Catch A Liar With The This/That Trap

People fumble around with their words a lot when they're lying. In fact, a liar often adds words so they can truthfully answer questions by obscuring the meaning. Psychology Today points to a method to catch a liar where you can react to words called tag qualifiers.

Image remixed from Steven Isaacson.

The words include "this", "that", "these", "those" and "though". Tag qualifiers work because one can't exist without the other. If someone says "that", then there must be a this. So, if someone says, "I didn't do that", they have to know what "that" means, or you could follow up with the question, "If you didn't do that, what did you do?" Using these words, a liar can actually tell the truth but not the whole truth. Psychology Today offers this example:

TIMMY'S MOTHER: Your teacher called and said that during recess you ran up to Vickie and pulled her hair causing her to fall down and hurt her head.

TIMMY: She's lying. I didn't do that.

Timmy used the Tag Qualifier "that" to give the illusion of truth. Timmy did pull Vickie's hair causing her to fall down and hurt her head, but he did not run up to Vickie and pull her hair, he walked up to Vickie and pulled her hair. Since his mother's description of the event was not exact, Timmy could use the Tag Qualifier "that" to maintain the illusion of truth. However, Timmy cannot use the word "that" without having considered at least one alternate action.

Essentially, if you think someone is lying to you, listen for those tag qualifiers. If the words aren't attached to anything, you can gently probe a bit more to get to the bottom of a lie. Head over to Psychology Today for a few more example conversations.

Catch Liars Using the This/That Trap [Psychology Today]


    Kaffee: Did you order the Code Red?
    Col. Jessep: I did the job I...
    Kaffee: *Did you order the Code Red?*
    Col. Jessep: *You're Goddamn right I did!*

      Great comment Kendal!

    Awesome comment.

    I think that's complete and utter BS. I've said "I didn't do that" or "I didn't say that" and i wasn't lying or deliberately misleading.

      Obviously this is subjective, One would assume everyone isn't lying all of the time and will inherently use these words in general conversation. The point is, When you do notice it, you should Question it, Then you can determine further if the person is lying based on their next response.

      I would imagine the person who is in fact lying, upon being asked to clarify through a follow up question, would either have difficulty articulating their next point or take some time to think and respond (Generally - Because they are fabricating something else). A person who isn't lying would shrug it off and instantly explain in a clearer or more direct way since they have nothing to hide.

      If you can't understand that basic point, perhaps you will have trouble deciphering who is telling you the truth.

      That's psychology for you.,,

    "a liar often adds words so they can truthfully answer questions by obscuring the meaning"
    That's more misleading than lying, although untruthful nonetheless. These tag qualifiers can go straight out the window if someone's actively lying. Why would one need to 'truthfully answer questions' if they're lying anyway? Conscience?

    me: I didn't do that!
    Questioner: Then what did you do?
    Me: Nothing, including that!

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now