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Good liars may be wired differently

Knight Ridder Newspapers

For more than 11 years, from the moment of his arrest to the moment of his execution, Roger Keith Coleman lied.

He lied to the courts, to his attorneys, to the news media, to the aunt and uncle who stood by him, to thousands of supporters who took up his cause.

He lied as he sat strapped in Virginia's electric chair in 1992, proclaiming his innocence with such sincerity that his backers pressed on even after his death. His guilt was definitively proved only two weeks ago, through new DNA tests.

How could Coleman have lied so long and so well to so many?

The fact is, everybody lies sometimes. But some people step beyond the polite lies that color everyday discourse and into pathology.

The hard question is why that happens.

"The so-called pathological liar has learned from an early age that they get punished more often for telling the truth than they do for lying," says John Rooney, an emeritus professor of psychology at La Salle University. "They get so accustomed to devious behavior that they lie without much thought or emotion."

Recently, University of Southern California scientists offered a possible physical explanation, finding proof of brain abnormalities among people who habitually lie and cheat. Pathological liars had a surplus of white matter, the wiring that can provide tools for deceit, and a deficit of gray matter, which helps restrain the impulse to lie.

Our culture accepts a certain amount of deception � even demands it. If your wife asks you if she's getting fat, there is but one correct reply. Answering in the affirmative doesn't prove that you're honest � it proves you're a fool. But we have less tolerance for people who refuse to come clean when the evidence against them is overwhelming.

For years, Pete Rose maintained he never bet on baseball � and was banned from the game.

Rosie Ruiz has become a punch line, still insisting she won the 1980 Boston Marathon, 26 years after she jumped into the race near its end.

And Korean stem-cell pioneer Hwang Woo-suk, his career in ruins, recently apologized for claiming to have cloned a human embryo.

But as much as we castigate people for lying, some of the blame lies with ourselves. A successful lie requires at least two parties, one to tell it and one to believe it. Studies show most of us aren't very good at identifying liars. In fact, the people who think they're good at it actually score lower.

Maltin cites the research of University of California professor Paul Ekman, who conducted pioneering work in "microexpressions" � the small, involuntary facial movements that reveal true emotions. Most people never notice microexpressions in others. But to a trained observer, they represent the brain's recognition of dishonesty, even as the mouth blabbers on.

You don't detect dishonesty by looking for the lie, Maltin says, but by identifying the change in behavior that suggests a person is nervous in a situation where he or she shouldn't be. But there's a caveat.

"If somebody doesn't believe what they're saying is dishonest or deceptive, or if somebody delights in trying to deceive you, that person will not exhibit the characteristics," Maltin says. "You will never, for the most part, be able to identify a liar unless the person has a conscience."
Posts: 7860 | Location: Georgetown, Texas | Registered: January 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Picture this: Your boss is threatening to fire you because he thinks you stole company property. He doesn't believe your denials. Your lawyer suggests you deny it one more time, in a brain scanner that will show you're telling the truth.

Wacky? Science fiction? It might happen this summer.

The technology is called functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. It's a standard tool for studying the brain, but research into using it to detect lies is in the early stages. Nobody knows whether it will prove more accurate than polygraphs, which measure things such as blood pressure and breathing rate to look for signals of lying.

But advocates of fMRI say it has the potential to be more accurate, because it zeros in on the source of lying, the brain, rather than using indirect measures. So it may someday provide lawyers with something polygraphs can't: legal evidence of truth-telling that's widely admissible in court. (Courts generally regard polygraph results as unreliable.)

For more, click this link.
Posts: 7860 | Location: Georgetown, Texas | Registered: January 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Well, now that sounds like a tool worth its weight in gold. Instead of a breathalyzer, just get the BrainMRI in. Then when the drunk says he only had 2 beers, we'll know for sure he's lying.
Posts: 319 | Location: Midland, TX | Registered: January 09, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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When a driver says he only had two beers, everyone knows he's lying! Wink
Posts: 2420 | Location: TDCAA | Registered: March 08, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Especially when they're drinking Busch--there's a reason they sell it for $4.00 a case--and its not so you can drink them 2 a day for the next 12 days.
Posts: 477 | Location: Parker County, Texas | Registered: March 22, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Exerpt from full article, found here.
A woman convicted of child abuse is trying to prove her innocence using functional magnetic resonance imaging, an up-and-coming lie-detection technology.

Susan Hamilton of Edinburgh, Scotland was released from jail in 2006 after serving a three-year term for allegedly giving her daughter potentially lethal doses of salt. But Hamilton hopes technology will prove her innocence.

It remains to be seen whether a court will consider the fMRI results. But it would be the first time the technology was put to the test in a legal setting. Laboratory studies using fMRI, which measures blood-oxygen levels in the brain, have suggested that when someone lies the brain sends more blood to the ventrolateral area of the cortex. Researchers have identified lying study subjects with up to 90-percent accuracy, but some scientists doubt that those results will prove replicable outside the lab setting.
Posts: 622 | Location: San Marcos | Registered: November 13, 2003Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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