Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Pantomimes of Liars

The other night after Maria went to bed I watched Quentin Tarrantino's movie True Romance, an action-packed flick about unlikely romance, adventure, mob violence, and a one-time-only drug deal that got a lot of people killed. The cast of characters included Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, and James Gandolfini, and a few other notable actors. Yeah, I loved the show. I have seen it several times and I look forward to the next time. Two thumbs up.

In the film Slater, a comic book store manager, meets Arquette, a hooker, in the movie theater. They fall in love, get married, and he goes to her pimp, Oldman, to collect her personal belongings. He gets into a huge fight and kills Oldman and everyone else in the room. He grabs some suitcases and goes home. He discovers that one suitcase contains a lot of bagged white powder. The couple stops to see Slater's dad, Hopper, to borrow some traveling money, then rushes off to LA to sell the drugs and enjoy a honeymoon.

In the next scene, mafia capo Walken arrives with crew at Hopper's trailer house and asks Slater's whereabouts. It seems that Oldman had taken Slater's driver license before Slater killed him, and Slater had left it at the crime scene. After tying up Hopper, Walken inquires about Slater's and Arquette's whereabouts and destination. Hopper denies knowing anything, whereupon Walken says to Hopper...

"Sicilians are great liars. The best in the world. I'm Sicilian. My father was the world heavy-weight champion of Sicilian liars. From growing up with him I learned the pantomime. There are seventeen different things a guy can do when he lies to give himself away. A guy's got seventeen pantomimes. A woman's got twenty, but a guy's got seventeen... but, if you know them, like you know your own face, they beat lie detectors all to hell. Now, what we got here is a little game of show and tell. You don't wanna show me nothin', but you're tellin me everything. I know you know where they are, so tell me before I do some damage you won't walk away from."

According to WordWeb, Pantomime means "A performance using gestures and body movements without words." It seems to me that all good lawyers and students of the law should know these pantomimes by heart. It really can help when interrogating witnesses. In fact, it can help anyone when interacting with people in general. So I ask: What ARE these pantomimes?

Before I get into the answer, I point out that I consider all lie-detecting techniques a highly subjective art form. During an actual interrogation, one might want to tell the subject something similar to what Walken said about the pantomimes and let the subject know that his reaction to the interrogation has already revealed some of them. This might just demoralize the subject sufficiently to get the subject to start telling the truth.

I did a little digging and came up with the LIAR PANTOMIMES below. Incidentally, I believe Tarrantino made up that nonsense about women having twenty pantomimes and men having only seventeen. As you will see, I found more than a score, and some I could subdivide even more.


  1. A liar will limit or stiffen physical expression, with few arm and hand movements. The liar will move hand, arm, and leg toward his own body in order to take up less space and become harder to see.
  2. A liar will avoid making eye contact with you when lying to you. While the liar may have no ability to hold a gaze for any length of time, a sociopath liar might look you in the eyes without difficulty for a long time.
  3. A liar tends to touch the face, throat & mouth, and touch or scratch the nose or behind their ear. A liar will not likely touch the chest/heart with an open hand. The liar covers the mouth as if to cover the lie.
  4. A liar botches the timing between emotions gestures/expressions and words. Example: Someone says, “I love it!” when receiving a gift and then smiles after making that statement, rather then at the same time the statement is made. Microexpressions may flash on the liar's face that do not comport with the liar's verbal responses.
  5. Gestures/expressions don’t match the verbal statement, such as frowning when saying “I love you.”
  6. The liar limits expressions to mouth movements, instead of using the whole face, when faking emotions (like happy, surprised, sad, awe, ). Normally a non-liar involves the whole face when expressing emotion - jaw/cheek movement, eyes and forehead push down, etc.
  7. A guilty person gets defensive. An innocent person will often go on the offensive. Or, the accused may become the accuser by pointing the finger and projecting the misdeed elsewhere. The liar may overreact by immediately behaving angry and defensive, perhaps to try to force a change of subject or to make the person submit to the liar's story.
  8. A liar feels and acts uncomfortable facing his questioner/accuser and may turn his head or body away. The liar may fidget a lot and generally look uncomfortable.
  9. A liar might unconsciously place objects (book, coffee cup, etc.) between the two of you.
  10. A liar will use your words to make an answer to the question. When asked, “Did you eat the last cookie?” The liar answers, “No, I did not eat the last cookie,” or "Are you asking me if I ate that cookie?"
  11. A statement with a contraction has a greater likelihood of truthful content: “ I didn’t do it” instead of “I did not do it”
  12. Liars sometimes avoid “lying” by not making direct statements. They imply answers instead of denying something directly.
  13. The guilty person may speak more than normally, adding unnecessary details to convince you… the liar feels uncomfortable with silence or pauses in the conversation. The liar may start talking way too fast or completely change pitch or tone of voice.
  14. A liar may leave out pronouns and speak in a monotonous tone. In a truthful statement the liar will emphasize the pronoun as much as or more than the rest of the words in a statement.
  15. A liar may garble words or speak them softly, and make errors in grammar and syntax. In other-words, the liar will muddle sentences rather than emphasize them.
  16. A liar will feel a desire to leave the area so as to escape further notice or scrutiny, and may look toward possible escape routes or fabricate an excuse like "I have to go to the bathroom again."
  17. A liar will often exhibit different mannerisms while lying than during normal conversation - any slight changes can have significance. For example, a person trying to remember a detail might normally look upward, but look downward when lying. you fare best if you know how the subject behaves during normal conversation before beginning the interrogation. In other words, soften the subject up, put the subject at ease, and notice how the subject normally acts. Then, when you discern any differences during interrogation, those differences constitute clues that the subject might want to hide the truth.
  18. A liar will willingly and with relief change the subject, while a non-liar would try to return to the original subject. A liar may avoid the subject by making sarcastic or humorous remarks.
  19. A liar tends to blink frequently as though unconsciously hiding thoughts, but revealing them instead. Note that some people blink a lot normally when not lying.
  20. The liar's eyebrows become raised. This by itself does not prove lying, but it tends to signify defensiveness. A liar aware of the tendency to blink a lot may raise the eyebrows in order to compensate. People seem to have trouble avoiding this indicator to lying.
  21. The liar may play dumb. “What are you talking about?” or “Why would you say that?” and of course looking appropriately shocked and confused.
  22. The liar, needing more time to think, may stammer and pause in between comments as if trying to gather thoughts. Look for a subtle "thinking time" delay between asking the question and obtaining the answer - the delay can suggest lying.
  23. The liar may sweat more than normal during questioning.

I'd love to give proper credit to the tireless researchers in homes, businesses, universities, interrogation rooms, and laboratories throughout the world who studied human behavior and documented these liar "tells." But frankly I don't feel the urge to research that.

I remind you that legendary humorist Mark Twain once said three kinds of liars exist - liars, damned liars, and statistics. You might want to read my article on the subject here: