Your Eyes Don't Give Away Your Lies, Researchers Say

By Chelsea Whyte on July 12, 2012 11:43 PM EDT

eye
Looking up or to the right doesn't indicate lying, according to new research. (Photo: Creative Commons: Flickr/orang)

The idea that you can tell if someone's lying by looking in their eyes may turn out to be a myth. New research debunks the idea that if a person moves their eyes up and to the right while telling a tale, they're not being absolutely truthful.

In research published in the journal PLoS ONE, a team led by Caroline Watt of the University of Edinburgh did three experiments that prove that your eyes don't give away lies.

They found no association between the movement of the eyes and whether a person was telling the truth. The idea has its roots in a largely discredited 1970s theory called Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), a set of techniques intended to help people master social interactions, according to Fox News.

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"A large percentage of the public believes that certain eye movements are a sign of lying, and this idea is even taught in organizational training courses." Watt said. "Our research provides no support for the idea and so suggests that it is time to abandon this approach to detecting deceit."

The first experiment used 32 right-handed participants (in case eye movements are reversed in lefties) and the scientists monitored their eye movement as they spoke truths and lies. They were all equally likely to glance upward to the left or right regardless of the veracity of what they were saying.

In a second experiment, they found that 25 participants who were told that lying can be detected through eye movements were no better at telling when someone was speaking the truth than a second group of 25 who were not given information about eye movements as they relate to lying.

And in the third experiment, the researchers examined a video archive of high-profile press conferences where people appealed for help finding missing relatives. Based on the outcomes of those cases, the researchers knew who was lying and who was telling the truth, but they found no difference between the directions of the eye movement between liars and truth-tellers.

Howard Ehrlichman, a professor emeritus of psychology at Queens College of the City University of New York, told ABC News that in his research into eye movements, he has found no link between looking a certain direction and lying.

"This does not mean that the eyes don't tell us anything about what people are thinking," he said. "I found that while the direction of eye movements wasn't related to anything, whether people actually made eye movements or not was related to aspects of things going on in their mind."

Instead, he said, people tend to move their eyes when they're accessing information from long-term memory. More rehearsed speech will come from someone who is staring forward while they speak. 

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