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The Traitors returns: How can you tell if someone is lying to you?

By Andrew Dixon

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By Katie Wright, PA

Claudia Winkleman at a photocall for the launch of BBC's The Traitors.
Claudia Winkleman at a photocall for the launch of BBC's The Traitors.

The eagerly-anticipated second series of The Traitors begins on BBC One last night, with 22 contestants battling it out at Ardross Castle in the psychological game show that gripped viewers last year.

Claudia Winkleman will be back on hosting duties, the presenter promising “the ultimate game of treachery for a life-changing cash prize” in the first trailer for season two.

In the first series – spoiler alert – three of the ‘faithfuls’ prevailed, managing to root out the three ‘traitors’ during roundtable discussions over the course of 12 episodes. Aaron, Hannah and Meryl shared the £101,050 prize pot earned by completing team tasks along the way.

Speaking at an event in May, executive producer Toni Ireland said “the game’s going to be different” for season two, so we can expect some twists and turns along the way, but one thing’s for certain: it’s going to involve a lot of barefaced lies.

Do you think you’ve got what it takes to triumph on The Traitors? Could you tell a faithful from a fibber with one glance?

“It’s actually notoriously hard to accurately tell if someone is lying,” says psychologist Nova Cobban, founder of the Wuum app.

“We like to think that there are easy ways to tell, like looking in a certain direction when you lie, but these ‘tells’ can be affected by factors like whether you are left or right-handed, how you process and store information and they don’t take into account neurodiversity.”

However, some people are better than others at maintaining a ‘poker face’ when they’re telling porkies.

“People who are very expressive are often the easiest to read,” Cobban says.

“You see every emotional change in their body language, their speech patterns and the content of what they say.

“Children are also very easy to read because they aren’t generally guarded and they are very expressive – if they are upset, happy, worried, etc, you will know about it.”

Here, she talks through some of the key factors to look at to determine if someone is lying…

Fingers crossed.
Fingers crossed.

Something feels ‘off’

Is your gut instinct telling you that something doesn’t feel right when your partner offers a long-winded yet plausible explanation as to why they didn’t respond to your messages all day?

“People are generally pretty predictable and so you’ll notice, perhaps just subconsciously, that something they are doing or saying doesn’t match up to how they usually respond,” Cobban says.

They might display ‘micro cues’ – speech patterns or movements almost imperceptible to the eye but registered by our brains.

“Our brain can build up a picture of all these micro cues and alert us to the fact that something isn’t adding up, so sometimes we can rely on our ‘sixth sense’ that something just feels different or incongruent,” Cobban explains.

“We are actually much better at judging lies on a subconscious level than we are when we are consciously trying to judge it.”

But remember that ‘off’ feeling doesn’t necessarily mean they are telling an outright lie: “It might mean they don’t want to admit something to themselves or that they are feeling a hidden emotion around [an issue] that perhaps they aren’t even aware of.”

They can’t get their story straight

When someone is trying to cover their tracks after doing something deceitful, they’ll have to fabricate a fake narrative, and they may struggle to stick to the story.

“This story will often change or have gaps in it, and the way it is delivered can tell you a lot too,” Cobban says.

In an attempt to gloss over the truth a person might be vague about the details, or they could go the other way. “They will seem focused – looking right at you and not moving much – and deliberate because they are trying their hardest not to recall an event but to tell the lie correctly,” she says.

Telltale gestures

There are some common gestures that people make when they are consciously lying, such as covering their eyes or their mouth, but the nature of the movements varies from person to person.

“Some people will literally talk through their hands – children often do this – or they may just hold their hands near their face, touching their cheek or chin,” Cobban says.

“Others may cough and cover their mouths as they lie. Some people play with their hair or move it across their face as though subtly wanting to hide. Or they may cross their arms or sit on their hands to try to control their hand movements and not give themselves away.”

When trying to pick up on such subtle signs, these gestures aren’t a guarantee that someone is lying, but they could be a warning that you need to address underlying issues.

“These differences might not tell you exactly how they are feeling, but they are an indicator that they are feeling something,” Cobban says.

“Depending on the context you can often infer what that might be and then check your thoughts out with the other person to confirm.”

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