Pathological liars have different brains from the rest of us, that are actually structured so that lying comes naturally. Psychologist Adrian Raine has discovered that these people have more white matter, and less gray matter, in their prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain where story telling?and lying?is located and it’s more active when people tell lies. White matter produces quick, complex thinking, while gray matter inhibits our baser instincts.
Celeste Biever writes in New Scientist that a particular combination of white and gray matter could give some people the edge they need to become perfect liars. Pathological liars used to be called sociopaths, but they’re now considered to have antisocial personality disorder, which usually stems from childhood sexual abuse. These people learn not to trust anyone and lying becomes an addictive habit.
Raine gave personality tests to 108 volunteers and identified 12 of them as pathological liars. He then scanned the brains of both the liars and non-liars, and found that the liars had about 25% more white matter, as well as less gray matter, than the non-liars. White matter is composed of nerve fibers that connect neurons, and having more white matter may make people better at lying, which is a complex task that involves thinking ahead and manipulating other people. Gray matter is the actual neuron cells, which process information. People with less gray matter have a weaker sense of morality.
Austistic children find it very difficult to lie, which hinders their social development, since much of what we do socially depends on “white lies.” They develop white matter at a much lower rate than ordinary children.
How can we spot a pathological liar? Some people are naturally good at this, and if we could figure out who they are, we could hire them in law enforcement and other professions that require interrogation. A University of San Francisco study found only 31 people out of 13,000 could identify all cases when someone was lying, when looking at videos. How did these few people do it? They noticed facial expressions, language cues and body language. Most of this was instinctual. Researchers are trying to isolate these clues so they can train the police to spot liars.
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