Just Explain It: Your Brain On Lying

If we were all like Pinocchio, it would be easy to spot when someone was telling a lie.  Their noses would grow.  But we’re not like Pinocchio.   So for many years, scientists have been trying to pinpoint the telltale signs that someone is telling a tall tale.

Besides intuition or visually observing a person’s behavior, the most common method of lie detection is the polygraph.  It’s been around since the early 1900s and measures things like your heart rate, respiration, perspiration and overall anxiety to determine if you're telling the truth.

But some scientists aren’t satisfied with that.

In this Just Explain It, we’ll look at how a new way of measuring brain activity may help researchers actually see when a person is lying.

It’s called functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI.  I know, that's a mouthful, but one company, No Lie MRI, believes the technology can expose a lie using scans of the brain’s activity.  Here’s the theory.  When someone tells a lie, their brain has to do more work than when they’re telling the truth – the blood flow increases.  fMRI scans expose that extra work.  Areas of the brain where blood flow has increased indicate deception and are highlighted with bright colors.

The company also claims that fMRIs are accurate 90 to 99% of the time.  That's pretty remarkable when you compare that to polygraphs, which perform with about 60% accuracy.

But studies of the brain have found that no two brains are alike - they’re like fingerprints, but more complex.  The patterns of brain activity are actually different depending on the lie being told.  A little white lie might look different from full on deception. 

And that leads many in the neuroscience field to think companies like No Lie MRI might themselves be stretching the truth a little bit.  They believe more research is needed to draw indisputable conclusions on a regular basis.

The debate has also spread to the courtroom.  Some lawyers and judges aren’t convinced the technology is foolproof either.  In recent court cases, fMRI evidence was ruled inadmissible because the findings aren’t widely accepted by the scientific community.

In the end, the data collected might help researches begin to understand the truth about lies.  And at some point, experts say they can see a time when brain scans will replace the polygraph.  

But does all of this mean that people will stop telling lies?

Let us know what you think.  Give us your feedback in the comments below or on Twitter using #YahooNews and #JustExplainIt.

Loading...
  • Early Glance: Specialty Retail companies

    Shares of some top specialty retail companies are mixed at 10 a.m.: Autozone Inc. fell $4.94 or 1.0 percent, to $510.23. Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. rose $.20 or .3 percent, to $61.65. Best Buy rose $.60 or ...

  • Israeli mood turns dark with mounting casualties
    Israeli mood turns dark with mounting casualties

    JERUSALEM (AP) — For almost two weeks, Israel practically bristled with confidence and pride: The Iron Dome air defense system was dependably zapping incoming Hamas rockets from the skies, the military was successfully repelling infiltration attempts on the ground and from the sea, and the conflict with Hamas was causing almost no casualties in Israel.

  • A Disturbing Look at the New Retirement

    For an increasing number of American workers, traditional retirement no longer exists. In the August issue of Harper's magazine, journalist Jessica Bruder delves into the hidden world of these older, struggling American workers, many of whom live in RVs, frequently moving to the location of their next job opportunity. Bruder spent three weeks camping on federal land in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and interviewing members of this itinerant community. They told her what it was like to work at Home Depot for $10.50 an hour while struggling to pay for a $600-a-month trailer, and about traveling to find seasonal jobs shipping packages out of Amazon warehouses or picking fruit.

  • Netflix, Chipotle results show consumer strength
    Netflix, Chipotle results show consumer strength

    Netflix and Chipotle report big earnings but what does it mean for investors and consumers?

  • 10 Things: 10 ideas for eating all that zucchini
    10 Things: 10 ideas for eating all that zucchini

    Zucchini bread is fine and all, but when you're staring down a mountain of summer abundance, how much of it can you really eat?

  • What was MH17 doing overflying war zone?
    What was MH17 doing overflying war zone?

    Dangerous skies can be found from Israel to Iraq, and from Nigeria to North Korea and the East China Sea, and aviation experts say the path that took Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and its 298 passengers over a war zone in eastern Ukraine was not unusual.

  • Putin says will use influence on Ukraine rebels, denounces West
    Putin says will use influence on Ukraine rebels, denounces West

    By Darya Korsunskaya MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday Russia would try to ensure Ukrainian separatists cooperate with an investigation into the downing of a Malaysian airliner, but said the West must do more to persuade Kiev to end hostilities. Putin came out fighting in his most detailed comments since the plane was brought down on Thursday, dismissing criticism of Russia's role in events in rebel-held east Ukraine and describing the West's position as "strange and unacceptable". Accusing the United States indirectly of pulling the strings in Kiev, trying to bully Russia and meddling in Russia's domestic affairs, the president said in televised remarks: "Such methods will not work on Russia." Reading from notes at the head of a long table flanked by his top government, parliament, security and defense officials, Putin spoke much more forcefully than during brief televised remarks on the plane's downing first released in the early hours of Monday, when he looked tired and less assured than usual.

  • 'Industrial scale' tampering of evidence at MH17 site: Australia

    Evidence has been tampered with on an "industrial scale" at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Tuesday, calling it "a cover-up". Abbott, whose government was behind a UN Security Council resolution that Monday unanimously demanded full access to the site in rebel-held east Ukraine, admitted progress had been made but said more needed to be done. "What we have seen is evidence tampering on an industrial scale.

Follow Yahoo! News