Friday, September 30, 2005

"Liar, Liar, White Matter on Fire!" ?

I'm looking forward to reading this paper, to see how well the details mesh with this media account. For example, one has to look carefully are how subjects were labelled as "compulsive liars" and whether other behavioral characteristics might account for performance on the scale used to rate subjects. However, this is a curious association to ponder, to say the least.

From The Los Angeles Times:
Study: Adept Liars' Brains Are Built Differently
By Robert Lee Hotz, Times Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Times
30 September 2005

In the lexicon of lying, there are white lies and bare-faced lies. Facts can be fudged, forged or shaded. There are fibbers, fabricators and feckless fabulists. By whatever clinical term, the truth simply is not in some people.

Now scientists have an anatomical inkling why.

A new study from the University of Southern California, published in the October issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, suggests that the talent for compulsive deception is embedded in the structure of the brain itself.

People who habitually lie and cheat — pathological liars — appear to have much more white matter, which speeds communication between neurons, in the prefrontal cortex than normal people, the researchers found. They also have fewer actual neurons.

The differences affect a portion of the brain, located just behind the forehead, that enables people to feel remorse, learn moral behavior and plan complex strategies.

The surplus of connections between neurons might enable these people to be more adept at the complex neural networking that underlies deceit.

Lying is hard work and these brains may be better equipped to handle it, the researchers said.

"Lying is cognitively complex," said USC psychologist Adrian Raine, the senior scientist on the research project. "It is not easy to lie. It is certainly more difficult than telling the truth. Some people have a biological advantage in lying. It gives them a slight edge."

The researchers recruited 108 volunteers, then sorted them into groups based on psychological tests designed to determine how often they lied. The volunteers were then scanned using magnetic structural imaging to obtain detailed anatomical images of their brain tissue.

The group of compulsive liars had 25.7% more white matter in the prefrontal cortex and 14.2% less gray matter than the normal control group.

"To our knowledge, it is the first imaging study on people who lie, cheat and deceive as a group," Raine said.
[ ... Read the full article ... ]-
Anthony H. Risser | |

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