Art of Deception

Auckland City, NZ 2019 (Photo Credit: Christian Espinoza)

We are all storytellers, every single one of us. Our method however, is largely non verbal.

I always used to tell my son that he has no poker face, because he simply couldn’t lie to save himself. But like him, not all of us are experts at lying, in fact we rarely are. Our body language gives us away.

Incongruity is prevalent when we’re really trying to deceive, we can’t hold the lie for too long before slipping up somehow. My son’s friend is a classic case. For a thirteen year old he’s surprisingly good, but as soon as I suspect he’s pulling a fast one on me, I hit him with some incredibly specific questions. It forces him to think about the story of the lie (whilst ultimately knowing the truth) and that’s when it becomes apparent. I notice his eyes drift upward to the ceiling as he processes the lie in his head. His hands start rubbing against his neck as a means of self soothing, and the main the main giveaway is the lack of eye contact.

Just for fun, next time you meet someone for the first time, notice their non verbal language. For example, how far away they stand from you, if they make eye contact, where they position their hands, what their feet do, whether or not they’re well groomed.

People are always talking, but we should learn to listen more with our eyes.

Never trust to general impressions, my boy, but concentrate yourself upon details.

– Arthur Conan Doyle, author of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes


Ethan, Queenstown 2015 (photo credit: Christian Espinoza)

My son can’t lie, he is just terrible at it.

From an early age I used to tell Ethan, ‘you have no poker face’, and ‘I can read you like a book’. At first my words angered him to no end, but soon he learned what I meant and why it is not a bad thing after all.

Like him though, I can’t get through a lie to save myself. I recently read Human Lie Detection and Body Language 101: Your Guide to Reading People’s Nonverbal Behavior, by Vanessa Van Edwards. Brilliant book, easy to read, and it has photos to pair with the text (funny photos too). I did feel a bit as though I was an alien who came down to Earth and was learning how to analyze humans… like the family on 3rd Rock from the Sun!

There is no shame in it, I tell him, because lying is not something you should feel you need to be good at. In the book, Edwards explains just how difficult it actually is for us to lie in a convincing way. To stay in congruous, in sync between our verbal speech and our body language, while thinking of a lie (and of course knowing full well the actual truth), and then weaving the intricacies of the lie (i.e. the characters, what they did and didn’t do/say/think, the history of each of them in the false tale, the time of day, the nuances of the environmental factors, and all of this on top of the actual events – or the false events, etc). Now picture an Autistic 13 year old trying to do this!

The innocence of a child is magical. Tap into it and be at peace with not knowing everything.