View Full Version : Liars have proportionally more white matter in their brain

30-09-05, 07:59
BBC News : Liars 'possess more white matter' (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4293520.stm)

The researchers drew up a list of criteria for lying, cheating and deceiving, including habits such as conning people or behaving in a manipulative way, and telling lies in order to obtain sickness benefits.

They also assessed how much grey and white matter people had in the pre-frontal cortex areas of their brains, using structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Liars were found to have between 22 and 26% more white matter than either those with no history of lying or those in the anti-social group.
The findings could not be explained by differences in age, ethnicity, IQ, head injury or substance misuse.

This is the first study to show a brain abnormality in people who lie, cheat and manipulate others, the researchers said.

The researchers say the findings are in line with previous studies which showed children with autism are less capable of lying than other children.

Brain neuro-developmental studies of autism show people with the condition have more grey matter than white matter - the opposite pattern to the liars in this study.

Here is a quick summary of what is white matter (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_matter) and grey matter (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_matter). In brief, grey matter is responsible for information processing (analysis, reflection, memory, etc.), while white matter is responsible for information transmission (such as sending/receiving physical signal to/from the body).

I would like to remind people of an old thread regarding lying, and the different types of lies : Is lying a crime (http://www.eupedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=13685)
In short, it is not always clear what is a lie. Factual lies are fairly obvious, but perceptional ones, such as exaggerations, lack of accuracy (e.g. saying it's 8 o'clock when it's in fact 8:05) or those related to one's feelings (not always clear as they are not immutable) are not.

Morals are also not a major element in lying. Many people know that lying or cheating is bad, but do it because they can profit from it (e.g. poor people cheating unwary tourists about prices). Others may think of lying necessary and "good" when it is done for face's sake, or to avoid hurting other people's feelings. Others always see lying as bad, even small inaccuracies with no intent of deceiving. All this to say that the concept of lying and its acceptance is very relative.

One of the main finding of the above study is that "pathological liars" have more white matters than anti-social and autistic people. In other words, liars are typically very sociable people. This make sense as it requires a good understanding of other people's emotional reactions, feelings, personality and perceptions (i.e. E.Q. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_intelligence)) to deceive them.

This seems to be confirmed by Goleman's observation on emotional intelligence (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_intelligence): emotions are mostly controlled by the primitive (reptilian) part of our brain, which is mostly white matter. Having more white matter thus involves having a better control of one's emotion, greater self-confidence (i.e. more sociable and outgoing personality) and potentially higher EQ.

Autistic (Autism) people have disproportionately more grey matter. Their lack of white matter gives them a poor control over their emotions, and consequently cannot understand easily other people's emotions. This results in an utter lack of social confidence, leading to self reclusion.

All this could confirm a common preconception that less sociable people are more "cerebral" (reflecting or analytical type), maybe with a higher IQ, while more sociable and outgoing people would have a higher EQ. Note that white matter is protected by a myelin sheath and can also regenerate more easily than grey matter. That means that people's emotions and EQ tend to degenerate less easily than "grey matter thinking" (everything from calculation and language to imagination and creativity). Brain damages caused by poor nutrition or lack of oxygen will thus affect grey matter first. If a baby had suffered such damage, their IQ would suffer more than their EQ. Some types of autists have had prenatal brain damages in most of the brain, giving them a lower IQ and EQ, except for the non damaged parts (see autistic savant (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autistic_savant)).

So could the propensity of a person to lie determine their IQ or EQ ? Possibly. The EQ would be easier to determine. However, as we can never be assured of the "quality" of the brain (i.e. how damaged it has been since its formation as a foetus), we cannot even estimate the potential of intelligence at birth. Then, as intelligence depends a lot on experience and the ability to create numerous neural connections (i.e. memory, relating facts, analysing data or feelings, etc.), there is no way to assess a person's true intelligence from the white vs grey matter proportion. In average, we could say that people with more grey matter will be more fussy about exactitude, dislike lies, be more analytical, have better reasoning skills and possibly have a better memory, than those with proportionally more white matter. Yet, the latter will be more sociable, friendly, understanding of people's feelings, manipulative, better salespeople or actors.

It would be intresting to study the propensity of males and females to be of one type or another. Gender psychology books usually describe women as more sociable and more aware of other people's feelings. Women can also detect lies more easily. Men tend to be more rational and analytical than emotional. Interestingly, autism is a mostly male condition (90% of the autists are male). Quoting from Wikipedia on autism :

The extreme male brain theory

The extreme male brain theory of autism, proposed by Simon Baron-Cohen in accordance with his empathizing-systematizing theory[5], suggests that autistics have extreme forms of what he describes as the male brain: they are good (often very good) at systematizing, and very bad at empathizing. Poetry composed by autistics[6] would seem to challenge this idea, but the scientific validity of the idea is still under discussion.

This all leads into the same direction. Men could be genetically disposed to have proportionally more grey matter (=less white matter) than women. As the sexuality of the brain is mostly determine by the level of prenatal testosterone in the mother's blood, it could be that testosterone increases the proportion in favour of grey matter. It's worth studying.

Brain testosterone theory

Simon Baron-Cohen proposes a model for autism based in his empathising-systematising (E-S) theory[11]. His team at the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, UK, measured testosterone levels in the amniotic fluid of mothers while pregnant. This is presumed to reflect levels in the babies themselves. The team found that the babies with higher foetal testosterone levels had a smaller vocabulary and made eye contact less often when they were a year old.

His group has looked at the original 58 children again, at age four. The researchers found that the children with higher testosterone in the womb are less developed socially, and the interests of boys are more restricted than girls. The results are published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry in a 2004 issue [12].

Baron-Cohen theorizes that high foetal testosterone levels push brain development towards an improved ability to see patterns and analyse systems. Males supposedly tend to be better at these tasks than females. But the high levels are thought to inhibit the development of communication and empathy, which are allegedly typical female skills. (New Scientist, 24 May 2003)

30-09-05, 08:03
Hmm I'd like them to do a test on me!
I know that when im drunk I either tell 'too' much truth, or I make up the biggest porky pie lies!
I dont lie to my friends or my family, just to people I know im never going to meet again, and that it wont have an adverse effect on them. I dont think I could lie to hurt someone, even if it was for their benefit...
Generally though im a fairly truthful person.
Still I would like to know just how much white matter is in my brain.
Very interesting read Maciamo, thanks!

30-09-05, 14:26
Wow, that is really interesting, Maciamo! I love finding out information about stuff like that. I'm fascinated by things to do with how things which seem quite 'vague' (like thoughts, emotions and stuff which can't be pinned down and floats around in the ether) are tied up with things physical - actual nerve endings, cells and chemicals within the brain. I don't have much scientific knowledge but I still love reading about this kind of thing. I enjoyed Goleman's book on emotional intelligence, which was very readable for the 'layperson'!

I wonder how many people feel like they conform - at least to some extent - with these findings? :? I'm sure pretty well everyone was reading and thinking "which side do I sit on?"!! I was quite surprised to see myself. I think I am a very sociable person by nature, because I hate being alone, I love being in situations where there are lots of people and I also love meeting and talking with new people. I'm also confident. But, I find it next to impossible to lie. :worried: I don't mean it's any particular merit on my part - I don't have to struggle hard to tell the truth - it's just not in my nature to lie. Most of the time I don't see the point. I guess if I was pressed I'd lie to protect myself or other people, but in general everyday life and normal human interactions, I never lie or cheat. If I don't want someone to know something, I just don't tell them, even if I'm eventually reduced to saying "none of your business!"

On the other hand, I'm definitely a person ruled by their head rather than their heart - so I guess the 'grey matter' description fits me quite well in spite of me being the reverse of reclusive! :blush:

14-05-13, 19:45
Very interesting. I remember I had to "learn" to lie as a child, I was very direct, and considered very "moral", but I also came to understand that I hurt people with my directness/truth, so I learned the hard way to tell "white lies". I am still quite against telling lies that would hurt other people. I guess I have much grey matter in my brain.