Eye Contact & Deception
by John Bowden
According to Ortega y Gosset "The eyes are the windows to the soul." The eyes are the
most expressive area of a person's entire body.   If there is a #1 rule in the interpretation
of non-verbal behavior, it is to “Look for breaks in eye contact!"  Breaks in eye contact,
at the point of the answer, are considered deceptive.  Breaks in eye contact indicating
deception is generally accompanied by additional deceptive body behavior. A break in
eye contact is when the interviewee is not, more or less, looking directly at the
interviewer’s face and eyes, with the eyes open. Truthful people generally look at the
interviewer when they are answering a question. Deceptive people will break eye contact
at the instance of the answer.

The process of detecting deception, by the use of breaks in eye contact, is used when
the investigator is asking a series of questions, directed at the subject.  In a question
and answer session, the subject will generally maintain eye contact with the investigator,
as the investigator is speaking.  You should start with questions that are not relevant to
the investigation at hand. Observe the person’s eye contact as you are speaking and
they are answering.  This will give you a norm for their behavior, what they normally do.  
For example:

Speaker                Question/Answer                         Subject Behavior

Investigator         What is your name?
Subject                Mike                                             Good eye contact during answer.
Investigator         How long have you lived here?
Subject               5 years.                                        Good eye contact during  the answer.

In This example the subject maintains good eye contact during the answers.
Normally, a person will maintain eye contact during the question.  You are looking for breaks in eye contact when
the subject is answering the question.  As in our example, the subject maintained eye contact during each
answer.  A truthful subject will maintain good eye contact while listening and will break eye contact to think or to
gather thoughts and reestablish eye contact during the answer. For example, you ask a subject where they were
2 nights ago at 10 pm.  The subject will probably break eye contact while they are thinking and mentally gathering
the information for the answer.  This should not be considered a deceptive break in eye contact; the person is
merely getting the information for the answer.  In a truthful response the person will regain eye contact and
deliver the answer.  

The deceptive person will not maintain eye contact when they answer the question. They break eye contact,
however briefly, while answering the question.  After the question is answered, the subject will resume eye
contact.   

Speaker                Question/Answer                                                   Subject Behavior

Investigator:          Mike, did you ask that 15 year old girl to               The subject looking at the.
                          come to your bedroom?                                         investigator

Subject:                No, no, I would never do anything like that.            The subject looks away at the  moment of   
                                                                                                         saying “No, no.” The     subject’s eyes come
                                                                                                         back in contact   with the investigator toward  
                                                                                                         the end of the answer.

The deceptive break in eye contact occurs at the instance of the answer.  These breaks may be subtle, (looking
away, blinking, rolling eyes, covering their eyes or diverting their attention to another task as they answer) and
coming back to eye contact after the answer.  The break in eye contact is where the subject is mentally running
away from you.  In some cultures and in some people, they will not make eye contact, constantly looking down or
away from you.  This process will not work until the person makes eye contact during the conversation.  The
techniques to gain their eye contact are not addressed in this article.

Don't challenge the subject to look you in the eye. This creates false eye contact and obscures your ability to
read the true breaks in eye contact.  

Another variation of breaking eye contact to gather and deliver information is where the subject is telling a story.  
For instance, a subject was assaulted and robbed.  While telling the story, the person may not look at the
investigator as they are presenting the story.  In this instance, the person is replaying the incident in their head
and narrating the story as they recall.  During the story the person may periodically make direct eye contact when
a specific point is made.  After the story has been delivered, the subject should regain eye contact, waiting for the
investigator to respond.

On an episode of Dateline NBC, Chris Hanson is interviewing a male subject that has arrived to meet a 15 year
old girl.  Chris asks the subject the age of the girl he is there to meet.  The subject maintains eye contact and
answers “Rather young.”  Chris repeats the answer “Rather young” and asks “as in……..?”  The subject glances
away to think and returns to direct eye contact as he says “15 or 16.”  Chris states matter-of-factly “15.” The
subject continues to maintain direct eye contact.  Chris asks the subject “how old are you?”  Maintaining direct
eye contact, the subject answers “30.”  Chris asks, “ and its ok for a 30 year old man to come to a home where a
15 year old girl is home alone…why?”  Maintaining direct eye contact the subject answers, “No, it’s not ok.”  
During the on line chat with the girl, the subject said he would bring condoms and marijuana.  Chris asks the
subject “Did you bring condoms with you?” The subject breaks eye contact by looking down at the instant he
answers “No.”  He then immediately reestablishes direct eye contact.  Chris asks, “Not in your car?”  The subject
looks down at the table, breaking eye contact and says “No” after which he again reestablishes eye contact.  
Chris asks the subject if he brought marijuana.  The subject glances down as he says no and regains eye
contact.  Chris asks again “Are you sure?”  Again the subject looks down as he says no.  After answering no, he
again immediately reestablishes eye contact.  After the interview, the subject is arrested.  In a search incident to
arrest, the police find a small bag of marijuana and a box of condoms in his pocket. In this exchange, the average
person would not notice the eye contact and the timing of the breaks in eye contact.  Once you began to look for
these breaks it is very clear what is going on.

In street contacts with people, I have found it to be very easy to spot these breaks in eye contact and put them to
good use.  To start you should chit chat with the person asking simple non-threating questions, observing their
normal behavior.  When you are ready to detect deception, I suggest short, simple questions.  For instance: you
stop a subject on the street and began talking to him. You may have this conversation.  

You:        Do you drink?
Sub:        Yes, good eye contact.
You:        What do you drink?
Sub:        Mostly beer, sometimes shots, good eye contact.
You:        Do you have any beer on you now?
Sub:        No, good eye contact.
You:        Do you ever smoke any recreational weed?
Sub:        Uh, yeah, sometimes, Good eye contact.
You:        Do you have any on you now?
Sub:         Uh, no, not now, breaks eye contact by looking away at the instant of the answer. Regains eye         
             contact after the answer.

In this case you now know the subject has been deceptive and there is a high probability he has marijuana on his
person.  Where you proceed from here depends on your goals.  Your advantage is you know he is lying and you
know he has marijuana.  It will not give you probable cause or reasonable suspicion for the search; but it will help
to shape your conversation, perhaps getting permission to search or developing more information for further
action.  Remember knowledge is power.

To practice your technique, watch police investigative shows.  Good actors will correctly portray the correct eye
contact for their character.  Observe the eye contact of the character and determine if they are being truthful or
deceptive.  In doing this I find I am right most of the time.  I can usually determine who committed the TV crime
before the end of the show.  The following are a few ways people break eye contact during interviews.  


Ways To Break Eye Contact

►  Close eyes
►  Rapid eye movements
►  Roll eyes up into head
►  Covering eyes with hands
►  Wave hands in front of eyes
►  Looking at a watch
►  Looking out the window
►  Looking at the floor
►  Pay inordinate attention to other
  objects in the room
►  Indian scout gesture, hand above the eyes as if shielding them from the sun,
  looking into the distance
►  Examine finger tips
   why are they so interesting now?
►  adjust clothing or accessories
►  Dust or lint picking
►  thread pulling
►  winding of the watch
►  Jewelry adjustment


This and other meaningful behaviors are detailed in my book “Interview to Confession, The Art of the Gentle
interrogation” available on
Amazon.com and APTACTraining.com.