A new study has found that 13% of people think of themselves as pathological liars, or say that others consider them to be pathological liars.
To be clear, these aren’t people who tell the occasional fib. Like, for example, therapists who claim that they don’t Google their patients. No, the 13% of people that this study is referring to told an average of 10 lies per day.
The study, published in the journal Psychiatric Research and Clinical Practice, included 623 people. The researchers recruited them in 2019 from various mental health forums, social media, and a university.
The participants spanned a range of ages, ethnicities, education levels, and income levels. The researchers asked them whether they thought of themselves as pathological liars, or if others thought of them that way. The respondents also took a lie frequency assessment and other questionnaires.
What causes pathological lying?
The study found the pathological liars were more likely to experience distress and impaired functioning, especially in social relationships. This diminished functioning also applied to legal contexts, work, and finances. Their distress often had to do with worries about whether their lies would be discovered.
The pathological liars in the group also reported telling lies for no specific reason, and said many of their lies grew out of an initial lie.
The majority of participants in the pathological liars group indicated that their problematic lying began during adolescence. People in this group were also more likely to say their lying was out of their control, indicating a kind of compulsiveness. Likewise, people in this group said they felt less anxious after lying.
Pathological liar definition
To define pathological lying, one can best start in 1891. The phenomenon of the “pathological liar” was first recorded in that year by psychiatrist Anton Delbrück. He initially called it pseudologia phantastica, and used the term to describe people who told so many outrageous lies that their behavior could be considered pathological.
Since then, research into pathological lying has been surprisingly scant. One analysis of prior case studies found pathological lying equally represented among men and women, with the IQs of the liars in the average to above average range.
Today, we think of a pathological liar as someone who lies compulsively, knowingly, and without regard for the consequences. This doesn’t mean that they can’t distinguish between what’s actually true and what’s an outright lie. And although the rest of the world believes them to be untrustworthy and untruthful, the pathological liar continues to lie.
Pathological lying is any tendency to go beyond normal exaggeration to deceive and manipulate. The definition often implies a chronic condition, with pathological meaning “pertaining to a disease.”
Formal recognition: pathological lying and DSM 5
Pathological lying has not (yet) been classified as a diagnostic entity in either the DSM-5 or the ICD-10, but the researchers behind the present study are hoping to change that. As they write, “we suggest that PL should be defined as a persistent, pervasive, and often compulsive pattern of excessive lying behavior that leads to clinically significant impairment of functioning in social, occupational, or other areas.”
Pathological lying also causes distress, they say, and poses a risk to the self or others; an example of this risk is if a pathological liar conceals the presence of suicidal thoughts.
Formal recognition of pathological lying as a disorder would bring many benefits, as researchers would then be better able to examine its features and causes. And effective treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and possibly pharmaceutical drugs, could then be more thoroughly investigated.
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Study: Pathological Lying: Theoretical and Empirical Support for a Diagnostic Entity
Authors: Drew A. Curtis and Christian L. Hart
Published: 22 Jun 2020, https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.prcp.20190046
Image: via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
How to deal with pathological liars: five signs to look out for
If you want to deal with a pathological liar, here are five signs you should look out for:
1. They lie all the time.
An honest person can lie occasionally, but not a pathological liar. If you find that the person you are talking to consistently lies, that is a big red flag.
Also, be cautious if you find that the person always forgets what they have said previously, or if they lie without feeling guilty.
2. The person is usually very concerned with how others perceive them.
A liar does not want to feel humiliated. They will often lie in order to avoid negative judgements.
3. They seem able to convince themselves that their lies are true.
The person may truly believe that their lies are true, and often does not realise that they are lying.
4. The person’s stories and recollections are incomplete or vague.
Lies can easily be shaped in order to support the person’s perception of the world.
5. They change their story depending on who they are talking to.
A pathological liar will have no problem lying to a close friend, but not so great with someone they do not know well.