October 10, 2005
Habitual Liar Brains Look Different On Scans

Adrian Raine and Yaling Yang have found that habitual liars have more white matter and less gray matter in their brains as compared to less lie-prone people.

The research – led by Yaling Yang and Adrian Raine, both of the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences – is published in the October issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Consider what these numbers say about the make-up of a temporary employment pool in a major US city:

The subjects were taken from a sample of 108 volunteers pulled from Los Angeles’ temporary employment pool. A series of psychological tests and interviews placed 12 in the category of people who had a history of repeated lying (11 men, one woman); 16 who exhibited signs of antisocial personality disorder but not pathological lying (15 men, one woman); and 21 who were normal controls (15 men, six women).

At least a quarter of the temporary employees examined were pathological liars or had antisocial personalities.

“We looked for things like inconsistencies in their stories about occupation, education, crimes and family background,” said Raine, a psychology professor at USC and co-author of the study.

“Pathological liars can’t always tell truth from falsehood and contradict themselves in an interview. They are manipulative and they admit they prey on people. They are very brazen in terms of their manner, but very cool when talking about this.”

A significant portion of the human race are predatory liars and con artists. On top of that there are rapists, murders, and assorted other criminals and psychopaths as well. Think about that next time someone speaks about humanity and the human future in lofty terms.

The habitual liars had histories of conning other people.

Aside from having histories of conning others or using aliases, the habitual liars also admitted to malingering, or telling falsehoods to obtain sickness benefits, Raine said.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans found more white matter and less gray matter in the liars. So then are women better liars than men on average? Women also have a higher ratio of white matter to gray matter than men do.

After they were categorized, the researchers used Magnetic Resonance Imaging to explore structural brain differences between the groups. The liars had significantly more “white matter” and slightly less “gray matter” than those they were measured against, Raine said.

Specifically, liars had a 25.7 percent increase in prefrontal white matter compared to the antisocial controls and a 22 percent increase compared to the normal controls. Liars had a 14.2 percent decrease in prefrontal gray matter compared to normal controls.

The white matter probably helps in the formulation of deceptions.

More white matter – the wiring in the brain – may provide liars with the tools necessary to master the complex art of deceit, Raine said.

“Lying takes a lot of effort,” he said.

“It’s almost mind reading. You have to be able to understand the mindset of the other person. You also have to suppress your emotions or regulate them because you don’t want to appear nervous. There’s quite a lot to do there. You’ve got to suppress the truth.

“Our argument is that the more networking there is in the prefrontal cortex, the more the person has an upper hand in lying. Their verbal skills are higher. They’ve almost got a natural advantage.”

But in normal people, it’s the gray matter – or the brain cells connected by the white matter – that helps keep the impulse to lie in check.

Imagine genetically engineered people who are talented liars. Or imagine artificial intelligences which are geniuses at lying.

Pathological liars have a surplus of white matter, the study found, and a deficit of gray matter. That means they have more tools to lie coupled with fewer moral restraints than normal people, Raine said.

“They’ve got the equipment to lie, and they don’t have the disinhibition that the rest of us have in telling the big whoppers,” he said.

One of the reasons why I'm not particularly sanguine about our transhumanist future is that human ethical constraints are in large part a product of genetic coding. I do not buy the argument that rational self interest by itself provides enough basis to maintain a civilized society. Well, once biotechnology provides ways to enhance the ability to lie and the ability to feel less remorse or guilt won't some people opt to use this technology? Mightn't there even be a sort of mental arms race where people find it necessary to enhance their ability to deceive in order to protect themselves from other deceivers?

The ethical features of human cognition that were selected for to work in hunter gatherer groups and in small village life might get heavily selected against when humanity enters its transhumanist phase. I have a similar worry about altruistic punishment and I have a high expectation that the tendency to want to carry out altruistic punishment is coded for by genes as well. Also, I expect the desire to carry out altruistic punishment will be found to vary between individuals due to differences in gene sequences. Brain scans show that the brain rewards itself for carrying out altruistic punishment. Well, will all genetically engineered babies of the future be as likely to be coded for that desire as humans are today? The desire to carry out altruistic punishment might be essential to maintenance of a fair degree of cooperation within societies.

Adrian Raine has also previously found differences in the brains of psychopaths and normal people which are recognizable in brain scans.

Modest proposal: Require politicians running for offer to get brain scans and publish their gray matter to white matter ratio. If the public really wants more honest politicians (and I'm not entirely convinced that is the case) then the public could vote for candidates that have higher gray to white matter. Also, politicians should have to include any indications that they have brains shaped for psychopathy.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 October 10 03:12 PM  Brain Society


Comments
odograph said at October 10, 2005 4:35 PM:

Ha! I didn't even read halfway before I had that same thought about political candidates and their brain scans!

Engineer-Poet said at October 10, 2005 4:49 PM:

Make politicians conduct their press conferences while under real-time fMRI.  And when "dirty tricks" happen, interview all their political advisors ditto.

JRM said at October 10, 2005 5:23 PM:

I have a similar worry about altruistic punishment and I have a high expectation that the tendency to want to carry out altruistic punishment is coded for by genes as well. Also, I expect the desire to carry out altruistic punishment will be found to vary between individuals due to differences in gene sequences. Brain scans show that the brain rewards itself for carrying out altruistic punishment.

It works the other way too. A friend told my about his business partner. The business partner is extremely smart, unethical and a habitual liar. When he tricks somebody into something, he gets giddy. For certain types of people, telling lies is fun. For others, it is extremely painful. I'm starting to think the "smart, deceitful businessman" type has a genetic basis. They do extremely well for themselves, but poison the business climate of the societies they operate within.

G Salter said at October 10, 2005 6:25 PM:

Big mistake, its a natural, at some point to use technology to (for example), to want to scan, a persons human nature and then, the next step is to want to "modify" said human nature to some utopian ideal...wrong-wrong-wrong. The reason said capabilities appear in the normal state of human (and probably animal societies), is that its there for a reason. How would you get anything done if everybody could essentialy read each others mind...nothing.

Whats worse, you could upset a nataural dynamic in the world where wars could actually happen more often. Say for instance, one side had their politicians "neutered" by this tech, then the other country employed their worst "go get em" types of politicians and generals and scientists, who are "partiotic" to their cause and proceed to wipe your ass off the planet with nano bombs and strong AI etc.

Too bad your then not around to inject them with "be-nice" nano health shots. There is a reason why your boss/politico is usually an ass, they would not survive 10 milliseconds in the real world if they were not. I don't want to be really negative, but the solutions have to be carefully studied and analized, perhaps a utopia could be build if everyone had access to advanced nanotech and the nano-AI's made everything for us and we would not need money and the people in big companies to sell use crappy software/upgrades/cheap crashing hard drives, whatever...I thing the solutions will come gradually and not the first iteration of a said technology (I could be wrong too).

James Bowery said at October 11, 2005 5:50 AM:

Multiethnic societies that fail to allow graceful resorts to non-verbal dispute processing are societies that are selecting for words as weapons rather than communication. The requirement that people either become expert in legal maneuvering or engage in mass wafare to address their grievances is a malincentive of the first order and dysgenic.

There are two societal modifications that can allow more graceful resort to non-verbal dispute processing prior to mass warfare:

1) Reduction of the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" to a single human right: The right to secede with territorial allocation -- along with a right to expell along with territorial allocation and just compensation (eminent domain).

2) Fair contests between individuals. The old northern Europe custom was single combat to the death. It could be a simple as a coin-toss, with the loser of the toss being expelled.

Rik said at October 11, 2005 8:14 AM:

There are not going to be any designer babies, for the simple reason that there's no way to tell if they will become the adults you desire. Now, you don't like lying, but it's extremely useful. Imagine a utopia where people were unable to lie: not being able to say anything that isn't factually true. Aaarrrggghh!! Jamais Cascio mentioned on an IT-talk, what he calls the "participatory panopticon". What if mobile networks, wifi & always-on camera's are combined? He thinks you'd get sousveillance, reputation networks and a loss of copyright, but I'm more worried about the right to lie. It's very American I think to move somewhere and start allover again, without any mention of your past. In a world of a participatory panopticon this would be gone. Designer babies and GNR-tech do not worry me at all, social technology I find far more threatening.

If you were Michael Jordan and became a Jessica Simpson lookalike (with some new technology), dude... be my guest! Whatever. I'm sure most people will think: well, if it looks like a duck and quaks..

Mike Anderson said at October 11, 2005 8:26 AM:

Perhaps this isn't congenital, but developmental. Check this out:

...images show a thickening in gray matter on the outer part of the brain peaks at age 11 in girls and at age 12 in boys. Then, during the teen years, the brain trims back excess cells and connections so what's left is more efficient.

Matthew Cromer said at October 11, 2005 8:34 AM:

I think this may be yet another example of brain plasticity, rather than brain determinism.

Lono said at October 14, 2005 10:33 AM:

Well, I have long believed that we would benefit from a genetically engineered "race" of bureaucrats - that recieve pleasure from efficiency, organization, and problem solving behaviors.

To me that would be a better solution than to try to scan everyone for their obvious anti-social psychology.

I have dealt with several pathological liars - one which may have cost me an early retirement opportunity - and the idea of a pathologically lying A.I. does worry me - but I would easily advocate the death sentence for such an entity.

(once it's deceptiveness was revealed)

And I think those who believe their will not be designer babies are fooling themselves. Since when did practicality and effectiveness ever determine Human behavior.

And eventually we will have a tool set that will allow us to modify Human behavior to the full extent that genetics can - which is not to be dismissed lightly.

Jim Moore said at October 18, 2005 9:51 AM:

Hi,
This is interesting but, as they say, the devil is in the details.

I have some doubt about a study of only 108 unemployed volunteers. Hardly a typical sampling of humanity

I also question this bit:
“'We looked for things like inconsistencies in their
stories about occupation, education, crimes and family background,'
said Raine, a psychology professor at USC and co-author of the study."

How did they determine the "inconsistencies"? By getting the subject to admit them? By continuing the interview until the subject made a later statement which was inconsistent with his earlier statement? Or by actually checking criminal records and verifying prior employment, family background etc.
Or by simply asking the subject about these topics and trusting their answers?
Without an objective invstigation of the subject's past employment, criminal activities and family, the researchers' assessment of these 108 individuals is totally subjective.
And, regarding those whom these researchers tagged as "normal," could they have merely been better liars whom the researchers didn't catch in their lies?

Not to be accusatory (merely skeptical), psychiatry is rife with widely accepted "conclusions" later proved to be false.
Remember all the "causes" of mental illness (toilet training, antagonism toward mother or father -- along with the "treatments") which were later disproved and displaced by knowledge of chemical imbalances in the brain, treatable by drugs?

This is an area where I would very much like to be proved too skeptical.

David Simmons said at December 23, 2005 5:38 PM:

“Pathological liars can’t always tell truth from falsehood and contradict themselves in an interview. They are manipulative and they admit they prey on people. They are very brazen in terms of their manner, but very cool when talking about this.”

A significant portion of the human race are predatory liars and con artists. On top of that there are rapists, murders, and assorted other criminals and psychopaths as well. Think about that next time someone speaks about humanity and the human future in lofty terms.

The habitual liars had histories of conning other people.

Aside from having histories of conning others or using aliases, the habitual liars also admitted to malingering, or telling falsehoods to obtain sickness benefits, Raine said.

Victoria Haminway said at February 25, 2006 8:53 AM:

I want to stop lying to people, but it is such fun...

Jim said at March 20, 2006 2:27 AM:

Well, I was amazed! This is my ex-lover to a T. I understand it, but can't cope with it. However, he did do drugs at a young age which may have something to do with it.

PT said at January 9, 2009 2:32 PM:

"Imagine genetically engineered people who are talented liars. Or imagine artificial intelligences which are geniuses at lying."

Better yet, imagine genetically engineered people who are completely incapable of telling a lie.
What if every single person on the planet was incapable of lying?

...I would call that a perfect world.

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