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It is often said that lying “makes the world go round,” meaning that sometimes lies are necessary social tools....
It is often said that lying “makes the world go round,” meaning that sometimes lies are necessary social tools. While it’s true that so-called “white lies” can spare a lot of unnecessarily hurt feelings, what are the physiological effects of lies on the person who’s actually doing the lying?
One thing we know is that we behave a bit differently when we lie. We stumble in our speech or raise the pitch of our voice, fidget or touch our face, neck or head. We have difficulty making eye contact. Common physical symptoms of lying include sweating, increased heart rate and rapid breathing—and all are measurable by a polygraph. A “good liar” is better able to hide these symptoms.
While your nose won’t actually grow when you tell a lie, it does get hotter. Using thermographic cameras, researchers from the University of Grenada in Spain found that when test subjects lied, they experienced a temperature increase around the nose.
Feroze Mohamed, radiology professor and associate director of the Temple University Functional Brain Imaging Centre in Philadelphia, PA, found that fMRI scans showed different results for test subjects who were telling “big lies” compared to those telling the truth. Mohamed found that 14 areas of the brain were active during lying while only 7 were active during truth telling. This means that lying makes the brain work more, probably since we have to think more when inventing a story than when being honest.
The upshot of using brain scans to determine if someone is lying? A skilled or pathological liar, who may display none of the physical symptoms, would still use more brainpower when lying than when telling the truth, and could therefore be spotted using a functional MRI.