Five Rules for Becoming a Human Lie Detector with Eye Movement Cues

Being able to tell when someone is lying to you is a hugely powerful skill, especially if your work involves negotiation, interviewing, or questioning individuals.

Today’s high performance hypnosis tip is all about understanding eye movement cues and how, with practice, you can become a “human lie detector”.

You might have heard of eye movement cues before – the simple idea that you can tell if someone is telling the truth or lying just by watching their eyes. Sadly, a lot of the information about eye movement cues on the internet is incomplete and ignores several important steps. The truth is that detecting a “lie” is not a 100% science – even for someone who understands eye queues (in fact, the originators of the technique refuted its use for “lie detection” in the late 70s).

And yet, people still hang on to the idea that if you look “up and left” then you are lying.

Let’s set the record straight on eye movement cues.

Rule 1: We do not all have the same eye movement cues

Google ” eye movement cues” and you’ll find lots of variations of this picture.

This picture is wrong.

What the picture should look like is this.

This is because eye movement cues have nothing to do with left brain/right brain activity. Eye  movement cues are far more linked to which is your dominant hand.

Therefore, whilst the eye movement cues you may think you already know are true for the majority of right handed people they are commonly reversed in people who are left handed. There is also the notable exception of Basque people, who reported have their eye cues further reversed (so right handers behave like left handers and vice versa.)

Clearly there is more to reading eye cues than waiting for someone to look up and left when they are lying!

The first and most important step in reading eye cues is therefore to calibrate.

Rule 2: Always Calibrate

You can calibrate your lie detector easily by asking someone some simple questions when you first meet them.

If you were using a real polygraph, these would be called “control questions”.

The key to a good control question is that it is something that a person would not possible lie about and that they will have to access their memories to answer. The question can’t be tool simple either – “yes/no” questions often fail as calibrations.

These questions are easily folded into the “small talk” when you first meet someone and can work as good calibration questions

  • Did you see any rain at all on your way here today?
  • Have you heard the football scores today?
  • Do you drink coffee? How many sugars do you take?

You’ll notice that these questions all involve a specific sensory component – this further helps with calibration as you know which “angle” the eyes should be moving at when the person access their memory.

This is only the first step of calibration – you should continue to watch for eye cues and adjust your calibration as the conversation continues. In particular, you should try to ask at least one question that requires the person to use their imagination in order to answer. You can be a little more creative with these – the more so the better really!

  • We’re thinking of redecorating in here – what colour would you go for on the walls?

Rule 3: Understand your question to understand your answer

Assuming you’ve gotten a good read on the other person, you’re going to want to use their eye cues to let you know if they are lying about the big stuff. This is where things get more complicated, because it is easy to misinterpret eye cues when we ask complex questions.

A great example I was told about is one of a HR Manager who had been on an NLP course and thought they knew all about eye cues. In an interview, they asked a candidate

How would you apply your past experience to your role here?

The candidate gave a great answer, but got a “black mark” from the HR Manager. The manager’s explanation was their eye cues – the candidate’s eyes had moved up and left and so the HR Manager thought that they had “constructed” their answer about past experience – in short, they had lied.

Can you see where the HR Manager went wrong? Let’s look at the question again…

How would you apply your past experience to your role here?

The problem is right there in the framing of the question. The question didn’t ask the candidate to recall their past experience. They asked them to recall their past experience and then apply it to a new situation. This, by definition, would require them to construct new information in their brain. The HR Manager missed out on a potentially great employee because they mis-read the eye cues .

Rule 4: You are not subtle. Practice.

Looking people right in the eye is hard. Google has over  307,000,000 answers to the question “why is it hard to look someone in the eye”.

When you think about it, if so much information about how we are thinking can be given away by our eyes its natural that we would find too much eye contact unnerving or creepy – it’s a defence mechanism triggered when we sense that someone is trying to break through our defences.

Psychologist Arthur Aaron believed you can make anyone fall in love with you by asking them 36 personal questions and then looking them deeply in the eyes for 4 minutes. Eye contact is powerful stuff.

So, staring at someone’s eyes every time they answer a question is not only a give away that you’re reading their eye cues but it is likely to make them uncomfortable.

Trust me when I tell you that you are not the master of subterfuge you think you are. Reading eye cues quickly and without setting off the target’s defences is a skill that takes time to master. The good news is that life is full of opportunities to practice eye queue reading in scenarios where the outcome is unimportant. Every cup of coffee you buy is a chance to play the eye queue game.

  • How much is a large coffee?
  • Do you have any green tea?
  • Have you tried the special blend?

Rule 5: You are not alone

The other problem with eye cues is that a lot of people know about them (or, at least, they think they do).

If you come up against another person with an understanding of eye cues or NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) then there are three potential obstacles you are going to face.

  1. They may catch you reading them
  2. They may have a strategy for masking their eye cues
  3. They will be trying to read your eye cues – and they might read them incorrectly

Of course, the same is true for them.

If you think someone is attempting to read your eye cues, it’s most important to remember that they may be one of the many, many people who are mis-informed on this topic. If you are a left-hander, you are in real trouble as your eye cues will be the reverse of what they are looking for.

Always be aware of what you may be giving away through your own eye cues and watching out for people trying to “read” you!