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A real ‘Pinocchio effect’ to reveal liars

The nose knows.

By Rich_Maloof Dec 4, 2012 5:14PM

As a professional interrogator or pretty much anybody from the cast of Law & Order will tell you, there are no universal signs for spotting a liar. Every liar lies a little differently.

Despite the armchair psychology, crossing one’s arms, avoiding direct eye contact, and other nonverbal cues aren’t necessarily signs that a deception is in the works.

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Even polygraphs and other tests that look for physical indications — spikes in heart rate, fluctuations in breathing, a twitching eye — are based on deviations from a person’s usual patterns rather than on any standard that applies to all humanoids. That’s why, when administering lie-detector tests, the administrator first establishes a baseline and then looks for a change. They read your normal numbers with questions like “Where do you live?” or “Do you have any pets?” and then it’s straight on to “Did you throw your sleeping grandmother out that window?”

Researchers from the University of Granada in Spain may be on to a new method of lie detection, and it comes awfully close to the famous tale about the boy made of wood.

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In Disney’s re-telling of Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, every time the wooden puppet tells a lie (spoiler alert!) his nose grows like a tree branch filmed in time-lapse. Why was that a good metaphor for lying, anyway? As another character in the story reveals, “a lie will keep growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face.”

The Granada study — which is part of a doctoral thesis, and not yet peer-reviewed — finds that instead of getting longer when we lie, a person’s nose gets warmer. They’ve informally dubbed it “the Pinnochio effect” (though “the Rudolph effect” seems like a strong contender).

Using thermography to reveal temperatures across the topography of a subject’s face, the pyschology researchers saw that temperatures rose around the nose and inner corner of the eye when subjects lied. Their hypothesis is that the response may be based on functions of the insula (or insular cortex), a region of the brain involved in regulating body temperature and also in self-awareness and conflicting emotions.

Neurologists have also identified the insula as a part of the brain that registers disbelief. So if your own nose is heating up right now, it could be that you think the whole theory just smells a little off. Or you could be lying to yourself.

Photo: Giorgio Majno/Getty Images

Bing: How to spot a liar.
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