It’s me again, Danny Boice, and I am the CEO of Trustify. We provide private investigators on demand to consumers and businesses. This is the second part of our Why Do We Lie blog series.

So, surprisingly, the ability to lie and the ability to be a good social partner are actually two sides of the same coin. They both require understanding both others’ and one’s own mental states. However, while most people tell a few white lies per day, some people are pathological liars. Pathological lying is the behavior of habitual or compulsive lying, which has no obvious benefit for the liar. Furthermore, pathological liars tend to lie without a purpose. Pathological lying on its own is not enough for a person to receive a clinical diagnosis though. However, often times people who are pathological liars tend to have clinically diagnosable disorders such as, psychopathy, the manic stage of bipolar, or various personality disorders (antisocial, narcissistic, and histrionic).

Psychologists still don’t fully understand why pathological liars lie, which is probably partially due to the fact that pathological lying can manifest on its own or a symptom of varying clinical disorders. It’s hard to determine a pattern or reason for pathological lying across such broad areas. Some psychologists see pathological lying as a chronic behavior which is compulsive in nature. However, there is controversy over the idea that pathological liars know that they are lying. In some cases it is believed that the liar begins to believe their own lies, confusing reality with fiction, which is a delusional behavior. Some psychologists believe that some pathological liars may begin to believe their own lies in order to relieve themselves of guilt while other psychologists don’t believe pathological liars feel guilt.

Lying is Physiological?

Recent studies have started to show that lying might be a result of neuroanatomy. A study conducted in 2005 with criminals and people with antisocial behaviors had some interesting results. Using brain scans, this study showed that the prefrontal cortexes in frequent liars are built differently from those in a typical brain. In this study liars had 22% more white matter and 14% less gray matter than average people. White matter is like the wiring of the brain and gray matter tends to play a role in in impulse control. Other research suggests that pathological liars suffer from a minor memory deficit and also impairment in the frontal lobes. The frontal lobes are used to critically evaluate information, so in this case, it seems pathological liars may not be able to remember events accurately or critically evaluate information. In short, these people can’t assess the accuracy of what they say and therefore, may not even realize that they are lying.

6 Reasons Pathological Liars Lie

Dr. David Ley, who has worked with many pathological liars, has attempted to understand why they lie from a psychological perspective. According to him there are six reasons pathological liars tend to lie. He lists these reasons as follows:

  1. The lie does matter ... to them: although other people might not think the issue is important, it is critically important to them;
  2. Telling the truth feels like giving up control: often times people lie to keep control of a situation;
  3. They don’t want to disappoint you: they are worried that you might reject or shame them if you find out the truth;
  4. Lies snowball: sometimes the situation might start with small lies, but then the person has to lie to cover-up that lie, and so on and so on, until the lie gets out of control;
  5. It’s not a lie to them: people’s memories are unreliable, especially under stress, so it might be that the liar actual doesn’t remember the situation correctly; and
  6. They want it to be true: they might want so badly for their lie to become true that they start believe it themselves.

So, Why Do We Lie?

In conclusion, it turns out that children developing lying behavior is actually a completely normal part of their developmental process. At the later stages, the ability to lie actually reflects a child’s ability to understand that other people don’t have the same beliefs as them. Therefore, what gives a person the ability to lie, also gives them the ability to be a prosocial helper. Furthermore, all of us tend to tell a few white lies throughout the day, but most people will not lie to hurt someone. Interestingly, it turns out that people who are pathological liars aren’t necessarily trying to hurt other people. However, of course, if someone is displaying characteristics of pathological lying, it is very important that they see a psychologist to address any underlying mental health issues and the lying itself.

Danny Boice
Danny Boice

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