I was watching a politician on TV during the presidential election campaign and I said, “This guy’s gonna tell a whopper!” Guess what? I was right! How did I know he was going to tell a lie?

You might think, “Well, he’s a politician. If he’s talking, he’s lying”, but — in this particular case —  the body language told me he was going to lie…

Before the politician spoke, he brought his index finger up to the inside corner of his right eye and dragged it down the side of his nose. Then he said, “I truthfully believe the Libertarian Party will win the White House this election.” That nose rub was a dead giveaway. If you don’t believe me, just ask Pinocchio…

The Pinocchio Effect

Pinocchio was an Italian folk legend many years before Walt Disney made him a movie star. Carlo Collodi wrote the fable in 1881 about a wooden boy with a nose that grew, but Collodi was only embellishing an old wife’s tale that was much older than his story. Italians throughout history recognized the “nose rub” as a body language gesture meaning a person was about to lie. Italian culture has given the meaning of that gesture a saying that mothers could share with their children to help future generations translate the body language of others…

Imagine your nose was made of dough or clay. Rubbing your finger from your eye to the tip of your nose would stretch the clay to grow longer, so the expression “If you lie, your nose will grow longer” became a common saying in the Italian household. The body language translation of this gesture’s meaning has been a “tell” forever, helping mothers catch children fibbing since before recorded history.

My grandmother explained what this gesture meant to me when I was only 9 or 10. Her words of wisdom made me aware of my own body language and taught me there was another language in addition to the spoken word. Beyond that, she showed me that awareness and control of my body language could keep me out of trouble with my parents if I was determined to tell a fib.

When Disney made Pinocchio a star of the silver screen in 1940, the idea of a liar’s nose growing was embedded in our culture and has remained there ever since, but scientific research agrees with this folksy lie-detector test. Psychologists and physicians have even researched this phenomenon and called it the “Pinocchio Effect.”

They found the temperature of the tip of the nose soars and the body temperature in the inner corner of the eye goes up when a person lies. The change in temperature is caused by the brain’s insular cortex and causes us to rub our nose from the eye corner to the nose tip. Further studies also show the change in temperature actually makes the nose swell. Although the difference is too small to see with the naked eye, the nose of a liar really does grow.

The “Pinocchio Effect” is a recognized expression of body language that is widely translated. The finger/nose gesture remains as reliable a way to determine truthfulness as a lie-detector test. It has been researched and validated by the scientific community. But the Pinocchio Effect is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to learning how to communicate with body language.

You can learn more in my next blog post, “Do YOU Speak Body Language?”

PS… By the way, when someone starts a sentence saying “honestly” or “truthfully,” that is another, verbal indication they are leaning toward telling an untruth.

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