The Pinocchio Effect and Lies about Lying

woman applying nose strip in bathroom

Science has confirmed the Pinocchio effect to be true. No, really, it appears that when humans lie, their noses experience a temperature increase. 

Funny creatures these humans are. 

Keep in mind that the objections I present here relate to your battle against misinformation and the pursuit of happiness. The ability to interpret emotion in the face and body of the people around you will enhance your life satisfaction, but only if that interpretation is accurate.

The Pinocchio Effect
They don’t have it

But check this out.

The Pinocchio Effect

When a person lies, he or she experiences a “Pinocchio effect”, which is an increase in the temperature around the nose and in the orbital muscle in the inner corner of the eye. In addition, when we perform a considerable mental effort our face temperature drops, and when we have an anxiety attack our face temperature rises, according to a pioneering study that has introduced new applications of thermography.

It should be unnecessary to explain that these physiological changes are beyond the scope of human perception (undetectable to the naked eye). But you’ve already imagined people reaching for one another’s noses to verify what they think they know. 

Why? Because humans love to misinterpret anything they can get their filthy little hands on. 

Nevertheless, I’ll borrow from a previous post to explain what I want you to consider. I’ll do my best to avoid making it complicated.

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Lies about Lying

Like any complex notion, the idea of “reading people” and its consequences are full of misconceptions and myths. Many out there claim always to know what others are thinking by reading their facial expressions. This stunt is simply impossible. And while it is possible to interpret a person’s states of mind by observing their nonverbal behaviour, the context in which these behaviours arise is essential to the accuracy of those interpretations.

Others claim, and annoyingly so, that one signal or one cue is enough to tell what a person is thinking, or worse, that the person is lying. 

One common myth is eye movement; many will ask their interlocutors to look at them in the eyes and tell them the truth.

A waste of time and effort, the best liars I know can look at their mum in the eye as they make up a story or two. 

close up photo of woman with curly hair

People move their eyes when thinking about different ideas. While there is no general rule on the direction of eye movement, neurologically healthy individuals indeed exhibit subtle eye movements when remembering or reconstructing information.

There are many misrepresentations of popular psychology and behaviour, like eye movement analysis. Along the same lines, many maintain that people look right when telling the truth and to the left when they lie. Still, science tells us that this has more to do with the dominant brain hemisphere than with the individual’s predisposition to deception.

I’m not sorry to burst your bubble, but no, you can’t tell if someone is lying to you by how their eyes move. No matter how big their eyes are. 

“Our research provides no support for the idea [that certain eye movements are a sign of lying] and so suggests that it is time to abandon this approach to detecting deceit,” said study co-author Caroline Watt of the University of Edinburgh in a press release.

Okay, that got complicated. Let’s put it like this…

There is no specific signal that can tell us what someone is thinking or whether or not they are lying. Like words, these cues are often meaningless on their own and may at most indicate that further investigation is required. Clusters of indicators can carry better information, but even in this case, the interaction’s context is worth considering carefully. Remember that body language alone may tell you what someone is thinking or feeling, but not why they have those thoughts or feelings.


These myths are so widespread and accepted that they are often part of law-enforcement training manuals in North America. Imagine the danger of having a criminal investigator basing a conviction on misapprehensions about human behaviour. Yes, reading people can give you a clear idea of what a person is experiencing; however, this idea should only be a starting point in your search for the truth.

Remember when you read body language that as you try to interpret other people’s cues, they are also doing their best to understand yours. And this can influence what other people think and feel.

If your words can carry profound messages to the person with whom you speak, the physical movements accompanying them can accentuate or enhance that message. A fitting head nod, the proper hand gesture, or the wrong one, for that matter, can have a severe effect on the intended meaning of your communication. 

I’ll end by reiterating that you cannot detect the Pinocchio Effect without specialised and finely calibrated equipment, and if you claim that you can, you should check the temperature of your own nose.

— The Devil Unbound

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