Could you lie to me?

You know that feeling when a word is on the tip of your tongue but you can’t quite figure out what it is? You can remember one or two letters but you lack the ability to communicate it? Patients of global or receptive aphasia are perpetually in this state. It is an illness described as “when your brain holds your words hostage”. The disease is characterised by complete language loss: in communication and comprehension. And it has an interesting side effect – you cannot lie to an aphasiac.

What is Global Aphasia?

Well, Aphasia results from brain damage to the language regions of the brain. Depending on the extent and site of the damage, there are three different types of Aphasia. Global is the most severe. It results from damage to the regions seen below:

Image by Haggort P via Wikipedia Commons

In the left temporal lobe of the brain and the lower frontal cortex, where 2 major language regions lie: Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas. Damage to these areas or the path between them (Perisylvanian Cortex) results in Global Aphasia.

This can be the result of a stroke, epilepsy, migraines, brain tumour, Alzheimers or Parkinsons.

Pants on Fire

Image by Dmitry via Flickr

There is a common phenomenon in illness: Where a patient loses a feature/ability/sense, other aspects of the body are heightened to compensate for this loss. For example, patients who are blind are more sensitive to sound, touch and smell.

In the context of Global Aphasia, the patient compensates for their lack or language comprehension with hyperawareness of tone, emphasis, cadences, expressions and gestures. Oftentimes, this means that they can fully comprehend conversations with family and friends. They are so aware of extra-lingual cues that they cannot be fooled by lies.

Global Aphasiacs can immediately tell when a person is lying as they cannot be duped by the words and instead rely on tone.


Getting Political

In his now world famous 1985 book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, Dr Oliver Dax describes watching a Ronald Reagan speech with a group of aphasiacs. During his speech, the group began impulsively laughing to his apparently sincere speech. They could see through his charm and pretty words, for his mannerisms gave him away as disingenuous to the most trained eye.

Image by Opus Penguin via Flickr


A similar experiment was performed at the time of the 2016 U.S Presidential elections. With the help of a speech pathologist, a group of aphasiacs watched one the Presidential Debates between Mr Trump and Ms Clinton and communicated their insights. The group concurred that Ms Clinton was convinced that she would be successful in the election and that Mr Trump was terrified of taxes.

Though these notes are not too shocking for us now, it is still very interesting that those who cannot understand words managed to gleam this purely from extra-lingual cues.

There is a Neitzche quote that best describes why those who cannot understand words can yet detect a lie:

“One can lie with the mouth but with the accompanying grimace, one nevertheless tells the truth.”

6 Responses to “Could you lie to me?”

  1. daisyh says:

    This is a great post! The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat is definitely on my ‘to read’ list

  2. Matthew Graham says:

    Awesome work with this topic. Honestly, I had never heard about Aphasia before, but you made it sound super interesting. I also loved the two experiments you mentioned which were quite funny. 🙂

  3. Aisyah says:

    Very cool post! I looove the reference to ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat’! Oliver Sacks (small typo in your post!) was a gift to mankind.

    The 2016 experiment was something I wasn’t aware of, and is interesting (and slightly depressing) to read about now!

  4. Oakley Germech says:

    Wow – this is pretty incredible. I remember learning about aphasia in neuroscience, but either they left out this fun fact, or I was fast asleep during class. I’m sure aphasiacs must be horrified by the amount of white lies we all tell on a daily basis! Great post 🙂

  5. John Nguyen says:

    Wow, very interesting post Lydia. It’s now got me worried about who is an aphasiac or not! (Not that I lie…). I wonder how you could tell if someone is an aphasiac?

  6. Tailah says:

    Nice work Lydia! I really enjoyed this post!