Can your eye movements reveal whether you are telling the truth or not? Some body language experts believe a person exhibits certain eye movements when lying, but others disagree.

This association between eye movements and lying first came about with the emergence of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) in 1972. NLP founders John Grinder and Richard Bandler mapped out a ‘standard eye movement’ chart (Eye Accessing Cues). This chart depicted where our eyes move in relation to our thoughts.

It is generally accepted that the left side of our brain is associated with logic and our right side with creativity. Therefore, according to NLP experts, anyone who looks left is using their logical side and those who look right are accessing a creative side. This premise has translated into logic = truth whereas creativity = lying.

They claim that when we are thinking, our eyes move as the brain accesses information. Information is stored in the brain in four different ways:

  1. Visually
  2. Auditorally
  3. Kinaesthetically
  4. Internal dialogue

According to Grinder and Bandler, depending on which of these four ways we access this information will dictate where our eyes move.

  • Up and Left: Visually remembering
  • Up and Right: Visually constructing
  • Left: Auditorally remembering
  • Right: Auditorally constructing
  • Down and Left: Internal dialogue
  • Down and Right: Kinaesthetic remembering

Eye movements when lying in more detail:

  • Up and Left

If someone asked you to remember your wedding dress or the first house you purchased, moving your eyes up and to the right accesses the visual remembering part of the brain.

  • Up and to the Right

Imagine a pig flying across the sky or cows with pink spots on them. Then your eyes would move up and to the left as you are visually constructing these images.

  • Left

In order to remember your favourite song, your eyes should move to the right as it accesses the auditory remembering part of your brain.

  • Right

If you were asked to imagine the lowest bass note you can think of, your eyes would move to the left as it tried to auditorily construct this sound.

  • Down and Left

Asked if you can remember the smell of cut grass or a bonfire, or the taste of their favourite beer, people’s eyes will typically move down and right as they recall that smell.

  • Down and Right

This is the direction your eyes move when you are talking to yourself or engaging in internal dialogue.

So how does this knowledge of eye movement help us in detecting someone who is lying, according to NLP experts?

Now we know what NLP experts believe regarding eye movements when lying. They say that if you ask someone a question, you can follow their eye movements and tell if someone is lying or not.

So a typically normal right-handed person should look to the left if they are recalling actual events, memories, sounds, and feelings. If they are lying, their eyes will look to the right, the creative side.

For example, you asked your partner if they stayed late at the office the previous night. If they answered “Yes, of course, I did,” and looked up and to the left, you would know they were telling the truth.

According to Grinder and Bandler, these eye movements and lying work with a normal right-handed person. Left-handed people will have opposite meanings for their eye movements.

Can you really tell if a person is lying simply by their eye movements?

Most experts, however, do not think eye movements and lying are connected. A study was conducted at the University of Hertfordshire. Volunteers were filmed and their eye movements were recorded as they either told the truth or lied.

Another group of volunteers then watched the film of the first and was asked to see if they could detect who was lying and who was telling the truth. Simply by watching their eye movements.

Prof Wiseman, a psychologist who ran the study said: “The results of the first study revealed no relationship between lying and eye movements, and the second showed that telling people about the claims made by NLP practitioners did not improve their lie detection skills.”

Further studies into eye movements and lying involved reviewing press conferences where people appealed for help with regard to missing relatives. They also studied the films of press releases where people claimed to be the victims of crimes. In some of the films, the person was lying and in other they were telling the truth. After analysing both films, no evidence of an association between eye movements and lying was detected.

Co-author of the study – Dr. Caroline Watt, from the University of Edinburgh, said: “A large percentage of the public believes that certain eye movements are a sign of lying, and this idea is even taught in organisational training courses.”

Dr. Watt believes that now is the time to discard this method of thinking and focus attention on other means of detecting liars.

Closing thoughts

Despite the above-described study debunked this method, many still believe that a person has certain eye movements when lying. However, most experts think that detecting lying is far more complicated than eye movement.

Wiseman agrees: “There are some actual cues that might indicate lying—such as being static or talking less or dropping in terms of emotionality, but I don’t think there’s any reason to keep holding onto this idea about eye movement.”



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