A new study has found that people are skilled at identifying commonly displayed cues, such as hesitations and hand gestures, that tell them someone is lying.

Unfortunately, these signs are produced more often when someone is telling the truth, say researchers at the University of Edinburgh.

The study also found that liars are skilled at suppressing these signals to avoid detection.

For the study, researcher Dr. Jia Loy created a computerized two-player game in which 24 pairs of players hunted for treasure. Players were free to lie at will.

The game helped psychologists assess the types of speech and gestures speakers produce when lying, and which clues listeners interpret as evidence that a statement is false.

Researchers coded more than 1,100 types of speech produced by speakers against 19 potential cues to lying, such as pauses in speech, changes in speech rate, shifts in eye gaze, and eyebrow movements.

The cues were analyzed to see which ones listeners identified, and which cues were more likely to be produced when telling a lie.

The researchers found listeners were efficient at identifying these common signs. In fact, listeners made judgments on whether something is true within a few hundred milliseconds of encountering a cue.

However, the researchers also found that the common cues associated with lying were more likely to be used if the speaker is telling the truth.

Researchers say the study helps understand the psychological dynamics that shape deception.

“The findings suggest that we have strong preconceptions about the behavior associated with lying, which we act on almost instinctively when listening to others,” said lead researcher Dr. Martin Corley of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences.

“However, we don’t necessarily produce these cues when we’re lying, perhaps because we try to suppress them.”

The study was published in the Journal of Cognition.

Source: University of Edinburgh