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.
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