Interview: Darren Stanton, The Human Lie Detector

Interview: Jared Wilson
Illustrations: Ging Inferior
Monday 09 March 2015
reading time: min, words

With a talent for spotting when people are telling porkies, Darren Stanton has been dubbed ‘the world’s leading human lie detector’. Spending his time travelling between his home in Carlton and his increasing work and celebrity in Los Angeles, he lives a somewhat double life. We were on our best behaviour when we met him...


When did you start developing a talent for spotting liars?
Much of my ability came from being a police officer - I worked in the Notts police force between 1991 and 2007. Although I believe the majority of people are fairly open and honest, most people that you meet in the police station sadly are not - which is probably where the expression ‘copper’s nose‘ comes from. You develop a sixth sense in that job when something isn't right with someone. I’m good at picking up on people’s tells and gestures without the need for electronic gadgetry. Although there are plenty of people that do what I do in terms of body language analysis, there are very few former police officers that have gone into this work and the media.

How would you compare your abilities to traditional technology, like a polygraph?
We've all seen the so-called ‘lie detector’ on programmes like Jeremy Kyle - these are about 75% accurate. Polygraphs operate on GSR (galvanic skin response, or in layman’s terms, perspiration), breathing rate and pulse, which can give ‘false positive’ signals that look like lies but aren’t. The techniques I use are similar in that I use ’calibration‘ to note someone’s non-verbal gestures, speech pattern, breathing rate, and eye movements. No system is 100% accurate. However, when people are under pressure of being discovered and there are drastic consequences, the body gives off noticeable tells and it’s these I'm good at spotting.

In 2010, you were asked to consult on the UK general election during the live TV debates. What did you see in David, Nick and Gordon?
David Cameron is an accomplished public speaker, probably from his debating days at Eton. I saw certain gestures that, although don’t categorically mean deceit, were reassurance or distress gestures of someone under pressure. He licks his lips a lot - when you’re under pressure, the saliva in your mouth dries up. I noticed him taking small steps back during the ministerial debates. This is believed to suggest the person is psychologically distancing themselves from what they said.

I believe Gordon Brown never got used to being dead centre of the media gaze. One gesture he did is a very noticeable fake smile grin. A genuine smile will engage the whole face - especially the crows feet. He also had a habit of picking his thumbnails when under pressure. Back in 2010, Nick Clegg was the only politician to address the lens of the camera rather than the studio audience. I remember Gordon Brown noticing this and repeatedly saying, “I agree with Nick.“ Many people consider Clegg to have come over as the most credible during those debates.

You also reported on the Murdoch phone hacking...
I assessed the Murdochs for MSN, The Scotsman, and The Independent, but the coverage went as far afield as the USA and Australia. During the select committee hearings, Rupert Murdoch remained very quiet and stoic while being questioned. When he did speak, he answered a totally different question. I believe the pair had been very well briefed, by either legal counsel or someone like me. James Murdoch was particularly under pressure when he was asked if they’d axed the News of the World to make way for a new Sunday newspaper. James stated that they had no intention of starting any Sunday newspaper. When he said this, among other tells, a rash flared up on his right cheek. Some months later, they started the Sunday Sun and my assertion proved correct. Miss Brooks showed no signs of any deceit or distress and was subsequently acquitted of any wrongdoing.

Tell us about the US TV show you're working on. Did you get to go all Gordon Ramsay and be rude to Americans?
The format is someone has a cheating partner or an employee who’s stealing, so I assess them, then burst in and confront them. I was very British, “You sir, are a liar.” I was surprised when the producers told me, “We want to see more British arrogance.” So yes, I did get to be all shouty and rude. America seems to love the Anne Robinson and Gordon Ramsay style of directness and authority.

Have you ever really annoyed anyone by calling them a liar?
Yes. On the episode with the cheating husband - he was a big lad and I could see he really wasn't happy. Especially when he shouted, “I want you all the fuck out of this house now.”

Are you in a relationship? If so, is it a pain for your partner that you can always tell when they're lying?
I’ve been with my partner, Sharon, for eighteen years. When you've been with someone that long, you don’t need to be a lie detector to know what every little gesture means. I don't think either of us could get away with much.

Who, in your opinion, is the greatest liar in history?
I like the ex-US president Richard Nixon. He was a card. When he did his famous, “I’m not a crook” speech in relation to the Watergate scandal he leaked so much incongruent information, it was laughable.

Who's the greatest liar currently in the public eye?
I have to be careful here, but I’d say Mr Cameron.

Apparently the average human tells four lies a day...
Statistically, everyone tells between six and ten white lies a day - I’d define a white lie as a lie without consequence, said to avoid hurting someone else or to get out of a situation. Everyone uses them. It’s part of our upbringing not to hurt others’ feelings. Since working in the media, I’ve become so conscious of deception that I’m radically honest, which can be problematic in itself.

Who are your magic, illusion, and mentalism idols?
David Copperfield - I was lucky enough to see him in Vegas over Christmas. Corinda, Canasta.

What's the worst lie you've ever told?
Some years ago, I was invited to an acquaintance’s wedding. The wedding was taking place 350 miles north. When the time arrived, I couldn't bear to make the long drive so I said I was ill. That was terrible of me, wasn't it?

We were impressed with Darren's skills, so we asked him for a few tips on spotting a fibber...

Trust your instincts
If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. If someone’s using language like, “I swear to God” or “I swear on my kids’ lives” or some other silly statement, studies have shown that when people use this over-the-top expression, they are trying to blag you.

Eye contact
They say liars can’t look you in the eye - rubbish. Liars know about this old saying and overcompensate. Normal eye contact exists between three and five seconds. They say the only people who prolong eye contact are people in love or people about to fight.

Changes in behaviour
If they are usually quite a loud and animated person, look for changes in their expressions. Have they suddenly gone a lot quieter? If so, why? Change the topic of conversation from the uncomfortable one and see if the animation and loudness returns. If so, you may be onto something.

Mirroring behaviour
When you challenge someone out of the blue with something like, “Are you cheating on me?” If the accused has been caught on the back foot, they will mirror the language of the accuser, “No, I am not cheating on you!“ An innocent person would go on the offensive rather than the defensive. This is called a contraction.

Darren Stanton website

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