Sex, Lies, and Psychopaths

Think you can spot a lie? New research suggests that you might be better at it if you’re a psychopath—a male one, anyway.

A new study published in Personality and Individual Differences has some intriguing results about psychopaths ability to detect lies. Researchers didn’t tell their subjects about the psychopathy component of the study, but did put them through a sixty-four question test designed to detect primary and secondary psychopathic tendencies (compared to primary psychopaths, secondary psychopaths are more anxious, fearful, and likely to react impulsively). They then showed the subjects twenty-six real life emotional appeals, broadcast on the news in UK, US, and Australia, showing a person pleading for information about a missing loved one. In half the cases, however, the person was later found guilty of murder. Subjects were then asked to identify separate truthful appeals from dishonest ones; they were also asked if they were familiar with the case.

In general, women were better able to distinguish between liars and non-liars than men, and in general, participants were slightly more accurate than chance. However, men who were identified as primary psychopaths were better able to detect lies, and women who were identified as primary psychopaths were worse at separating liars from non-liars. Hooray for men?

Then again, if the men identified as psychopaths really were psychopaths, wouldn’t they lie about being familiar with the cases so that they could get a better score?

Photo courtesy of Gabriel Rodriguez

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