Who are bigger, better liars, men or women?

Lying is never a good thing, but sometimes we feel compelled to be dishonest to save our skin. Oftentimes we regret having to lie, especially when we end up deceiving the ones we care about.

A study has found that men don’t just rank higher than women in terms of how often they lie – they also consider themselves better liars. This is according to researchers from the University of Portsmouth.

“We found a significant link between expertise at lying and gender. Men were more than twice as likely to consider themselves expert liars who got away with it,” said lead researcher, Dr Brianna Verigin.

"Prolific liars rely a great deal on being good with words, weaving their lies into 'truths', so it becomes hard for others to distinguish the difference. They're also better than most at hiding lies within apparently simple, clear stories which are harder for others to doubt."

The study was published in PLOS One.

Good liars are ‘good talkers’

The researchers quizzed 196 people: half men, half women. The average age of participants was 39 years.

They were asked a series of questions, including:

  • How good they were at deceiving others
  • How many lies they told in the past 24 hours
  • The types of lies they told and to whom
  • Whether they told the lies face-to-face or by other means

Verigin said they [the researchers] wanted to focus on those who are good at lying, and try to understand how they do it, and to whom, adding that people who excel at lying generally tell more lies than others, especially to family, friends, romantic partners and colleagues.

"What stood out in our study was that nearly half (40%) of all lies are told by a very small number of deceivers. And these people will lie with impunity to those closest to them,” Verigin explained in the report. According to the research article, expert liars prefer to lie face-to-face, rather than by means of text messages.

The ‘key’ to lying

One of the key strategies liars use to tell plausible lies is to stay close to the truth, and not to give away too much information. Worryingly, the better someone thinks they are at lying, the more lies they tell.

On the other side of the lying fence, those who think they’re bad at lying reported that when they lied, they were very vague. 

White lies turned out to be the most common types of deception across the entire group. Exaggerations, hiding information, and making up things were also some of the lies the group admitted to. 

And while employers and authority figures were the least likely to be lied to, family, friends or colleagues were the ones to bear the brunt, said the participants. 

And, in case you’re wondering, there was no link between the participants' education level and their lying ability. Verigin concluded that more research is needed to better understand the proficiency of good liars.

Why do some people lie more than others?

Lying is a slippery slope, and while we’re all guilty of invariably finding ourselves in a situation where we feel the need to lie – for whatever reason – many people resort to pathological lying, or pseudologia fantastica. This is habitual lying, is harmful and can affect one’s wellbeing, relationships and career.

So why do some people engage in pathological lying?

Sometimes people do this to appear important, or because they want to be the centre of attention, explains a 2012 study. Or at other times they do it because they seek sympathy or acceptance. Pathological liars often have antisocial personality disorder

Research suggests that this extreme form of lying is linked to a particular neurological pattern. Dr Bryan King, a psychiatrist at the U.C.L.A. School of Medicine explains in an article on pathological lying in the American Journal of Psychiatry (with Charles Ford, a psychiatrist at the University of Arkansas Medical School, and Marc Hollender, a psychiatrist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine) that pathological liars experience a minor memory deficit, combined with impairment in the frontal lobes that critically evaluate information. In such instances, the person suffers from the inability to assess the accuracy of what they say, and are therefore able to tell lies as though they were telling the truth.

A 2005 study also found that the brains of pathological liars were different to those of non-liars. Scientists discovered that there was a greater amount of white matter in the prefrontal cortex of the brain of a pathological liar, and concluded that this higher content of white matter could be the trigger point for habitual lying.  The study was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Pathological lying is a mental disorder, and pathological liars live in a fantasy world. They generally have low self-esteem, but the disorder can be treated if it is detected early enough. 

Image credit: iStock
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