The truth about lies: What works in detecting high-stakes deception?


Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Stephen Porter, University of British Columbia Okanagan, 3333 University Way, Kelowna, BC, Canada (e-mail:


In this paper, we provide our view of the current understanding of high-stakes lies often occurring in forensic contexts. We underscore the importance of avoiding widespread pitfalls of deception detection and challenging prevailing assumptions concerning strategies for catching liars. The promise and limitations of each of non-verbal/body language, facial, verbal/linguistic, and physiological channels in detecting deception are discussed. In observing the absence of a single cue or behavioural channel that consistently reveals deception, a holistic approach with concurrent attention to multiple channels of a target's behaviour (ideally videotaped for review) and changes from baseline behaviour is recommended whenever possible. Among the best-validated cues to be considered together include: illustrators, blink and pause rate, speech rate, vague descriptions, repeated details, contextual embedding, reproduction of conversations, and emotional ‘leakage’ in the face. While advocating a reliance on empirical evidence, we observe that few studies of high-stakes deception yet have been conducted. Further, some manifestations of lying are highly idiosyncratic and difficult to address in quantitative research, pointing to the need for keen observation skills, and psychological insight. A recurring theme is the need for the field to devise innovative approaches for studying high-stakes lies to promote ecological validity. Ultimately, such work will provide a strong foundation for the responsible application of deception research in forensic and security settings.