A woman with a long Pinocchio nose who needs to be exposed as a liar.

Is there a person who always lies to you? How can you mess up a liar’s story?

Patrick King says that the best way you can get another person to reveal a lie is to stress their brain. Lying is mentally taxing, and if a liar is forced to devote more mental resources to their lie than they planned, they’re more likely to slip up.

Take a look at how to expose a liar for who they really are.

Make Them Mess Up Their Story

King’s advice on how to expose a liar is to get them talking. The more they talk, the more opportunities they’ll have to say conflicting facts or to get details wrong. Start by asking open-ended questions to get the conversation flowing. Keep your tone casual so they don’t feel they’re being interrogated, which would cause them to clam up or get defensive. Your goal in the beginning of the conversation is to encourage them to reveal as much as possible.

(Shortform note: Psychologist Paul Ekman, known for his work on deception research, agrees with King’s principle that intensifying cognitive load can help reveal lies. In Telling Lies, Ekman suggests an alternative reason for its effectiveness: When people lie, they commonly experience heightened stress and fear of detection, which trigger certain physical and verbal cues. Thus, while King focuses on the mental effort of maintaining a lie, Ekman brings attention to the emotional load. Consequently, the reason stressing a liar’s brain may lead them to trip up might not only be because of their cognitive resources but also their emotional stability.)

King says that while getting them to talk, you should limit how much you contribute to the conversation. In particular, don’t reveal what you know about their lie. If they don’t know what you know, you’ll have an advantage, as they won’t be able to judge what information to hold back or adjust to fit the narrative. 

(Shortform note: Steven Pinker disagrees with King’s theory, arguing that transparency can bolster honesty. In The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker claims that revealing what we know may lead to more honest conversations. The person who lied would be faced with evidence of their dishonesty, potentially motivating them to come clean. Tools like transparency, not mystery, encourage honesty, according to Pinker. So, consider whether keeping knowledge concealed as King advises is the best method in every situation, or whether the truthful exposure Pinker champions might be more appropriate.)

As the conversation progresses, switch to specific questions about details of their story. Your goal here is to throw them off-balance. King writes that liars usually have rehearsed their tale but are unprepared to answer questions about things they haven’t thought through yet, which gives you an opening to poke holes in their story. 

You can further tax their brains by repeating a part of their story slightly incorrectly, to see if they correct you—if you do this several times, they may not be able to keep track of their small details. 

(Shortform note: Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, disagrees with this approach, arguing that probing too intensely for story details can actually provoke people to become better liars. She posits that too many specifics may lead the person to craft a more believable tale, as they respond to your ‘test’ questions. Instead, Meyer advocates for observing the body language and signs of discomfort, claiming nonverbal cues are more reliable indicators of deception than the consistency of a story. In essence, while King suggests detailed questioning, Meyer cautions that it might make more effective liars instead.)

How to Expose a Liar by Tripping Them Up

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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