When It Comes to Lying, the Nose Knows

By: Alia Hoyt
Pinocchio nose
It's not just Pinocchio whose nose is selling him out. ©iStockphoto.com/luckyraccoon

Rudolph and Pinocchio may have been heckled for their nasal eccentricities, but it turns out that nonfictional humans aren't all that different. Most of us have our own “tells” that involuntarily occur when we lie, from shifty eyes to wild hand gesturing, but our noses pack the potential to sell us out, too.

Scientists in the experimental psychology department of the University of Granada, Spain, have unveiled research revealing that when people lie they experience a temperature increase around the nose, as well as in the orbital muscle, which is located in the innermost corner of the human eye.


If you've ever felt your face flush in embarrassment, you know that a temp increase can be visibly damning. Before you run off to duck your nose in an ice bucket, however, rest assured that it's unlikely that anyone will ever be the wiser of your little white lies, in terms of nasal appearance, anyway.

“To see the changes you need a high resolution thermographic camera,” explains lead researcher and University of Granada professor Emilio Gómez Milán, Ph.D., in an email interview. Most of us don't have such equipment at the ready, although you've almost certainly seen thermographic camera images before (think night vision goggles that detect body heat).

Although the nose's involvement might seem random to laypeople, it's actually a scientific standard. “The nose is the body part more affected by changes in activation of autonomous nervous system,” Milán says. “Psychological factors like emotions, feelings, lies, mental effort, anxiety, risky decisions can affect nose temperature, but also in other parts of the face and body.”

In fact, the rationale for why this happens is that the act of lying initiates a portion of the brain known as the insula, which is involved in temperature regulation and emotion, among other things. The researchers believe that strong emotions, like outright lies, cause the insula to rev up, thus affecting temperature.

Milán and his team are expanding their investigation into the topic, currently testing to see if different types of lies produce varying thermal body patterns. Can their research help us avoid getting scammed by dishonest repair people by producing irrefutable, visible evidence of outright lies? Who "nose"?