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Detecting Deception: Facial Expressions

by | Aug 2, 2018

Written in collaboration with Janine Driver, author of You Can’t Lie to Me


Now that you have gathered your intel – you have your subject’s baseline squared away and you’ve peeked behind their words – it’s time to focus on the facial faux pas. There are many facial signs that are likely indicators of deceptive hot spots.

When your subject’s expressions and gestures don’t match their words, pay attention. Spotting emotional “leakage” in the face, combined with other verbal and non-verbal cues, speaks volumes about the message your subject is trying to share… and that it may not be the truth.

As with any hints of deception, facial faux pas won’t give you all the information you’re looking for, but spotting them gives you potential areas to probe.


  1. Preparation: Our expressions affect each other dramatically – as interviewers, we need to continually be aware of the effect our own nonverbal communication has on our subject. Remember: how you approach any situation impacts the outcome. If you approach this step calmly, you will keep your subject at ease as well.
  2. Scale back on mirroring: Mirroring is important to establish rapport, but once rapport has been established you want to scale back, as it might interfere with your ability to detect deception.
  3. Remember the baseline: Without it, there is little relevance to non-verbal and verbal cues.
  4. Exposing hotspots: Remember, liars are like tightrope walkers whose goal is to stay upright while threading their web of deceit. You’ll see the same three categories of signals when looking for facial faux pas as you did when assessing verbal cues of deception in your subject:
  • The Equivocator’s Face
    • There are seven universal emotions that are hard-wired, no matter the person: happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise, anger and contempt. Each of these emotions registers with very distinct patterns that are almost impossible to fake.
    • Micro-expressions of these emotions may leak out for only one-fifteenth of a second. They are a challenge to spot, but learning to spot these fleeting emotions is incredibly helpful.
    • With practice, learning to spot micro-expressions can significantly increase your ability to detect deception.
  • The Maximizer’s Face
    • Remember: the maximizer’s goal to bully their way through the interview. Classic facial faux pas for the maximizer include:
      • Changes in eye contact
      • Tight lips
      • Changes in blink rate
  • The Minimizer’s Face
    • The minimizer’s face is one of escape. Watch for these clues:
      • Facial blocking
      • Hiding in their hair
      • Lip sucking
      • Face wiping

Now that you know what facial expressions to look for in a liar, learn more about body language cues that can help you detect deception.

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