If You Begin With ‘Well’, There’s A Good Chance You’re Lying

If You Begin With ‘Well’, There’s A Good Chance You’re Lying

If you think someone’s lying, you can’t really subject them to a polygraph test. But it turns out that if they start their sentence with the word “well”, you won’t have to.

Photo by All Things Social

Over at Psychology Today, psychologist John R. Schafer gets into one technique that’s part of the Poor Man’s Polygraph — a series of techniques to detect deception in your everyday conversation. It’s pretty simple. If someone starts off a sentence with “well,” there’s a good chance they’re lying. Here’s why:

When you ask someone a direct Yes or No question and they begin their answer with the word “Well,” there is a high probability of deception. Beginning an answer to a direct Yes or No question with the word “Well” indicates that the person answering the question is about to give you an answer that they know you are not expecting.

In the article, Schafer gives a few examples to illustrate when this happens (e.g. “Did you finish your homework?” / “Well…”) and details that the “Well…” technique really only works with yes or no questions. While not 100 per cent effective, it’s a worthwhile attempt when you need to get the truth out of someone regardless if they want to provide it.

Poor Man’s Polygraph Part 1 [Psychology Today]


  • I have a good mate who is a pretty chronic lier. I’ve observed a behaviour he does where he replies “whats that?” and gets you to repeat your question for thinking time – even though its blatantly obvious he just heard you. Its pretty funny but frustrating when its a serious topic.

  • That’s an awkward one. I start many, many sentences a day with ‘well..’. Generally, it’s when I’ve been asked an IT question with a few possible answers. It gives me an extra second to think about it, and prepares them for the fact that the answer they receive isn’t set in stone.

    I’m pretty sure I started doing it because people are awkward when you just stare at them for a few seconds before you start answering the question.

    • thats exactly the reason, it gives the responder a couple of extra seconds to think, which in a yes and no scenario you shouldnt need to because it invovles direct recall. obviously if you are lying it involves more brain usage hence taking longer to answer. obviously it also depends on other cues, because as in your case there are other reasons why you would need to think about the answer.

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