Can You Tell When Someone Is Lying? You Might Be a Highly Sensitive Person

A woman crosses her fingers behind her back because she is lying

Nearly 1 in 3 people are wired to be sensitive. Are they also human lie detectors?

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

For those of us that identify as highly sensitive people (HSPs), this question feels almost less like a hypothetical and more like a reality. That’s not to say that we’re flying around saving the world as masked crusaders (after all, that would probably take too much of a toll on our sensitive nervous systems!). Rather, HSPs have an innate ability to determine when someone isn’t being honest. This skill is so acute that highly sensitive people — the roughly 30 percent of the population who are born more physically and emotionally sensitive — have even been dubbed “human lie-detectors.”

So, what is it about HSPs that grants us this superpower? And, is it truly a superpower, or is it a curse?

Why Are Highly Sensitive People ‘Human Lie Detectors’?

HSPs’ lie-detection ability is part of our sensitive nature. More specifically, the answer lies in how the sensitive brain is wired. One of the leading theories of sensitivity, advanced by Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, is that sensitive people are actually wired at a brain level to process all information more deeply. That allows sensitive people to notice details that others miss — like the tiny hint of a “tell” on a liar’s face — and make connections that other people don’t see. 

That brain wiring also gives rise to three specific traits that nearly all highly sensitive people share, each of which contributes to their ability to spot lies and intuit what others are thinking:

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1. Depth of Processing

Depth of processing is the defining characteristic of highly sensitive people. It entails taking in and reflecting more upon information around us. This is why HSPs tend to have active imaginations, makes us careful decision-makers, and also makes us more prone to anxiety! When it comes to noticing lies, our depth of processing allows us to think about and integrate the details of what is going on around us, helping us to process what others may not internalize. For instance, we may notice differences in the elements of what someone just said compared to their original story, how their current speech pattern differs from their typical presentation, that the level of detail they provide seems like too much or too little for the context, and their excessive use of filler words (e.g., “um,” “like,” “uh,” etc.), all of which could alert us to a lack of honesty.

2. Empathy

HSPs are known for our high levels of empathy. This is largely due to greater neural activation in brain regions that host our mirror neuron system, i.e., what allows us to intuit others’ internal state. This, in turn, also helps us to better determine the emotional cues that the other person is giving off. For example, we might notice a sudden shift in someone’s emotions, emotional cues that don’t quite add up (such as inappropriate emotion to the context, or being overly-animated in their emotions), or even a blatant lack of emotions. These emotional signs can point to someone’s dishonesty. 

3. Sensory Intelligence

Because of their deep processing, sensitive people pick up on more subtle details of the world around them. Andre Sólo and Jenn Granneman, the authors of Sensitive, and the creators of Sensitive Refuge, refer to this ability as sensory intelligence. “Sensory intelligence means being more aware of your environment and doing more with that knowledge,” they write in Sensitive. “You may pay more attention to sensory details themselves (like the texture of a painting or a missing bracket in a line of code) or their implications (it rained yesterday, so it’s going to be muddy when I go on my walk). You could call it being tuned in.”

When it comes to people, sensory intelligence “tunes us in” to how others present through such areas as body language and tone of voice, as well as when shifts arise. For instance, we may notice how someone’s tone of voice gets a little softer, their eyes dart to avoid contact, their arms are crossed to appear more closed-off, or their movements fidget or freeze up. This is true even when the fluctuations are slight enough for us to not notice on a conscious level– our sensitive nervous system is still able to pick up on these subtleties in a way that allows us to know that something is not quite right.

Together, these three traits do indeed make highly sensitive people “human lie detectors.” It’s not that we’re 100 percent accurate — we’re not — but we do have a high accuracy rate, and often notice a lie while everyone else is still fooled.

Is It a Blessing or a Curse to Know When Someone Is Lying?

At first glance, you might assume that being a human lie-detector is solely a positive, given that it does sound like a superpower. However, it’s also not without its difficulties, given the gravity of what this entails.

The pros and cons of sensing lies include:

Sensing lies can help us prioritize healthy relationships (and leave toxic ones)…

A relationship that is filled with lies is obviously far from healthy. When we’re able to determine who in our life is more honest, then we are better able to establish how safe and trustworthy that person is. Indeed, emotional and mental safety are crucial in the health of a relationship. Conversely, when we determine that someone is prone to lying and therefore not to be trusted, this helps us to know that this is a relationship to leave behind, if possible. Or, at the very least, to set strong boundaries and create distance with this person if they are someone who you cannot completely avoid, such as a coworker.

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…But, catching people in a lie can make us feel conflicted.

Catching someone in a lie is, well, awkward. Typically, we are left with one of two choices: either go along with the lie and pretend we don’t know the truth, or confront the person on their dishonesty. Neither of these are great options, to say the least. If we go with the former option, then this can reinforce the trap of people-pleasing, which HSPs are already prone to, making us believe that we are not allowed to stick up for ourselves. If we go with the second option, then we have to engage in confrontation, which is very difficult for HSPs given our compassionate nature. While being so direct with someone can be beneficial in helping us advocate for ourselves, it does take a lot of mental and emotional energy to do so (and will likely require a lot of self-care afterwards). 

Sensing lies can alert us when a new boundary is needed…

Boundaries can be hard to set, especially for HSPs. That being said, sometimes we need a bit of extra motivation in order to properly set those boundaries that we need. When we know someone is lying, that is a very clear and compelling reason to set a boundary. This can make us feel more validated not only in our need to set a boundary, but also in the act of setting that boundary and reinforcing that boundary.

…But we could be made to second-guess our intuition.

Intuition is a huge strength for HSPs — this is what aids us in determining when someone is lying. Yet when we use this intuition to confront someone about their lies, there’s a chance that they will continue lying by denying their initial dishonesty. After all, if someone is willing to lie in the first place, then they are likely also to lie about their dishonesty. This is a form of gaslighting, as it makes us question our reality. If this happens often enough, especially with someone who is an important person in our life, we may start to second-guess our intuition, trusting our own selves less as a result.

Knowing the truth helps us to take the best possible care of ourselves…

In order to properly take care of ourselves and honor our sensitive needs, we need to be grounded in reality and know what the truth is. This is especially vital when people try to tell us lies about ourselves– such as how no one likes us, how we are perceived negatively, or even exaggerating the impact of a mistake we made. These types of lies are common among narcissists and emotional vampires, who often target HSPs due to our kind and caring nature. By being able to catch these lies early on — and therefore dismiss them instead of internalizing them – we are able to keep our distance and keep ourselves in a healthier headspace.

…But it can be overwhelming to be a human lie-detector.

The deep-processing brains of HSPs means that we are more vulnerable to overwhelm and overstimulation. Oftentimes the source of this is through our sensory experience – lights that are too bright, noises that are too loud, fabrics that are uncomfortable – as well as feeling our emotions so deeply. Dealing with these every-day stressors is already a lot; add in the piece of noticing when others are lying, and that overwhelm can become too much. This is further exacerbated when we feel obligated to call out the other person on their lie, as this is a tiring process as well (remember: HSPs don’t like conflict!). All of this combined can feel like too much for us sensitive ones.

Being a human lie-detector is a double-edge sword. Fellow HSP, do you believe this ability is a superpower, or a curse? How have you noticed it impacting you? Comment down below!

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