How to Tell If Someone Is Lying With Psychologist Paul Ekman

Paul Eckman

Verywell / Julie Bang

Every Monday on The Verywell Mind Podcast, Editor-in-Chief Amy Morin, LCSW, interviews authors, experts, entrepreneurs, athletes, musicians, and other inspirational people about the strategies that help them think, feel, and do their best in life.

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Meet Paul Ekman

Paul Ekman is a psychologist who co-discovered “micro-expressions.” He’s often called “the human lie detector” and he’s considered the world’s deception detection expert.

He’s the inspiration behind the hit series, "Lie to Me" and he consulted on the movie Inside Out. He’s also trained organizations, such as police departments and the TSA, on how to tell when someone is lying. 

TIME Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He’s also been ranked fifteenth among the most influential psychologists of the 21st century.

He’s authored many books and offers online trainings in micro-expressions, the key component in learning how to detect lies.

Why Paul Ekman Is Mentally Strong

Dr. Ekman discovered how micro-expressions could help him detect whether people were telling the truth. He was approached by a President who wanted to learn how to lie better—but he declined to teach him.

Dr. Ekman is clear that he only wants to help people detect lies, not learn to become better at lying.

Dr. Ekman has made a huge impact on the world. His research on emotional expressions and which ones are universal and which ones are culture-specific has taught us a lot about feelings. 

His work has led to a much greater understanding of nonverbal communication and emotions.

What You’ll Hear on the Show

  • What microexpressions are and how to recognize them
  • Why people tell lies
  • How we overestimate our ability to detect deception
  • Why we should examine the potential consequences of uncovering the truth
  • Why you should think about the reason you want to get better at detecting lies (and what that might say about you)
  • The link between assuming others are being honest and happiness
  • Why people in certain professions shouldn’t assume others are being honest
  • The types of lies Dr. Ekman can detect and which ones he can’t
  • Why we tend to believe people who are lying
  • The three things you need to look at if you want to tell if someone is lying

What You’ll Learn About Mental Health and Mental Strength

The way we communicate often speaks volumes about our mental health and our emotions. A flat affect could be indicative of a mental illness, like schizophrenia or slow movements may be a sign of depression. Those changes may interfere with our ability to communicate effectively with others.

When our mental health improves, our communication often improves too.

On the flipside, sometimes changing our body language can improve our mental health (something we discussed in episode 139, Fake a Smile to Have a Better Day.

Dr. Ekman reads facial expressions and body language gives him insight into someone’s emotional state. He knows that our emotions often get revealed even before we’re aware of how we’re feeling. 

Quotes From Dr. Ekman

Paul Ekman

Most often, we are misled because we don't want to know the truth. We make it easy for the liar because the truth will be uncomfortable for us to learn.

— Paul Ekman
  • "People who believe others are being truthful to them tend to live longer. 
  • "Very often people are misled because they want to be misled and they're even unaware of the fact that they don't want to know the truth. It's too painful to learn."
  • "We don't tell the truth because we don't wanna offend someone. We don't want to hurt someone."

More About the Podcast

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Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript does not go through our standard editorial process and may contain inaccuracies and grammatical errors. Thank you.

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Links and Resources

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By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.