true, and that detecting deception requires mastering a skill without a clear indicator of success.

To help sharpen our skills of detecting dishonesty, Young provided nine clues that can help identify when someone is not being fully truthful.  Young called them the “Nine clues to deceit”.  They are:

  • Micro-expressions – These are involuntary expressions that appear across a person’s face in as little at 1/25 of a second.  The person’s true reaction can be in that micro-expression.
  • Squelched expressions – These are expressions performed on purpose to cover up other expressions, such as a smile or grimace.
  • Reliable muscle patterns – These are expressions are not easy to control but can reliable indicators of the truth.  For example, only genuine happiness can produce a genuine smile.
  • Blink rates – A person lying will mostly blink more often than they do when telling the truth.
  • Pupil dilations – Large pupils could indicate a fear or other emotions that cannot be concealed as dilation cannot be controlled.
  • Tears – They show that someone is feeling strongly about something and should not sway you.
  • Asymmetrical expressions – These occur when expressions on the left and right side of the face are not the same. These usually show that the expression is being made deliberately.
  • Timing – The timing of facial expression in relation to other body and vocal expressions should be in sync.
  • Duration – Genuine expressions should not continue longer than five to ten seconds.

Many of these nine clues to spot the liar are related to facial expression recognition which can provide the most reliable clues as to whether someone is lying.  However, recognizing facial expressions and properly interpreting them is a skill many of us may not have so before trying to read someone’s facial expressions you should understand the facial details of different emotions.  For example, when persons express contempt one corner of their mouths rise, like a sort of half-smile or when they express fear their eyebrows rise and the lower lip will fall.  So, research and practice your facial expression recognition skills so you can be able to spot the liar.

In the second installment of this two part series we will discussion Young’s 5 BASIC steps to the truth

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Brian C. Collins

Brian Collins is an Audit Senior Manager with over 15 years of public accounting experience. He performs outsourced accounting services, audit, review, compilation, and tax services for a wide range of clients in various industries, including not-for-profits.

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