When a magician makes a girl disappear, she’s not really gone. Spoiler alert – she’s usually hiding in some tight, cramped spot out of sight. That’s part of the reason why magicians hire petite assistants. (The other reason is the fact that petite women draw the eyes of the audience. That’s called misdirection.) Sometimes the word “not” pulls a similar disappearing act.
Very often, we take out one of its three letters and attach the other two to whatever word came before it. It hides. “Do not” becomes don’t. “Is not” becomes isn’t. “Have not” becomes haven’t. The “not” is still there, it’s just hidden. It’s almost as though contracting the word “not” so often is a reflection of how the horse brain tends to remove its meaning from sentences.
When we’re lying, however, we don’t want the “not” to be hidden. Interestingly, we’re much less likely to contract our “nots” when we’re lying. According to Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, an intentionally deceptive denial will feature extra emphasis placed on the word “not”. It will rarely be hidden within a contraction.
“I am NOT a crook!” and “I did NOT have sexual relations with that woman…” are both well-known examples of deceptive statements in which the speakers, in these cases, past Presidents of the United States, both avoided using contractions. I’m sure you can think of dozens of examples from history or even your own life where this was also the case – especially if you’re a parent.
On some level, liars know the word “not” is prone to vanishing so they shine a spotlight on it to make sure it doesn’t go anywhere in hopes of making their statements seem more truthful. See? Misdirection.
Does this mean that everyone who uses the word “not” is lying? Absolutely not. Deceptive denials will show up out of the blue and without any prompting from you. When your teenage daughter says, “I don’t have anything!” even though you didn’t ask, or when your coworker says, “I’m not racist,” despite the fact that the conversation had nothing to do with race, then – contracted or not – it’s a good sign that there might be some deception going on. When they come out of the blue like that, “nots” should raise a red flag. However, when you ask someone a direct question, whether or not they contract their “nots” hints at the truthfulness of their answer.
For example, you might ask an employee the direct question “Did you claim any non-work expenses on this report?” If they respond with a contracted statement such as, “I didn’t falsify my expense report.” then that’s an indication that the statement is more likely to be true. However, if they come back with, “I did NOT falsify my expense report” then you’re more likely to have a liar on your hands.
Of course, no one thing is 100% accurate when detecting deception. Be sure to keep in mind all factors* in a given situation if you ever attempt to distinguish truth from lies.
* For a crash course in detecting deception taught by Tim David, visit: http://www.udemy.com/detect-deception