Just Like Pinocchio, Your Nose Knows When You're Lying

When you tell a lie, the temperature in your nose increases. This is called the Pinocchio effect.

Liar, Liar, Nose On Fire

When we were kids, Pinocchio was something of a cautionary tale: tell a lie, and your nose will grow. Keep fibbing, and you'll soon sprout a branch from the middle of your face. Not exactly science, but the story at least scared you into admitting when you stole your little brother's toys. Turns out, your nose actually does know when you're lying. It doesn't grow (phew!) but according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Granada, the temperature of your nose increases in response to telling an untruth. (It happens to your inner eyes too.) Using thermal imaging, which basically allows scientists to see small increases in body temperature with a heat-sensing camera, the researchers studied people's faces when they were lying. "When we lie...the temperature around our nose raises and a brain element called 'insula' is activated," according to a press release about the research. "The insula is a component of the brain reward system, and it only activates when we experience real feelings." In this case, the "real feelings" they're referring to are the anxiety a person feels about telling a fib, and the mental effort it takes to conjure up an intricate lie.

Smart Graphic

How To Spot A Liar

The researchers don't specify just how much the temperature of the nose increases when you're lying, so don't go grabbing your colleague's face the next time she mentions she's "coming down with something" in the office. Given that they used thermal cameras, it's not likely that her nose will scorch your hand. You're better off using some easier-to-pull-off techniques, like observing a person's body language. As Dr. Lillian Glass explains in her book The Body Language of Liars, if a person's breathing gets heavy, they start repeating themselves, or they cover their mouths as they talk, you might do well to question their honesty. Or, you know, grab their nose. Because that wouldn't be weird.

Watch And Learn: The Lying Game

The Pinocchio Effect

Dive into the research with Stuff To Blow Your Mind.

The Science Of Lying

Why is telling a fib so tricky?

How To Spot A Liar

Get some more telltale signs.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Swallowing and licking one's lips can be indicators of lying. 01:05

  2. When preparing to lie, people will often repeat the question they were asked. 02:09

  3. When someone is nervous about lying, the brain's limbic system struggles to keep them calm. 03:22

Written by Curiosity Staff November 26, 2014

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