Pinocchio was right: Your Nose Really Gets Bigger When Lying!

Want to know if people are lying to you? Touching their noses might give you a clue. According to researchers at the University of Granada, when people lie, they suffer a “Pinocchio effect,” an increase in the temperature around the nose and in the orbital muscle in the inner corner of the eye. In addition, when you perform a considerable mental effort, your face temperature drops, and when you have an anxiety attack, your face temperature goes up.

How thermographic cameras measure temperature changes

Using thermographic cameras that measure temperature changes, these Spanish scientists have been studying how parts of the body heat up or cool during various psychological shifts. These high-tech cameras can detect even minute changes in temperature, allowing for accurate and non-invasive readings.

Thermographic cameras work by detecting the infrared energy emitted by an object and converting it into a visible thermal image. The color and intensity of the thermal image represent the temperature of the object, with warmer areas appearing brighter and cooler areas appearing darker.

By analyzing these thermal images, researchers can determine the patterns of heat distribution across various parts of the body, including the face. This allows them to identify and study the changes that occur in response to different psychological experiences.

Face temperature adjustments during mental effort

The researchers have discovered that when you make a concerted mental effort (performing difficult tasks, being interrogated on a specific event, or lying), face temperature adjustments occur. This may be because increased cognitive demands cause our blood vessels to constrict, resulting in a drop in facial temperature.

However, it’s important to note that these temperature changes are subtle and may not be noticeable without the aid of thermographic cameras. But it’s a fascinating observation that demonstrates the complex interplay between our brains and our bodies.

The insula’s role in regulating body temperature

When we lie about our feelings, the temperature around our nose increases, and a brain element called the insula is activated. The insula is a component of the brain reward system that helps regulate body temperature. It is located deep within the cerebral cortex and is involved in many functions, including processing emotions, self-awareness, and perception.

Interestingly, the insula’s role in regulating body temperature seems to be selective. It only significantly restricts temperature increases when we experience genuine feelings (not lies). Therefore, there is a strong negative correlation between insula activity and temperature increase. When you tell the truth, your insula is more active, and you experience less of a temperature boost.

Why lying causes a temperature increase

While it’s not entirely clear why lying causes a temperature increase around the nose and eyes, some theories suggest that it could be related to the stress and cognitive load associated with deception. Lying requires extra mental effort, as you need to create a false story, maintain consistency, and prevent giving away any telltale signs.

This increased cognitive demand may lead to changes in blood flow and, consequently, temperature. Additionally, the stress of lying could cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, which may also contribute to the rise in facial temperature.

Beyond the “Pinocchio effect”: The potential applications of this research

While the “Pinocchio effect” is an exciting discovery, it’s essential to recognize that detecting deception is a complex process, and there’s still much we don’t know about the physiological cues associated with lying.

However, understanding these subtle temperature changes during lying and other psychological experiences could have potential applications in various fields. For example, it could be useful in lie detection, security screenings, and criminal investigations. It might also provide valuable insights into the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders, as certain conditions may exhibit characteristic temperature changes.

That said, it’s important to keep in mind that thermography is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding and detecting deception. Future research will undoubtedly continue to examine and expand upon these findings, helping us better understand the fascinating psychology behind lying and the mind-body connection.

In conclusion, while the “Pinocchio effect” of a temperature increase around the nose and eyes remains a fascinating insight into the physiological changes that occur when we lie, it’s important to approach the topic with a nuanced and comprehensive understanding. Just as there is no single foolproof method for detecting deception, there’s still much to learn about the intricate relationship between our psychology and physiology. Nevertheless, understanding these changes may offer new and valuable insights into diagnosing and treating mental health conditions, as well as improving capacities in the fields of security, investigation, and lie detection.