HONG KONG — While psychopaths don’t come out of the womb with an ability to tell bald-faced lies, they pick up the habit more easily than others, a new study finds.
Researchers at the University of Hong Kong recruited 52 students, 29 of whom were characterized as having high levels of psychopathic traits, to examine whether the presence of such traits made it easier to learn to lie.
The first part of the experiment had students view a series of familiar and unfamiliar faces, after which they were cued to fib or be honest as it pertained to whether they personally knew the individual shown in the photograph.
Participants had their reaction times measured, while researchers simultaneously looked at functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of their brains.
Following the initial portion of the experiment, participants took a two-session training course, after which they repeated the same protocol.
After the training, which taught participants how to better lie, individuals with psychopathic traits had much lower response times when prompted to not tell the truth, demonstrating a newfound facility for the habit.
Meanwhile, those with low levels of psychopathic traits did not demonstrate any changes in response time.
The researchers believe that their inquiry might reveal fundamental truths about the differences in which those with low and high levels of psychopathic traits process lies.
“During lying, the ‘true’ information needs to be suppressed and reversed,” explains lead researcher Dr. Tatia Lee in a news release.
“Thus, lying requires a series of processes in the brain including attention, working memory, inhibitory control and conflict resolution which we found to be reduced in individuals with high levels of psychopathic traits,” she continues. “By contrast, in individuals with low levels of psychopathic traits this lie-related brain activity increased. The additional ‘effort’ it took their brains to process untruthful responses may be one of the reasons why they didn’t improve their lying speed.”
Still, the researchers warn that their study only involved college students, meaning that results could be different for different demographics.
The study’s findings were published last month in the journal Translational Psychology.