Beware of Convincing Liars—They’re Probably Psychopaths

Besides their impulsive behavior and lack of remorse, a new study suggests psychopaths also excel in telling lies.

maskPretty Vectors/ShutterstockFrom our earliest years we were entertained by bedtime tales about liars. The most famous of all is probably Pinocchio whose nose grew with every fallacy he uttered, but there’s also The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Even the wolf gets in on the act by impersonating poor granny in Little Red Riding Hood. According to a new study, it turns out our bedtime tales may have been full of psychopaths. (Here are some real-life destinations that look like they came right out of those fairy tales.)

Psychopaths have a tendency towards impulsive behavior and a lack of remorse, so it’s not surprising that lying comes easily. However, with very little training, it seems psychopaths are able to create lies faster and almost effortlessly compared to the rest of us.

“The stark contrasts between individuals with [and without] these traits … are quite shocking,” said co-author of the study Tatia Lee, a neuropsychologist at the University of Hong Kong, in sciencedaily.com.

Lee and her associates tested 52 university students in Hong Kong by separating them by high and low levels of psychopathic traits. They were then shown photos of people they knew and those of strangers. Using an MRI to measure brain activity, the researchers recorded how long it took each student to respond when they were cued to lie about recognizing the person in the photo.

The students then underwent lie training—a couple of sessions on how to lie effectively. The result? The students with higher psychopathic traits lied even faster after training, while those with low levels of psychopathic traits showed no change.

Lee suggests in Business Insider that these findings can be interpreted to say lying is a skill that can be rapidly learned by psychopaths. (Don’t miss these 7 clues to spot a liar.)

“Our findings, for the first time, suggest that … Individuals with higher psychopathic tendency may not have a ‘natural’ capacity to lie better, but rather show better ‘trainability’ of lying,” Lee said.

So unfortunately once they learn to lie, a psychopath will always have the edge over the masses. And unlike Pinocchio there’s no nose to tip us off.

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