Anomalies and Deception Detection

Originally posted on Humintell’s website on March 6, 2018 (

While reading people can help in better communicating, it can also help in determining if somebody is lying to you. It was for this purpose that Humintell’s Dr. David Matsumoto and Dr. Hyi Sung Hwang worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigations to develop a rubric for how to effectively tell if you are being lied to.

Here, they focus on a series of tell-tale indicators, or behavioral anomalies, that give clues into the emotion or motivation of an individual. Law enforcement officials use these to verify statements or attempt to predict possible acts of aggression. While the subtlety of such indicators makes them difficult to detect, it also means that the interviewee does not necessarily know when they have exposed themselves.

One type of indicator consists of verbal cues. For instance, lies tend to omit details, use fewer words, and lack clear or defined structures. This is complicated however, as sometimes detailed descriptions of fictitious accounts are also markers of a lie. They offer an example of when an interviewee gives subtle details about a situation that, according to them, didn’t occur.

Another crucial type of indicator rests in purely non-verbal behavior. These often include excessive blinking, certain gestures, and fleeting microexpressions.  For example, when an interviewee is trying to conceal fear, their eyes might flash suddenly, revealing the white above the iris.

While we distinguish these two types, they are deeply interwoven, and a successful interviewer must keep both considerations in mind.

It is also important to expand on the term “anomaly.” While many people think that lying behavior is just universally evident, this is not always the case. Instead, a skilled interviewer must try to learn as much as they can about the person’s underlying personality. It is when people notably deviate from their baseline behavior that deception indicators are most apparent.

We also have to clarify that many so-called experts in deception detection emphasize indicators that have not been supported by empirical evidence. These often focus on eye contact, arguing that a failure to look an interviewer straight in the eye is a sign of deception. Numerous studies have disproven this persistent claim, so it is important not to let this sway your assessments.

While we would love to just list out everything to look for, these indicators are often either incredibly subtle or context-dependent.  After working closely with law enforcement to train them in these detection techniques, however, Dr. Matsumoto reported a dramatic increase in accuracy, from 10 to 25 percent!

Thankfully, these techniques are not limited to high-level law enforcement. While Humintell is proud to work with all sorts of agencies, we are also thrilled to work with people like you. We offer both a comprehensive class in evaluating truthfulness and a course in predicting possible signs of aggression that can help translate these ideas into making you the best people reader and deception detector possible.