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See Inside January / February 2010

Head Lines: Handwriting Reveals Liars

Also: Stimulating Brain Cells May Be Trickier Than We Thought

Murder, She Wrote
Handwriting analysis may reveal dishonesty

A new study adds “writing with large strokes and applying high pressure on paper” to the list of telltale signs that someone might be lying. Researchers at Haifa University in Israel could tell whether or not students were writing the truth by analyzing these physical properties of their handwriting.

Lying requires more cognitive resources than being truthful, says lead author Gil Luria. “You need to invent a story, make sure not to contradict yourself, et cetera.” Any task done simultaneously, therefore, becomes less automatic. Tabletop pressure sensors showed this effect in the students’ handwriting, which became more belabored when they fibbed.

Handwriting analysis could eventually complement other lie detection methods and would add a new dimension because, unlike almost all other techniques, it doesn’t rely on verbal communication, Luria says.
 

Electric Surprise
Stimulating brain cells may be trickier than we thought

Scientists and doctors have long used electricity to both study and treat the brain. But a report in the August 27, 2009, issue of Neuron indicates that the brain’s response to electricity is exceptionally complex. Using a new type of optical imaging, Harvard Medical School researchers observed neurons as they were stimulated by an electrode. Instead of activating a small sphere of surrounding neurons as expected, the electrodes caused sparse strings of neurons to fire across the brain. The finding suggests that brain surgeons and the designers of neural prosthetics have a much smaller margin of error than previously thought—shifting an electrode even slightly could activate an entirely different set of neurons.
 

This article was originally published with the title "Murder, She Wrote."

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