Study finds that your nose SHRINKS when you lie

In the children’s novel “The Adventures of Pinocchio,” the titular character is a sentient wooden puppet whose nose grows longer when he is dishonest. However, according to a study, the human nose actually shrinks when people tell lies.

What is the “Pinocchio effect?”

The pioneering study, which was conducted by researchers from the University of Granada (UGR) Department of Experimental Psychology, revealed that lying triggers the “Pinocchio effect.”

The researchers explained that lying requires “considerable mental effort,” which causes the temperature in your face to drop. Through new applications of thermography, the UGR researchers also determined that a person’s face temperature rises when they have an anxiety attack.

Thermography, a technique based on body temperature, is usually applied in various fields like general industry, the building industry, and medicine.

The technique was developed in the U.S. during World War II to detect the enemy using night vision. In modern use, thermographic cameras help researchers measure energy loss in buildings or determine respiratory diseases in bovine animals.

Cold noses, warm foreheads

The findings revealed that when a person lies, the temperature of the tip of their nose drops up to 1.2 C (2.16 F) as their forehead heats up to 1.5 C (2.7 F).

The researchers note that the greater the difference in temperature between the two facial regions, the more likely an individual is lying. (Related: Drop the Easter Bunny fairy tales: children lied to by adults are more likely to cheat and lie.)

Dr. Emilio Gómez Milán, the study’s lead author, explained that lying requires thinking, which makes the temperature of the forehead rise. At the same time, lying makes you anxious, which lowers the temperature of your nose. The “Pinocchio effect” makes the nose shrink slightly, but the difference is imperceptible to the human eye.

For the study, researchers asked 60 volunteer students to complete several tasks while they were scanned by thermal imaging technology. One task required the volunteers to make a phone call about three to four minutes long to a parent, partner, or close friend. During the call, participants were instructed to tell a significant lie.

The participants came up with their own lie, with some of them saying that they saw a celebrity or that they had been in a car accident.

A control group that was also monitored by thermal cameras were tasked to make similar calls. However, the participants in the control group were asked to talk about distressing videos, which showed mutilated bodies and car accidents, that they watched on a computer.

Milán reported that while both groups went through circumstances that made them feel anxious, the experimental group experienced the “Pinocchio Effect” in the nose and the effect of “mental effort” in the forehead. These changes allowed the researchers to accurately observe lies.

The temperature change was picked up in 80 percent of the liars, which is an accuracy rate better than other modern lie detectors. Milán added, “With this method we have achieved to increase accuracy and reduce the occurrence of ‘false positives,’ something that is frequent with other methods such as the polygraph.”

Milán thinks that the technology could one day help police interviewers catch lying criminals.

He concluded, “The ideal case would be to combine both methods, strategic interviewing and thermography, moving our system to, for example, police stations, airports or refugee camp.” To illustrate, the combined technologies could accurately detect if a criminal is lying, or it can be used to determine the true intentions of people trying to cross the border between two countries.

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