Adults and youngsters lie to avoid guilt, shame, avoid responsibility and in order to manipulate and control people and situations. Therapists, like myself, also frequently see lying in conjunction with conditions like substance abuse, compulsive gambling and addiction to the Internet and or to pornography.
However, a recent study provides some important new insight into the cause of dishonesty, deception and pathological lying. Scientists found a 22 percent excess of white matter in the prefrontal cortex of pathological liars, versus normal subjects, after conducting Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
on the brains of both groups. The prefrontal cortex is the top layer of the brain's front hemisphere; it is believed to handle cognitive functions such as thinking, learning and judging. White matter serves as electrical wiring, connecting brain cells to one another.
The study's lead author, University of Southern California (USC)
doctoral student Yaling Yang, and its co-author, Adrian Raine, a psychology professor, focused on the prefrontal cortex after studies performed at the University of Hong Kong found increased brain activity in the area when people lied. They believe the excess of white matter may equip liars with the facilities to be more effectively deceitful.
"It's their brain," says Yang. "It's their abnormality that makes them have that kind of behavior. They just have to do it, and they continue doing it, even knowing the consequences."
The USC study, published in the October issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry
, has been labeled a beginning study because of its modest sample size of 49 subjects. Both Raine and Yang admit that more work needs to be done to support their conclusions. Still, it appears that some people, may, in fact, be born with a propensity to lie.
I got interested and curious about this subject because I counseled a number of families where lying seemed to be a pattern amongst parents and their kids. Now, one might first think that this is learned behavior or habit. However, in some of the families I treated the kids had been separated from the lying parent or parents at birth. This separation caused me to think that their might be a genetic or physiological explanation for frequent lying.
Scientists may develop a cure for treating liars in the future. Some of my patients who were chronic liars have been helped through counseling. I try to educate them about their tendency and explain the disastrous effects that lying can have on relationships, family and their careers.Jay P. Granat, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, hypnotherapist, author, lecturer, found of stayinthezone.com. He writes a regular column called, "In The Zone," for divorce360.