Tag Archives: relationships

Why do some people lie for another?

Would you lie for someone else? You probably would under the right circumstances. Like all decisions, the choice to lie whether it is about something you did or something someone else did, is a risk versus reward decision. There are many circumstances in which the choice to lie is completely valid.

But what about those incidents when someone lies for another person without any readily apparent reason? What about the risk and no visible reward? According to Fincham and Jaspars’ 1979 study, there is a strong tendency to punish people for the intentions behind wrongdoing (such as lying) instead of the actual offense in cases in which they aren’t the same. This is consistent with what is known as the attribution theory. This would also indicate why someone may lie for another.

If your best friend were in big trouble because he stole a soda and got caught, would you back up his bogus story that he “thought” he paid for it, or “found” it or whatever excuse he could come up with? Depending on your level of friendship, you just might. After all, it is expected that even if your ruse does not work, you will not get in any trouble because what you intended might be perceived as some as inherently noble- you were just doing the “loyal” thing. With this in mind, you never really faced any true risk in this risk versus reward situation. The reward was helping your friend, and maybe even feeling good about doing a “noble” task. The risk was virtually zero. Consistent with Fincham and Jaspars’ research, you will most likely be judged on your intentions- helping a friend- instead of the lie you told. This is a powerful factor.

But what about more serious offenses, like robbery or even murder? The same forces are still at play, but the expectation of reprieve for the person who is lying for his robbing or murdering friend should diminish. His aura of nobility will erode in the eyes of the accuser, but his actions still may be plausible- “I wanted to be a good friend”. To be clear, it is very doubtful that if the two conspirators were simply acquaintances, the second person will very unlikely lie for the first. The stronger the bond between the two, the more likely they are to lie for each other.

There is another factor to be considered as well. Immediacy. The human mind has a tendency to create its own reality and has only a casual relationship with logic. Research has shown that most people (80%) will accept a $5 gift today over a $10 gift 30 days after the offer. The closer the situation is to the now, the more power it exerts over you. A friend that needs your help now, legitimate or not, will have more weight on your decision than the possible punishment that may occur some time in the future. The punishment is not even certain, the friend in need, however, is. These are strong social and psychological influences that not everybody can overcome.

A third factor is transferred responsibility. Lying for another is often a decision made without believing that we have truly done anything wrong. When our friend desperately begs us to lie for them, we can lie for them without truly bearing the responsibility for the act. This eliminates much of the guilt problem. Once the gig is up and we have been busted, the truth again becomes our friend and we can confess and be expected to be forgiven to some degree. You see this with kids quite often. Little Suzy lied for Little Johnny and when caught, Suzy proclaims “He made me do it!”. Suzy never felt she was truly doing anything wrong, and had an out if she got caught.

It is important to keep in mind factors that alter the decision making process. As previously mentioned, if the friendship is weak, the likelihood of getting someone to lie for you diminishes. Also, if the offense is morally apprehensible, such as rape or child molestation, it is highly unlikely that a morally normal associate will help, no matter the friendship. The risk clearly outweighs the reward and the decision is equally clear.


Want to catch a liar? Look for the truth.

It is very easy to get caught up in trying to spot a liar by looking for clues to deception.  That just makes sense.  While there are hundreds of possible cues to deception, many of which I have addressed on this blog, the best strategy to consistently catch a liar is to look for the opposite- the truth.

Indicators of truthfulness are easier to spot than indicators of deception.  The key is to understand when there is an obvious lack of truthful indicators.  This is when you will see all those signs of deception.  In this article, I will point out some strategies to observe honesty.  Only in the absence of truth, will lies be revealed!

1. Smooth gestures.  This one is a favorite of mine.  When someone is talking or explaining something, the accompanying gestures, known in body language circles as “illustrators” are smooth and well timed.  Their intensity matches the spoken word. A well timed gesture usually begins right before the spoken word.  If there is a delay after the spoken word and then the gesture comes, the timing is off.  The emotion might not be genuine.  If gestures are mechanical and stiff, they are more than likely manufactured and not genuine.

2. The expression.  I have seen this one in high stakes situations.  While accusing a liar, the liar will often be expressionless.  His mind is on how he will respond.  The accusations do not offend him, because they are true (and he likely has already rationalized and justified his deception).  An innocent person, however, will show emotion at the onset of the accusation.  Real emotion.  I had to terminate an employee for his involvement with selling illegal drugs.  As I explained the undeniable evidence against him, he stood there emotionless.  He offered weak denials.  Most people would be outraged at losing a job for something they didn’t do, much less being falsely accused of being a drug dealer!  I was sure of the evidence prior to the discussion, but I still wanted to be thorough. Later in the discussion, I accused him of something I knew he didn’t do- theft.  He became irate and extremely agitated.  The difference was significant.  He didn’t steal and that prompted a true, emotional and strong denial.  The accusation of selling drugs did not.  Game. Set. Match.

3. FPPTSD.  First person, past tense, singular denial.   This one is a good indicator of honesty.  Deny the conclusion, deny the charge.

“They haven’t arrested me because they don’t have any evidence and they never will because I did not do it.”

-Richard Jewell, falsely accused Olympic bomber

I once investigated a theft case where an employee was accused of stealing expensive electronics.  He reportedly had taken a flat screen TV home.  When I asked him about the television, he stated “we got rid of it, it didn’t work”. Everything up to that point in his story had been “I”.  There was no “we”.  When it came to his denial, it wasn’t singular. This was his way of sharing blame.  Listen to any politician.  When his administration does something good, you will hear a lot of “I” and “Me”.  When things go bad, listen for “We”, and “Us”.

A truthful denial will look or sound something like:  “I didn’t do it” or “I didn’t steal the purse.”  The denials are direct.  The further away from this the denial gets, the more it needs to be scrutinized.

I will discuss more indicators of truth, but these are a good place to start. For an outstanding resource on body language and deception detection, visit http://www.bodylanguagelearning.org.uk/  this site has articles from some highly respected experts in the non-verbal field. Check it out!

“Well… I am about to lie to you”

Well.  This single word can be a powerful indicator.  Whatever comes next is not always going to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  So help you God.

Not this kind of well.

Not this kind of well.

The use of “well” is a verbal pause.  It gives the speaker time to formulate his response.  It is an easy to spot indicator that the speaker may intend to hedge, which means he will not be forthright. “Well” is especially alarming in response to a yes/no question or closed question. For example:

Q: Lacy’s wallet is missing from her purse.  She left it in the break room earlier. Do you know anything about it?

A: Well, what time was it taken?

This is alarming.  As always, context is the key!  The speaker is often equivocating, which is dishonest. When speaking truthfully, we generally don’t need to formulate a response, as the truth is usually right there, ready to go.  Creating this “gap” in conversation is also known as “response latency”.  Researchers have studied nonverbal aspects of linguistic behavior and found many cues can be sensitive cues of discrepancy.  Fluency, dominance, formality cues, time spent talking, response latency and other cues are reliable in helping to differentiate true from false statements (Buller et al,1994).

Keep in mind, the most common type of lie is the lie of omission.  This is when you don’t tell a direct lie, but instead choose to leave particular information out, which helps you manipulate the perception of the listener.

Also, it is very common to follow the “well” with a redirect.  Question the questioner.

“Well, what would you do?”

“Well, it’s not like you haven’t made mistakes.”

And so on..

Quite often these redirects will come in lieu of a direct answer to the question you asked.  When this happens it is a strong indicator the topic is extremely sensitive.  People release information in order of least sensitive to most sensitive.  They will often be very reluctant to give up the last piece of information.  Why?  It’s simple.  They are trying to construct and maintain a false reality.  The last, most sensitive lie, is the one that brings that reality crashing down.

One of the main motivations of many liars, is to make themselves look better.  That is a tough reality to let go- to let another person see you for who you really are.  Sprinkle in the added humiliation of becoming a known liar and there you have it- a strong reason to keep the lie alive as long as possible.

Listen for the word, “well” in response to a question that requires a clear yes or no.  You will often find the information that follows is either outright false, or incomplete. Either way, ask yourself “what are they hiding?”

It is important to note, that many times a person will pause to shape an honest answer as well.  Again, context is the key.  The main thing to understand about the use of the word “well” is that what comes next is important to listen to.  Response latency, as earlier mentioned, has a high correlation with false statements (McDaniel & Timm, 1990).  This should lead you to pay close attention to the response and evaluate further to determine if you are dealing with an honest person.

How to lose an argument

An argument is not to be confused with a discussion or debate. Discussions are honest conversations with the goal of exchanging information and learning.  In discussions, communication occurs.  Communication has four necessary elements:

1. Message

2. Sender

3. Receiver

4. Feedback

An arguments is a fight with words, where the participants have no intention of hearing, acknowledging or even considering their opponent’s point of view, and communication will not occur.  Where there is an argument, there will be at least one person who is overly invested in his position.  If you are going to argue with someone, make sure you avoid using the following losing strategies:

Not a "discussion"

Not a “discussion”

1. Yelling.  This one is obvious, but it happens.  If you yell, you can forget being taken seriously.  In your mind, you might be trying to let your opponent know how convinced you are, or serious you are about your position.  It won’t matter.  You look like a raving lunatic and lose all credibility.

2. Insults.  Not only will your opponent refuse your point of view, so will any audience you may have.  Insults are a way of ensuring to everyone within earshot that you do not have enough gray matter or maturity to intellectually handle another person’s differing point of view.  This includes passive aggressive insults.  Passive aggressive behavior reeks of arrogance and should be avoided.

3. Aggression.  The previously mention yelling and insults can fall under aggression, but so can “controlling the clock”.  Talking over your opponent and not letting them make their point is a form of fear.  You are afraid of what they may have to say, so you don’t let them say it.  If your position is a strong one, you shouldn’t fear any opposing point of view.

4. Hyperbole.  Taking a single incident, sample or example and inflating it’s significance with over the top rhetoric takes facts out of proportion and makes you a liar.  Any attempt to manipulate the perception of truth and facts is a form of deception. You may think you are clever, but everyone will see through this ruse and roll their eyes.  It is weak.

5. Straw Man’s fallacy.


This one is especially irritating and low.  Be a better person and don’t do this.

The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. This sort of “reasoning” has the following pattern:

Person A has position X.
Person B presents position Y (which is a distorted version of X).
Person B attacks position Y.
Therefore X is false/incorrect/flawed.
This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position simply does not constitute an attack on the position itself. One might as well expect an attack on a poor drawing of a person to hurt the person.(Nizkor Project).

6. Circular logic.  This is when you state your conclusion at the beginning of your argument in order to validate the statement by coming back to it at the end, hence the term circular. Where you go wrong is using the conclusion as a premise to support your argument.  This skips using actual facts to support the original premise.  For example: “Your candidate is a fraud because his work is fraudulent.”

7 & 7a. Confirmation Bias/Jumping to Conclusions.  This is a dangerous bias in which you only seek out facts that support your position and minimize, undermine or outright ignore facts that may prove counter to your position. It is human nature to do so, but you should be aware of it.  An example could be citing a study or newspaper article that supports your argument and trumpeting it as fact, while ignoring another study or article that offers another point of view and ignoring its significance. An indicator that your opponent is guilty of this bias is if they jump to conclusions.


Opponent: “You should consider visiting other cultures”

You: “I have been to 8 different countries and lived in 3 different countries for several years.”

Opponent: “Oops.”

Yea, oops is right.  Now your opponent is exposed as closed minded and has lost tremendous credibility.  The only thing worse would be if he tries to continue his losing strategy to undermine you with something like “Well, you can’t know anything about other cultures until you visit 9 of them”.  If your opponent is jumping to conclusions about you without any evidence, they have shown they are not thorough in their thought process and research.  Game. Set. Match.

8. Excessive wordiness.  Long winded responses that don’t address the specifics are designed to get your opponent and audience off track and away from facts that may be harmful to your argument. Watch any political debate and you will get plenty of examples of this.

9. Convincing language.  This form of deception is one you must be on the look out for. Whenever someone starts chest thumping and supporting his position with bragging or “I love me” statements, put your boots on it’s about to get thick.


Keep in mind, however, that if you call into question someone’s qualifications, you have set the stage for a response containing self qualifications.  See example above in item 7a.

10. Repetition. “Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth.” – Franklin Roosevelt.

It does, however, come across as convincing.  Watch out for the deceptive practice of constantly saying the same thing over and over, citing the same study or article many times and any response that includes: “as I have said before”, “I already told you” and anything similar.

In conclusion, the best way to win an argument is to avoid it altogether.  Engage in a discussion and listen to the other person’s point of view and don’t become emotionally attached to yours.  Once the other person uses one of the faux tactics discussed, you might want to consider talking to someone else because he has no intention of receiving your message.  His goal is to “win”, and nobody wins an argument except those who don’t take part it in.  After all, the high road has the better view.