Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Pathological lying motivation

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Pathological lying:
What motivates pathological lying?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Are lies told by pathological liars the truth in their abstract mind?

Being honest is a characteristic we look for in potential partners or friends, but what people don't know is the common person lies in a dialogue every 10 minutes[factual?]. Individuals sometimes lose control and take their lies to a new level. Pathological lying is characterised by an individual who has a long history of frequent lying, but why? Especially when there are no positive consequences from their behaviour[grammar?]. We must look at research to understand what is motivating these people and whether or not they can control it. Firstly, we must look at the grandfather of psychology, Sigmund Freud, who used the psychodynamic theory to help us understand the mechanisms behind pathological lying. His view on the unconscious self allows us to look in to an individual's past to find answer to the motivations behind pathological lying. The biological mechanism behind the topic allows us to have a broader understanding [missing something?] where these motives are created and what impacts them.

What is pathological lying?[edit | edit source]

Most individuals in the world have told a little white lie once in their life. While these little lies are goal directed, whether this be punishment or reward, (e.g., not wanting to hurt another's feelings or trying to get yourself out of an uncomfortable situation) [grammar?] lies told by pathological liars have been shown to be purposeless. Characterized by an individual's long history of frequent and repeated lying, pathological lying can be seen to have no apparent psychological motive or external beliefs (Dike, 2008). In fact, some of the consequences from the lies are self-incriminating or damaging for the individual (Dike, 2008). Which makes us ask what motivates pathological liars if they aren't any positive consequences for their behaviors?[grammar?] Or are there underlying factors that come in to play that help us answer this question?

The term pathological lying is a poorly understood term, used to describe an individual who repeatedly and apparently compulsively tells false lies" (Dike, 2008). Pathological lying association [grammar?] with psychiatry is largely unclear; it's only mention in the DSM-5 is in association with Factitious Disorder and Borderline Disorder.

Pseudologia Fantasia is another term used to describe pathological lying. It can serve as a way of preserving the person's identity and defending oneself from reality (Ford, 1996). This type of lying is the way of avoiding contexts that are painful and cause anxiety, and that the actual pain is hidden (Fenichel, 1954).

What motivates pathological liars?[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Motivation behind the lies[edit | edit source]

When exploring for motives in pathological liars, it can be difficult because of the lack of research and understanding of the topic. Most people are motivated to lie. [grammar?]to simply have interactions that are smooth and positive, thus, creating "interpersonal politeness" with others (Akhtar & Parens, 2009).  When interacting with friends about whether they like your hair short, individuals who do not agree with the statement but care and respect the individual may lie to ensure their feelings aren’t hurt. This can also be referred to as altruistic lies. “These lies are motivated by the persons desire to protect another from some harm, typically these lies take form of lying to shield the feelings of another, or to protect another form negative consequence” (Ford, 1996).  

A sense of autonomy is described by Ford as motivating pathological liars. These individuals are reluctant to provide individuals with personal information, regardless of the need to tell the truth[Rewrite to improve clarity]. The individuals believe that they have the right to protect his or her privacy for the public. Another obvious motive for pathological liars is to avoid punishment. These types of lies are common in the criminal justice system. Individuals either lie in order to avoid taking responsibility for their actions or they lie to avoid incriminating others, this is most common when individuals are influenced by gang members or family family members (Spidel, 2011). Avoiding negative evaluation is another motive which involves the individual worrying or being shameful about their perception from being judged. In contrast, some pathological liars may lie to increase their self-presentation. This would include their presence in their environment becoming more positive because of their lies (Petitclerc & Herve, 1997).

Another motive may be to protect themselves either physically or psychologically. When referring to lies in a criminal justice setting, telling the [say what?] trust may result that individual in violence, such as gang violence. Study has shown that obtaining a reward is the second most often mentioned reason for lying, after lying to avoid punishment” (Ekman, 1997). Reward which can be seen in various forms such as “physical (e.g., obtaining physical favours), situational (e.g., early release of punishment), material (e.g., money), or internal (e.g., attention)” (Spidel, 2011). Other motives include carelessness and duping delight, which is when an individual is motivated by the please of deceiving another (Ekman, 1991).

It should be noted that some individuals who are pathological liars are without an obvious cause or motivation. These lies have shown to have no positive consequences for the individual and may even be self-destructive. These types of lies are usually spontaneous and are compulsive. Several studies have highlighted that these individuals cannot control the lies they are telling. (Ford, 1996)

The creation of a false self[edit | edit source]

Individuals exhibiting pathological lying often have a false self and often lie to preserve and protect their created world. False self is developed as a form of defense for an individual who is unsatisfied with their real self. “False self may be characterised by idealisations, striving for perfection, feelings of grandiosity and greatness, excessive pride and manipulations” (Muzinic, Kozaric-Kovacic & Marinic, 2016). The reasoning behind an individual who has developed a false self can be traced back to their early childhood. Distorted experiences can influence an individual to develop an inauthentic self. Experiences such as parents who are intrusive or over-involved, parents that reject their child’s true self and only acknowledge the false-self created, contribute to children creating a false self to keep up with the high expectations and requirement set out by their family (Harter, 1999).

Figure 2. Sigmund Freud's psychodynamic theory allows us to have a deeper understanding of the motives behind pathological liars.

The development of the false self has been shown to be prominent in adolescence. “This can be due to the individual attempting to hide one’s true self because they cannot manage to achieve the standards and the values established in mental representations of the individual” (Muzinic, Kozaric-Kovacic & Marinic, 2016). Studies have shown that individuals who have a weak support system have [missing something?] shown to have higher levels of creating a false self. (Harter, 1999). The creation of false self can have detrimental effects on an individual’s psychological well-being. “Outcomes such as low-self-esteem, hopelessness, depressive feelings, and separation from one’s self” (Muzinic, Kozaric-Kovacic & Marinic, 2016).  

Individuals who may have created a false self throughout their development stages may not necessarily be a pathological liar. Research has shown that pathological liars although [awkward expression?] have created a false self also have ego deficit and low ego capacities (Muzinic, Kozaric-Kovacic & Marinic, 2016).

A theory that supports this is the psychodynamic theory, originated from [awkward expression?] Sigmund Freud, showing the major role individuals[grammar?] unconscious selves play in their behaviors. “The theory attempts to explain human behavior in terms of intrapsychic process and the repetition of interpersonal patterns that are often outside of an individual’s conscious awareness and have their origins in childhood experiences” (Holtz, 2007). Freud believed that through uncovering the unconscious self we will find the reasons behind our behaviors. Pathological lying, due to the creation of a false self, can be answered [say what?] through the use of the psychodynamic theory. As referred to as earlier [awkward expression?] an individual's childhood can impact whether a child develops pathological liars[grammar?] tendencies through the creations of a false self (Muzinic, Kozaric-Kovacic & Marinic, 2016). The true self of the individual may become forgotten without the child even realizing. Only through talking about issues during their childhood they may uncover their unconscious as well as their true self.

Biological mechanisms[edit | edit source]

Another aspect of pathological lying people may not be aware of is the biological influence through this we are able to deeper our understanding of the term pathological lying and the motivations involved. “The theory of mind is the ability to understand and predict other people’s behaviour by attribution independent mental states to them” (Poletti, Borelli & Bonuccelli, 2011). Through researches[say what?] we are able to see when an individual’s Theory of Mind and prefrontal cortex is impaired [grammar?] this may result in pathological lying. “It is suggested that when children lie to conceal their transgression and their ability to maintain these lies increase with age, in a manner strictly related to the development of mind” (Poletti, Borelli & Bonuccelli, 2011).  A research [missing something?] conducted by Michele Poletti, Paolo Borelli and Ubaldo Bonuccelli looked into the biological perspective of pathological lying. Their research involved studying a 57 year- old man who showed to have a worsening pattern of altered behaviour. “His behavioural pattern characterised by apathy, verbal aggression, impulsivity, occasional compulsive shopping, frequent lies and lack of insight (Poletti, Borelli & Bonuccelli, 2011). Through the use of neuropsychiatric assessment, the participant recorded higher score on the frontal behavioural inventory and showed impaired results in the Theory of Mind (Poletti, Borelli & Bonuccelli, 2011). From this study we can see that pathological lying as a symptom of a neurodegenerative disorder affecting the prefrontal cortex[grammar?]. Although this study showed insight into the biological dimension of pathological lying, more study should go into the biological influences and how this effects the individual’s motivation. The study doesn’t conclude that people with impaired Theory of mind and prefrontal cortex, but does show the strong correlation between the two variables[Rewrite to improve clarity].

Figure 3. The prefrontal cortex has shown to have deformities in pathological liars.

The pre-frontal cortex deficits identified earlier is strongly supported by several studied[spelling?], [grammar?]one assessing the structural abnormalities in the prefrontal grey and white matter. The grey matter in our brain is responsible for the muscular and sensory activity, while the white matter on the other hand is responsible for insulating axons, letting neurons travel at high speeds,[grammar?] this is essential for motor and sensory function (Mackenzie, 2019). The studied [say what?] conducted assessed the pre-frontal grey and white matter volumes using structural magnet resonance imaging. Participants included 21 normal controls, 16 antisocial controls and 12 individuals who pathologically lie, cheat and deceive (Yang, Raine, Lencz & Bihrle, 2018). Results from the studied showed “the liars showed 22-26% increase in prefrontal white matter and 36-42% reduction in prefrontal grey/ white ratios compared with both antisocial controls and normal controls” (Yang, Raine, Lencz & Bihrle, 2018). The results of this study highlight the deficits in the brains structure of individuals who are pathological liars, [grammar?] “they implicate the prefrontal cortex as an important component in the neural circuitry underlying lying and provide an initial neurobiological correlate of a deceitful personality” (Yang, Raine, Lencz & Bihrle, 2018). From this study, we are able to see where individual’s motives for lying originate, showing this allows us to deepen our understanding of the complex term that is pathological lying and what motivates individuals who do pathologically lie.

Figure 4.Measuring Lies: Can we measures lies told by a pathological liar through a polygraph?

Measuring lies[edit | edit source]

For most people, when thinking about lying, the polygraph would come to mind, but how accurate is this test? And should we use it to measure pathological lying? A polygraph measures changes in an individual’s physiology (Vrij, 1966). By presenting certain stimuli such as questions to the participant and measuring the physiological changes that occur. Most common physiological activity measured during the polygraph is “palm sweating, blood pressure and respiration” (Vrij, 1966). Some individual’s[grammar?] think of a lie detector when talking about polygraph, but this is false as a polygraph does not detect lies but only physiological activity that may be the result of telling a lie. The use of a polygraph is a vary[spelling?] controversial topic,[grammar?] many countries around the world use this type of test for criminal investigations and security screening. Although countries like America have banned the use of polygraph because of its inaccuracy and its ability to make the jury feel overwhelmed by the scientific nature of the results[grammar?]. (Vrij, 1966). Through use of the polygraph we are able to see the physiological perspective of lying. Individual’s[grammar?] will sometimes feel worried, ashamed, scared, and sometimes frightened to tell the truth.  One of the differences between regular lie telling and pathological lying is individuals’ ability to hide and trick others as well as themselves. The polygraph was created to measure the emotions through physiological changes which gives us a reason not to use it when dealing with pathological liars as these emotions and physiological activity may not be present. Although this doesn’t answer what motivates liars, it’s interesting to see the difference in testing people telling regular lies and pathological liars and the lack of emotion behind the pathological liars.

As spoken about previously, a study conducted by Michele Poletti, Paolo Borelli and Ubaldo Bonuccelli researched the biological mechanisms behind pathological lying. The research highlighted several examinations used to research the biological perspective of pathological liar. The measures included “neuroimaging of the lateral ventriculi and periencephalic liquoral spaces, blood glucose tests, neurobiological examination, and neuropsychiatric assessment” (Poletti, Borelli & Bonuccelli, 2011).  The table in Figure 3 highlights some of the cognitive functions tested during the neuropsychiatric assessment. From this we are able to see what difficulties individuals who are pathological liars face. All the measures used during the research by Michele Poletti, Paolo Borelli and Ubaldo Bonuccelli showed the neuroscience involved in this topic. From the measures we are able to see that the prefrontal cortex when distorted which may be a contributor to pathological lying as well as various cognitive functions such as problem solving (Poletti, Borelli & Bonuccelli, 2011).

Cognitive function Task Score Comment
Episodic verbal memory RAVLT immedite recall 20.3 Impaired
Verbal frequency Phonemic verbal frequency 5.8 Impaired
Selective spacial attention Barrage 39/60 Preserved
Executive functioning Frontal assessment battery 12.5/18 Impaired
Decision making Low gamling[spelling?] task -6 Impaired
Verbal working memory Backard[spelling?] digit span 2 Impaired
Affective Theory of Mind Reading the mind in the eyes 12/36 Impaired

(Poletti, Borelli & Bonuccelli, 2011).

Treatment[edit | edit source]

While the topic itself is very much new and poorly understood the treatment provided for pathological liars is similar. The insufficient data concerning efficiency[say what?] of psychotherapy results in many individuals having to do down other roots of treatment such as pharmacology. Though even the use of pharmacology is very much new[grammar?]. It’s only mentioned{{sp} in the Diagnostic and Statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5) is in association with Factitious Disorder and Borderline Disorder. Some individuals who are seeking pharmacology help are often treated with the same drugs used for treatment of impulsive and compulsive, and only if the nature of the lying includes these components (Dike, 2008)[Rewrite to improve clarity].  Early recognition and identification have been shown to have the most positive results, through the use of techniques such as psycho-dynamic counselling which will help give insights to reasons of their behaviors as well as the motivations involved in their behaviors[factual?].

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The motives behind pathological lying is a poorly understood term in the field of psychology[Rewrite to improve clarity]. It[what?] is characterized by an individual's long history of frequent and repeated lying (Dike, 2008), with little to no conscious motive. Freud’s Object Relations Theory highlights the major role the unconscious can have on our lives. When paired with pathological lying, this gives us insight into why we are unable to see some motives behind the condition. According to a research [missing something?], individual’s[grammar?] who are pathological liars may have created a false self during their childhood (Muzinic, Kozaric-Kovacic & Marinic, 2016),[grammar?] this individual must keep up that appearance and follow through with their lies throughout their life. Freud’s theory supports this as he believed that "people relate to objects to satisfy their emotional and psychological needs for relatedness" (Reeve,2017).

Studies have shown that motives behind lies usually include things like protection, rewards, avoiding a negative persona, interpersonal politeness, and avoiding responsibility (Ford, 1996). Although studies haven’t shown connections with these motives and pathological liars, because of the large unconscious component of this condition; with lies told by pathological liars often being incriminating and damaging to the individual (Dike, 2008)[Rewrite to improve clarity].

Noticing when someone is a pathological liar can be a challenging task,[grammar?] normal measurements of lies such as polygraphs, neuroimaging, blood glucose, neurobiological exams, and neuropsychiatric assessment [grammar?]while are good tools for noticing when people lie, the assessments sometimes can’t pick up when lies told by pathological liars[Rewrite to improve clarity]. Although studies have shown impaired cognitive functions such as decision making and verbal working memory, it’s difficult to make strong conclusions on whether this is contributing to pathological lying. Studies have shown that individuals who have an impaired prefrontal cortex and theory of mind result are commonly pathological liars, but this does imply that people with an impaired prefrontal cortex are pathological liars which is definitely not the case (Poletti, Borelli & Bonuccelli, 2011). Treatment for pathological liars is very much understudied and further studies must be conducted to see the results of pharmaceutical and psychodynamic treatments. When looking at what motivates pathological liars it's[grammar?] varies from individual's[grammar?] with one of the most common motive being the creation of a false self that is thought to be more accepted and respected in society.

See also[edit | edit source]

  1. True Self
  2. Lying (Book chapter, 2013)
  3. Honesty motivation (Book chapter, 2019)

References[edit | edit source]

Charles, C. (2005). Pathological lying revisited. The Journal Of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 33(3), 342-349.

Dike, C. (2008). Pathological lying: Symptoms or disease? Lying with no apparent motive or benefit. Psychiatric Times: Manhasset, 25(7), pp.67-73.

Ekman, P. (1997). Deception, lying and demeanor. In D. F. Halpen & A. E. Voiskounsky (Eds.), States of mind: American and post‐Soviet perspectives on contemporary issues in psychology (pp. 93–105). New York : Oxford University Press.

Fenichel, O. (1954). The Economics of Pseudologia Phantastica. Collected Papers, 129-140.

Ford, C. (1996). Pathological lying. Lies!, Lies!!, Lies!!! The Psychology of Deceit, American Psychiatric Press, Washington, DC.

Harter, S. (1999). The construction of the self: A developmental perspective. Guilford Press, New York

Holtz, K. (2007). Psychodynamic theory. Advances in Social Work, 8(1), 184-195.

King, B., & Ford, C. (1988). Pseudologia fantastica. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 77(1), 1-6.

Mackenzie, R. (2019). Gray Matter vs White Matter. Retrieved 20 October 2019, from

Muzinic, L., Kozaric-Kovacic, D., & Marinic, I. (2016). Psychiatric aspects of normal and pathological lying. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 46, 88-93. doi:10.1016/j.ijlp.2016.02.036

Petitclerc, A. M., & Hervé, H. F. (1999). Deceptive motivations: Coding instructions. Unpublished manuscript, University of British Columbia , Vancouver , Canada .

Poletti, M., Borelli, P., & Bonuccelli, U. (2011). The neuropsychological correlates of pathological lying: evidence from behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia. Journal of Neurology, 258(11), 2009-2013.

Reeve, J. (2017). Understanding Motivation and Emotion (7th ed., pp. 1-560). Wiley.

Spidel, A. (2011). ‘Wasn't me!’ A field study of the relationship between deceptive motivations and psychopathic traits in young offenders. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 16(2).

Vrij, A. (1966). Detecting lies and deceit: The psychology of lying and the implications for professional practice (1st ed., pp. 169-180). New York: Wiley.

Yang, Y., Raine, A., Lencz, T., & Bihrle, S. (2018). Prefrontal white matter in pathological liars. The British Journal Of Psychiatry, 187(4), 320-325.

External links[edit | edit source]