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- 19 Nov 2020
Lies, liars, and lie catchers. This hour of Radiolab asks if it's possible for anyone to lead a life without deception. We consult a cast of characters, from pathological liars to lying snakes to drunken psychiatrists, to try and understand the strange power of lying to yourself and others.
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Listener supported WNYC Studios. Wait, you're OK? You're listening to Radiolab Radio from WNYC. Some people like roses and others tulips. Oh, I've always liked snakes.
This is Radiolab. I'm Jad Abumrad. And I'm Robert Krulwich. And our show today is about deception. And we thought we're better to start than with snakes. Oh, this is where you keep all your snakes. Well, it keeps us home here. We have a variety of lizards are working with.
This is Gordon Burkart. He works at the University of Tennessee, paid a visit recently. And they have several rooms here where we keep a variety of different reptiles.
And he's got this one little snake that he likes to show off, small guimard size of a pencil called a hognose snake.
These are the hog, those snakes. You can see this guy's already starting to go into the display.
Gordon pops the top off the cage and then does something interesting.
What I'll do is think he puts a chicken puppet of a puppet of a chicken on his left hand. Right.
And then with this puppet, he begins to kind of attack the snake or mock attack emulate like nerit bird that might be attacking. What happens next is kind of shocking. And you can see now how he's hiding his head a little bit. It's coiling its tail.
First, the snake flips over on its back there. It goes upside down, then it vomits blood. Letal even come out of the mouth. Then it proves itself.
And I started defecate a little bit.
It's writhing and then it gets really creepy and it'll finally stop still.
In fact, they'll stop breathing and it's all bluff, all the show. It was like that is that it's not going to touch you here.
But as soon as we took a few steps back from the cage, the snake popped its head up, goes on, flattens it.
So you come close. And there it was alive again.
Yeah. And then it'll start to breathe and gaze around. It was laying basically. That's pretty good. Thank you very much. Although, you know, as the world turns was kind of an ordinary life, really, but it was.
When was the last time you poured yourself for a lot? Well, I could lie to you so beautifully. You would be on your back tongue out. No way. Because I would catch you that. No, you wouldn't catch. Yeah. Would you would not. I would totally get you.
I'm so sorry to tell you that I would catch, you know, if it were me. No, you wouldn't. So that's how our people who lie and the people who catch them that.
But get things started in earnest, let us go to every New Yorker's favorite spot. I love that we're at the airport. John F. Kennedy Airport, of course, a little place I like to go to get away from it all. I ended up there with our producer, Alan Horn.
We hadn't actually met to come, but the guy that we had been interviewing in order for a life to be portrayed by demeanor, this is him, there has to be a high emotional right in the middle of the interview, he had gotten a call.
Hello. Said he had to run. That's my are crap. We have more questions we're going to do. So we decided to jump in the car with. There we were, the relaxing presence of men with big guns. Well, yes, there's these guys who look like they're in combat uniform for Iraq and they have automatic weapons in case this is Paul Ekman Aquidneck. He's a security expert. That's what he would be called nowadays. And speaking of security, the reason he's here today at JFK Airport is to talk with Jet Blue security, teach him a few things about how they might do their jobs better.
OK, we have.
But then reporter in a building that's right over in a restaurant, not a job, security kicks us out.
We are leaving their terminal. The only place it seems were allowed to stand out right here on the concrete median between two lanes of traffic where Eckmann finally pulls out the thing he'd been hoping to show the folks at JetBlue.
So here we have your little you're very stylish little laptop here, just starting up. It's a simple computer program that he promises about 40 minutes will teach you to peer into a person's soul. So we're going to start, click, start. All right. Click on Startrek. OK, I'm stepping forward to the computer here, it's loading images, please wave about waiting for the pitch, OK? I need to see them again. That was so fast, so.
What his that I promise, I'll tell you, but let me just keep going this to explain, Paul Ekman studies faces the human face.
He's probably studied the face more than anyone up until my work that was published in 78. We didn't really know how many expressions of face could make, and there was nothing like a musical notation for the face.
So about 30 years ago, he began by examining his own face very closely to see how many muscles are in there. And there are roughly 50. Then he spent the next couple of decades trying to figure out how many ways those muscles can combine to form a facial expression.
I developed something called the facial action coding system, basically a muscular scoring system that you can apply to photographs, film, real life behavior. You just did a one, two, four me at your numbering, my facial expression. The one two is the most common thing in the world.
Just raising your eyebrows up as one to five is just raising the private seven is 10 zero lower than all.
In all, the human face is capable of 3000 different expressions. That's what he thinks. And as we sat in his publisher's office in midtown Manhattan, this is about an hour before the airport incident. One example.
Yeah, he demonstrated a few. OK, if you fabricate anger, it's very unlikely you'll put in what we call the anger, reliable muscle, which most people can't voluntarily move the anger, reliable as it is. Yeah, I want to see how it is. You're tensing and tensing the red margin of my lips.
You just look you look fierce when you do that instantly. So if you want to know someone's mad, look at their lips. Conversely, if you want to know they're happy, they are genuinely happy, and they're not just faking it.
He says, look at their eyelids, the skin in between your eyebrows and your upper eyelid. In a genuine, spontaneous and Joan smile, that skin moves slightly down, hard to detect, but visible. If you know what, you just did it when you said that.
Anyways, the reason that we are talking about him here in our on lying is because with all the attention that's being paid these days to finding lies by using fancy brain scanners, Akman is kind of on a crusade to remind us that you don't have to do that. You don't have to look in the brain because the brain is actually directly connected to the face in ways that we can't control.
All of these muscles are activated involuntarily when an emotion occurs without your choice.
Are there things happening on my face, on her face, on any face that you don't know? We don't even know.
And I assume my pride, the naked face, which brings me to my new favorite word. Leakage, leakage, leakage.
Yes, it is a word you will hear again and again when you talk to anyone in the field of lie kaching.
Take, for example, Barry McManus, Barry L. McManus, MacMillian, us. He's a long time CIA interrogator.
Physiological leakage could be anywhere from sweat gland activity. When someone knows that they're misleading you and they break out in a sweat. That's because of the economic nervous system that you have no control over.
Basically telling the truth is easy. That is the crux of it, according to Steve Silberman, a reporter for Wired magazine.
The truth is kind of sitting there in your brain. Your brain knows it. You say it, no problem. But your brain has to work harder to generate the lie.
There is an effort. And with that there's always leakage, even in an instantaneous moment. Sometimes you even hear it where a person's breathing pattern will change or the size that people do.
At what particular time did they do it? If you're not trained to look at it, most people ignore it.
But if you've been trained and you know what to look for, according to Barry McManus, it will strike you right in the face.
Speaking of faces, you're really talking about a particular brand of facial leakage that Paul Ekman specializes in has to do with something that he calls a micro facial expression, a very fast facial expression, about twenty fifth of a second.
OK, just to just as an example, let's just let us imagine, Robert, that you're smiling, OK? But on the inside, as those of us who know you can attest, maybe you've got some rage. A little. A little bit. Just a little bit. But on the outside, you're smiling. Now, a micro expression is when for the tiniest, tiniest moment, a little bit of that inner rage slips out onto your face.
And these are just little like just fleeting expressions. They're usually pretty extreme, but they're very fast. It happens constantly says. But it's so fast that most of us don't see it at all. Most of us don't. When I say most, I mean about 95 percent of us missed them. But once you learn that, you know, once you don't miss them, there's one. According to Ackmann, you wake up to the startling possibility that ties are everywhere.
It's enough to make a man obsessed. When my daughter was born 37 years ago, I decided that I would take on a life test to see whether I could live my life without lying. To see whether you could lead your life without lying. Yeah, that sounds possible. It's very tough, but I'm always looking to see whether there's a way I can solve the problem. Makes it more interesting. I'm just telling a lie is really dull.
But you could argue that telling a lie is it's just what we do know. We don't just do that. Most of the time we lie out of laziness or timidity. I got put in a terrible situation by a friend who had invited me to a dinner party and the company was dull and the food was worse. I sure didn't want to go again. So he invites me again about two months later and I say, I'm sorry, I can't make it.
I'm being polite, not sure I could have made it. And he said, Oh, but we enjoyed having you so much.
Tell me a date when you could make oh, how are you going to get out of that and how do you stay there. I'm prepared. So I said to him, but the truth of the matter is that at this point in my life, I'm very busy and their friends I've had for decades that I don't get enough time to see and I really can't pursue new friendships with that sort of shows.
It takes a lot of work not to lie. And your wife or whatever this one, you feel like a Zen hero.
Got to do it again. I can stay truthful.
I didn't take the easy path.
When Paul Ekman began to walk the path of the honest man, he was faced with a question that has plagued other honest men for centuries, which is what exactly is a lie like? How do you define it exactly? Like I mean, there are different kinds clearly, and some are definitely more OK than others. Where do you draw the line? Eventually he settled on two criteria.
A lie is a deliberate choice, a deliberate choice to mislead a target without any notification. So according to that definition, an actor is not a liar. Although a good actor. I saw a good actor last night in a play and I was for a time misled. I even I even had tears because he had misled me. But I was notified. Right. So no criteria. Number two was canceled tonight. So it's not like deception in a similar way.
Bluffing at poker. It's not lying because bluffing is in the rules. It's understood that's part of the game. So therefore, you are notified.
It depends. Maybe the rules with my wife, we're entering our 28th year. My wife taught me that what I'm supposed to say when she comes in with the new dress, I'm not supposed to say, gee, that's not a flattering cut or the color is wrong or that's for someone 20 years younger, all of which might be true. I supposed to say smashup. So, OK, I have agreed to those rules. And the rules I've agreed to is that I will not tell her the truth.
And since we've agreed about that, I'm not lying. So is this like the poker game where you're allowed to bluff? I'm required to.
You're giving yourself a loophole, though? Don't know, because she's notified. She knows she can't count on that.
Sounds like a very lawyerly to me. Just then, his phone rings.
Hello. Hello, hello. Oh, that's my ride. So we're right out to JFK. Yeah, absolutely.
And, you know, this goes to pile in the car, go to the airport. Get kicked out a reporter in a building, so there we were on the media center strip at JFK, coldest winter day. And Paul Ekman finally pulled the thing out of his bag, this new technology that he thinks was going to help our chances of catching liars at the airport.
Basically, it is a computer games loading images. Please wait.
You're shown a face on a screen. The face is fixed in an expression, like a smile, let's say, and then waiting for the pitch.
Okay, pal. Another different expression flashes for a moment.
Whoa. That was so fast. So fast. And then on the screen you're asked, what was that microexpression? What was it? A surprise.
You got it right. I was like, let's try it out. Are you ready?
OK, I need to see that one again.
No, no. Make angry, I think. All right. Let's go enjoy anger. That's right. You are doing. Oh. Started out pretty strong. OK, here we go. How are you going to get through a row. But then it was all downhill.
Oh, I didn't even begin to catch that contempt right in the end. After several minutes.
Yes. I ended up getting more wrong than right, which put my microexpression identifying powers at less, more chance.
I could have flipped a coin and I would have done better.
But but what if you were good at it? What if you were able to identify the particular expressions? What would you know?
Well, I wouldn't I would know. I guess all I'd really know is that they were concealing something, some emotion. That's it. That's it.
Yeah. And in fact, on the way over in the car, Eckmann said point blank, if you are looking for some sure. Fire dead giveaway sign of lying, it's just not there because we don't have we don't have a panic.
Oh, oh, look, my news. We don't have something that only occurs when people are lying. Really. So there is not a muscle. No, a 19 that if it twitches in a certain way, is a bullet proof hallmark of lying doesn't exist.
That's Pinocchio's nerves. Is there something close to it on our faces now?
There are signs of unusual cognitive load or emotional, and that can occur for a lot of reasons. And you got to find out the reason.
So you're never going to be able to have an idiot behind the machine. In other words, no. Radiolab will return in a moment. Hi, this is Vanessa and Crystal from Pittsburgh. Radiolab is supported in part by the National Science Foundation and by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at W w w Sloan Dog. Thanks.
This is Radiolab, I'm Jad Abumrad, and I'm Robert Krulwich. Today, our topic is liars and the people who try and catch them. And we've got a tale for you now from our own Alan Horn, a story that she heard from a friend of hers, Robert Krulwich. No.
So, Jude, your friend Jude. Yeah. With her describing real quick for us, Jude is a sweet guy.
We used to work together. He he's kind of a slight fellow with auburn hair, and he's just a really thoughtful, trustworthy guy. How do you know? Do you mean how do you know that he's trustworthy? Well, you just know I don't know. OK, tell me about the story that you told you.
Well, this is a story about someone that he dated and someone who changed him. It's the girl.
That's a girl. How did he meet her? He met her at a barbecue, a friend's party.
And incidentally, it was my birthday. Right? He was at this party. It was his birthday. He meets this girl, sandy blond hair, blue eyes.
And after the party a couple days later, he gets a phone call from his friend saying, Do you remember Hope? Who was at the party on Sunday? She was asking after you. Is it OK if I give you your phone number telling her to get in touch with you? Are you flattered? Of course. So she calls.
He asked her out and they went out on a date.
I remember thinking to myself, wow, this girl is she's kind of electric, vibrant.
We're saying, yes, a lot to each other. We're laughing a lot.
She just had a wonderful smile. She would look you right in the eye. I mean, she just had a way of connecting right through to back behind your own eyes and you just felt like you were doing so.
They went on again and then they went out again. And pretty soon they spent all of their time together. And then what happened?
Well, I don't remember when it turned.
At some point, she started to have a lot of problems. Small crises started to come out, a whole series of things.
They were knee problems, insurance problems. You know, I've got a situation where I need to move out of the place where I'm currently living. And it's because my roommates, you know, crazy.
He felt himself sort of pulling back. Yes. Yes.
Until one evening he gets a call from Hope and she's totally panicked.
You have to come over. We have something we really need to talk about. And at this point, I have no idea what it is now at this time. But she said, hey, I'm pregnant.
I think I'm pregnant. Wow. What did you do? Well, he basically stood up and did the right thing. There really was a part of me that was thinking, well, here's the test of a person. He was going to stand by her and support her through the pregnancy. And he said, OK, let's go to the doctor together.
I would say where when I want to be there and she would say three o'clock at the doctor's office, then I would say, OK, and I would go be there early, you know, to 45 and she would not be there in three. Fifteen would roll around in three thirty would roll around there. I am sitting sort of alone in the receptionist would sort of consider, you know, can I help you. She would say, oh well that at that point was at one o'clock or I would notice on the sign in sheet that she had actually signed in and I could see the handwriting.
It was indeed it was her lips. And she had signed it two hours earlier.
So then did you can hope about giving you the wrong appointment? Yeah.
Oh, yeah. Yeah. And as this continued, I would say repeat that for me. Three, OK, so three o'clock. I mean, these are moments in crystal clarity of life. You're not losing track of stuff.
Then he gets a call from a woman named Leslie. I met hop off Craigslist, actually put out an ad for a roommate and she moved in with no furniture. She showed up with just all of her stuff in trash bags and then she disappeared, leaving the bags behind. So it was right around that point where her check bounced. And I was like, oh, no.
And so through mutual friend, she tracked down Jude.
I it was kind of like, OK, well, she has this boyfriend. She called him, called him and sort of wondered, like, is he in on this dude?
Had no idea what she's talking about. No, he didn't even know she had a roommate named Leslie.
I mean, who the hell was who? You know, who are you? You owe me money. No, I don't. And she you know, it was all very confusing not knowing what else to do.
Leslie decides to go into Hope's room and start looking through her stuff.
And I just thought, you know, I'm just going to go through this, see what's in here.
And that's when I found those notebooks, spiral bound notebooks and inside literally pages upon pages of different names with different Sociales next to them, credit card numbers, mother's maiden name, birthdate, page after page of that kind of information. What exactly was this? These are like crib notes for Con Woman. That's when I called Jude and I said, get over here. What did you do at this point? Well, Judy, we had to do something, and I finally got up the courage to confront hope and say this is over my own responsibility here, notwithstanding to the, you know, the pregnancies.
Well. And what about it, Leslie, at this point where she.
Well, Leslie wondered how many of those people in that notebook Hope had met through Craigslist, which is where Leslie met her. So she went back to Craigslist and started posting warnings many times a day. Thanks.
Single white female meets Pacific Heights, meets the grifter's people, 20 something gap closed by three blue eyed blonde, runaway, runaway. In fact, when your hairdresser, she's posting warning after warning. If you have any information about this person or simply want some empathy, please email at it, convey her. But Yahoo! Dotcom and Craig took them all down.
As in Craig from Craigslist, Greg Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist. He thought that they were inappropriate. Yeah, they were unfair to do the right thing. But everyone has rights.
She would post notes the drama is not he would take it down. She would post. Fact of the matter is the hope is out there somewhere. He would take it down.
But within a few days, in those moments where Craig was in the bathroom, away from his desk, people respond.
I was starting to get multiple reports that she ripped people off every different kind of person from all over the place. Yoga instructors, landlords, car mechanics, bank flower shop owners, boss, veterinarian, car rental agency, check cashing point fifty dollars or about one thousand dollars, approximately ten thousand dollars. And everybody with the same story she wasn't good at M.O. seems to be to move in with tons of stuff sans furniture, pass a check out of a closed account, then full when it comes back.
Over the course of several years, there were postings on Craigslist and there were people who were trying to find and stop her. She got kind of a celebrity following. By the way. We used to get emails like every day from people who were just like, is there any news? Dude, I love seeing those posts. Can you tell us anything? I'm like, no, she's inviting.
Sorry, who was this woman?
Terri, can I get you to introduce yourself to say who you are and what you do? My name is Terri Alario. I'm a special agent with the Louisiana Department of Justice, Louisiana.
How do we get to Louisiana? Well, after a few years, hope resurfaced in New Orleans.
We had a call in complaint from a lady down in the New Orleans area. Her credit card had been used. Someone had tried to purchase Dell computers and it just started from there. Every time we talk to one victim, it led to one or two other victims, hopheads, almost like a cult following. You know, her M.O. was that she knew she got to know him really well. I talked to a lot of victims and they just don't trust people anymore.
A lot of these people did some good human open heart things with her and said, this poor girl, I've got to help her out. And they're really let down and just don't trust people anymore.
And it's sad, you know, not only do you have to worry about clearing up your credit and getting your money back from your banks, you know, you've got to deal with people on this earth now that you don't know, you know, who you're standing next to.
Just had that feeling and for good reason. And one of the houses that hope had blown through in San Francisco, you had found something that was really upsetting. I had come across a letter that she had written to my parents, but never mailed just things, very, very terrible things. But Jud says were totally untrue. In this letter to his parents, Hope wrote that at one point during pregnancy, she was having complications and the main symptom was like severe vaginal bleeding and that this that she was on somebody's living room floor, other minor hers in this terrible condition.
And that that I had that I just left totally abandoning the situation and my responsibilities. Just a graphic and ugly depiction of an awful scene. She was traumatized by the whole experience he compared to an earthquake. Have you ever been in an earthquake? No, never. Well, one of the things that happens is that there's these aftershocks after the earthquake. And so for a little while after the earthquake, you're not sure that when you put your foot down the ground is still going to be in the same place as it was a minute ago?
There were days, I can tell you, there were days when it was significant to hear anybody say anything of any consequence that was just true. You know, to say I have a carton of milk in my refrigerator that expires on September 17th and that was true, but it didn't say September 19th or September 15th, it said September 17th.
I've had people crying on the phone talking to me about this situation, and they were victims six, seven years ago. People are embarrassed, they're embarrassed, and then they become mad, you know, and that's when they become detective.
Make a lousy private detective. Where are you now? Front of Hope's mother's house in a bad neighborhood in New Orleans and around midnight. What's her name? Mother. Her mom. Oh, Marcia Valentine. And why are you there exactly? I had kind of gotten a little obsessed with her. You got obsessed? Yeah. I can't see anything else. No sense to mystery. Why? I have no idea who. I like having tightness in my chest.
I'm so nervous. There was something about imagining how she was doing all this. I'm so nervous. I was like really fun to imagine. But maybe that's what happened to Leslie too. But like, once I started looking, I was able to find a lot of victims, a lot of information, and I wanted to meet her.
Marcia Valentine, Marcia Valentine, end of the world. Yeah, I'm not from around here. You're used. Still looking like that. Will you be happy? Well, no, I'll come back later.
OK, next day. All right, well, what did you know about hope at this point? Well, I knew that she had had a daughter.
Really know anybody who to know not to? Well, the timing was all wrong, and I had located the father. Well, I'm standing outside of Hope's mother's house. There's three classic tricycles piled up against a gate. I don't see anyone inside the house.
The next morning, I went out to find a woman named Ruby Ruby Moon. I live in New Orleans, Louisiana. Ruby owns a coffee shop. I live down the street from Hope's mother. And when Hope came to New Orleans, her mother, you know, introduced us.
Ruby has a kid who's about the same age as Hope's daughter, and they go to Montessori together. And when Ruby opened her shop a year ago, Hope did carpool duty. She would pick them up. And when we got home about five thirty six o'clock, we'd all eat dinner together and she would spend the night sometimes. And quite frankly, I enjoyed having her around. A few weeks later, the cops show up to arrest Hope. She had printed a check on her home computer with a made up account number to buy a twelve thousand dollar used car.
Here you are. You really like this woman. Your kids love her and you can't believe it. You don't believe it. And I wanted to stand by her. I wanted to help her, you know, and she hadn't screwed me over. She hadn't done anything to me. So maybe she's turning around. Well, then my husband finds that she's taken a credit card off of the shelf that he put away because the credit card was maxed out and she'd been buying gasoline and paying her phone bill wasn't much.
It was like two hundred and fifty dollars. It really wasn't much. And my husband was like, home. Why why didn't you just come to us? Here you are. You're living in a house. You are nanny. You're our friend. We were giving you the money.
And here's where Ruby's situation is so different from the other victims I talked to. She loves Hope's daughter. She can't just walk away. When Hope went to jail for four months, Ruby helped care for her. It's a very, very difficult situation, especially when you're trying to do the right thing, trying to do the right thing. Ruby hired Hope's mom to work at her coffee shop, even though she's kind of been an awful waitress.
I mean, she's worked here for three months and she still forgets how to do things. I mean, I don't know. But here's the thing effective. I like the real impact. It isn't just that. It makes you question that piece of information that you were lied to about. It sort of makes you question everything. What happened next was that I watched Ruby completely unravel because of something that I said. Do you understand Hope's father? Was it?
Was it? Which the detective had told me her father was a doctor. My understanding was that he wasn't really a doctor. Van Marsh is not a lawyer to. Because she says he was a con man. She says that her father was a. It's funny how a piece of information can take on a life of its own. The ground was shifting under Ruby's feet. So Van Marsh is lying. Marcia says he wasn't a doctor. If they say it turned out that he was really a doctor, then Marsh lying.
And they had it I mean, that that may not be information that means anything at all, you know, and now you told me that he really was a doctor, should give him a call after call. Hey, baby, it's Ruby, the handle lady. Can you give me some information? She found anyone she knew with a connection to her. Can I ask you a question?
And you just say yes or no. Hi, Scott. This is Ruby. I live in New Orleans. You don't know me. I heard some disturbing news that I would like to do. A very, very important that you call me back, my number two to please call me back. OK, I'm freaking out. You're talking to her husband? Well, I'm sitting here talking to the reporter, and there's things that Martius told me aren't true, that Hope's dad wasn't really a doctor and he was.
I still really don't understand why that one detail shook Ruby so much. I guess betrayal makes you doubt yourself, but it explains something that you had told me, that he has no new friends, literally, that everyone he feels close to is someone that he met before he met Hope, as if he never trusted his judgment about people again, but that he had no choice but to rely on it from before. I mean, how could you live in the world without trusting?
What sort of world would that be? So. I am in front of the Jefferson Parish courthouse, has a trial this morning. 40 have been here since 8:00 this morning and a half an. Seeing how I have been trying to reach her for a week and a half, left her phone messages, mailed her a letter, left her a note at the door. I'm starting to feel like she's not coming. OK, inside the courtroom, I am watching the door at every person who walks and wondering, is it her that her?
And then she walks in, she walked in and she's. Had you ever seen her before? Moment pictures of her. What did she look like? What did she look like? Well, strawberry blonde hair, blue pinstriped suit and pointy toed high heels. She sort of looks like an attorney. Very well put together. And I watch her look around this courtroom at all of the intimidating and scary looking people in the court. And I see her see me and she just makes a beeline right for me and walks up to me and says, You're Ellen, aren't you?
You've been trying to reach me. And I'm so sorry I haven't been in touch. And she just sits down next to me and we end up spending the next four hours together. Would you talk about the weather? Mostly she was very charming. She told me all sorts of things about New Orleans, New Orleans history and when it comes time for her to stand before the judge and plead guilty. I find myself rooting for her to get sentenced to two years in hard labor, but she also gets a couple of days to make arrangements for her daughter.
She has to report to prison at 9:00 a.m. on a Friday morning. Do you ever get her on the record? Well, I couldn't have my equipment in the courtroom, but while we were in court, she agreed to an interview. But then a few hours before the scheduled interview, she called me and told me she couldn't make it move the next morning, then the next day and the next.
And while I know I can't trust her. I don't know what else to do. I decide to run to the drugstore and buy a tape recorder and bring it to her, so I go to her mom's house, spend a few minutes. Hey, there. Huh? At least a little bit better weather for your time, right? Yeah, totally. Was freezing yesterday. Hey there, mother. Hi, Ellen. Hi, Ellen. How are you?
Cleaning up the gift on. Hi there. Will you just call my name? What's her name? Ellen. So I'm trying to make it really easy. There's that recorder, it's got batteries. It's got a cassette in it. I tested it out. It works OK. And for the battery, you got to put batteries in your bubble thing, too. I know I'm the model.
And my other thought it was, is if you want to just record your thoughts and what I mean, you know, like I just want to write you some space to say what you want to say. So. OK, and it's all address got posted solid tries to seal it up and. Yeah, so I'm sorry I couldn't give you a better quality. That was it. That was my only on the record interview with her. However, before she went to prison, she did send me that cassette tape was a really crummy tape.
And so we had to use this voice.
How do you we when we call that noise reduction videos and noise reduction filter to clean it up so you could hear her voice and it makes her sound kind of ghostly strange.
I have a child who is. Happy and healthy and bright and beautiful, and I don't think she could be all that if I was this horrible monster that I think I am on this tape.
He talks about her daughter a lot.
My life is now part I. I wish she said something more satisfying, something that explained why it was that she chose to live this way for so long. But she doesn't. I'm sorry.
Help me on this tape to me, reported to prison, she was released due to prison overcrowding and during Hurricane Katrina, the state of Louisiana lost her. About a month after the hurricane, I wrote to the attorney general's office and asked if they had any idea where she was. I got a one word response. Radio labs, Ellen Horn. All right, so let me ask a question to get us to a next bit. Why, why, why exactly would hope lie the way she does?
I mean, there was a point in the story where Ruby, one of the characters, said, you know, I would have given her everything she wanted to give you the money, credit cards, whatever, and yet she still did it.
So why haven't you met people who lie all the time like this? Just keep doing it and doing things like they it's like they can't stop, right?
Yeah, exactly. They just can't help it. They feel this impulse that they cannot control the lie just tumbles out before they can start.
That is who. Oh, that's Yaling Yard.
She's a researcher at the University of Southern California and the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience.
And I'm a new mom, that really new mom, her babies about two months old.
And she was nice enough to let us barge in on her maternity leave to talk with her, because when she's not playing with her new baby, she is studying the mind of pathological liars, which, by the way, means when you use that phrase pathological lying, what is their definition?
Yeah, I just I just said a moment ago, it's people who can't stop lying. It's habitual. It's compulsive. Yelling's question was, is there something about their brains, their anatomy that might explain this compulsion? And she thinks she might have found a clue.
In any case, getting him myself.
First thing she had to do was find a group of people who lie a lot. Why? To study them. To study them.
Yeah. How do you find sitting pathological liars waiting to be studied?
We actually recruit our subject from the temporary employment agency, like a temp agency where, you know, you would go if you type 60 words a minute kind of place.
Yes, exactly. Exactly. This is her notion that she's find a bunch of layers of the temp agency so ridiculous. It's not ridiculous. Her idea was that liars would be overrepresented at a temp agency, as you can probably imagine.
You know, people who need to go to the temp agency are usually people who cannot remain in one job for a very long period of time.
That's not true. Of all people who work at temp agencies, most of them are just fine. But some of them, she figured, keep ending up at the temp agency because they just have this hum with their, you know, their lifestyle, the truth.
All right, let's keep going. I want to hear how this comes out. OK, so yelling in her crew went to a couple of temp agencies in the L.A. area, interviewed 108 people, ask them all kinds of questions, not just about their employment history, but about their past, their childhood history, about their families, very personal information.
She checked their answers to those questions against their family and friends, against their court records, just to see if she could find people whose stories had, you know, inconsistencies, big ones.
And in the one hundred and eight folks that she queried, she found a pathological liar. Twelve, actually, twelve, twelve out of one hundred and eight samplers.
Whoa. Are they pathological liars? I don't know. It depends on how you define it. I would hope that she found twelve people that she wanted to look at further.
She said to them, would you be willing to come out on a purely voluntary basis into the lab and let me scan your brain and just another day at the office.
So basically we put people in the MRI scanner and then we scan their brain, scanned everyone's brains, all one hundred and eight participants, the liars and the non liars.
No one knew which group they were in.
And she was looking at a particular part of their brains just behind their forehead called the prefrontal cortex.
This is the part of the brain that process information is where the real thinking happens, making decisions and more judgment, for example.
Now, if you zoom in to that place just behind your forehead, what you will see are two kinds of brain tissue.
You've got gray matter and then you've got white matter. I've heard of gray matter. Yes. Well, we think of the brain as being gray, but actually it's two things. It's great and white, the gray stuff.
I kind of think of it as like the computer processor part. Yeah.
It's these little clumps of neurons that process information like computer chip. That's the great where is the white white matter, it's like the connections between all this computer. The white matter, in other words, is what moves the thoughts around gray is where the the thinking happens and then white is when you move the thought from here to there.
Exactly. Yes. They transfer information from one end to the other.
OK, so you've got your gray. You've got your white what Yaling thought you would see when she looked into the brains of people who lie a lot.
I thought we would see a reduction. Just some piece of it not there. Yeah, they're missing some things.
If she thought she would find less gray stuff, less of the thinking stuff, why would it? Why would. Why? Because that's what she's seen in other mental disorders that are kind of like this.
And if you think about in a really simplistic level, the gray is where you think your thoughts. And it's also, among other things, where you crunch your moral calculations. And liars, she figured, have trouble in this department.
So maybe they have less gray. That was her notion. OK, but when she got the pictures back, what she saw was such a great increase in.
And not the gray, more white matter. We're white stuff a lot more, 25 percent like a quarter to 20, they have 25 percent more connections in their head. The nonlawyers. Yes. Before we get to what that means, what were you thinking when you saw this?
I was really babbling. I thought this was this was something. Something, something, something.
Here's her idea so far. Ready? Yes. She thinks that these extra connections play a crucial role in a kind of in the moment storytelling. That's essentially what lying is coming up with a story on the fly. Let me give you an example, OK? You're leaving work.
You're walking down the hall, you're on the elevator. And an annoying but nice co-worker corners you.
OK, so corners you in the elevator.
Hey, asks you out. You know, I've been meaning to ask you maybe want to go out with me on Friday to there you are.
Questions dangling in the air. You want to go on Friday for most of us. Right at that moment inside our head and our brains, we're thinking, oh shoot.
So you're busy. So you're busy. So you're busy. But with what? What are you busy with? I think it's I think you're just reaching out into the void, trying to form a connection with some idea that can help you come up with some excuse.
I could say I could say, oh, shoot, I'm not really what you need to do at this moment is if you take a bunch of disparate thoughts on different sides of your brain like me tonight, teeth dentist and connect them all together.
I'm having some late night dental work like that. OK, ok, we can all do it given enough time.
But for the pathological liar, she thinks that because they have so many more of these connections to begin with.
They get there faster. My mom is visiting that night, I'm meeting a friend for sushi, performing in a circus, ice hockey practice, yoga. I have to polish the silver. I've got chemo. The more connections, sorry, beekeeping, the faster the speed of the processing can jump from one idea to another. And you can come up with more random stories. She thinks that in the brains of most of us, we have trouble making those connections we have.
Would you have trouble if I said you like, come on, come on, go out with me on Friday night. Would you not be able to come up with a wowser? I would say, yeah, they I have to I have to count straws.
See 39 straw counting. We always we have about 316 straws so far. And I'm only I'm only doing ones with with with little red circles on them. So that's thirty nine. Sorry.
I don't know, I just happened. There you go. See you've got, you've got extra white matter perhaps.
So she's saying this is a cause of lying or an effective line like. Well she's not sure and this is a big debate.
What she can say is that children, as they grow from age two to age ten, there is a big jump in their white matter.
And that's actually the same age that they develop the skill to lie. Among other things, to close the miticides, you've given everything we've just talked about, how do you square this information with being a new mom?
I mean, is this your first kid?
Yes, it's my first one. Boy or girl? A girl. What's her name? Zoe.
Doesn't it make you wonder a little bit about Zoe and what what's going on inside her head?
Oh, yes. I wonder about that all the time. It's still too early to scan her brain, but eventually I will do it. Are you serious? Yes.
This is a moral to this. Never. If you were a little baby, have a social psychiatrist as a mother to the very, very dangerous thing. Anyway, if she does this, maybe we'll know a little bit more about the nature and nurture of liars.
But until then, this is Radiolab. And we'll be back in a moment. I'd like to scan your brain science reporting on Radiolab is supported in part by Science.
Sandbox is Science Foundation initiative dedicated to engaging everyone with the process of science.
Hello, Amjad. And I'm Robert, and this is Radiolab today on our program. The topic is liars, all kinds of liars. And now it's time for the liar. We haven't yet mentioned a liar, which might actually be one very familiar to you, Jack.
This isn't the the self deceiver.
Hey, would you ask somebody, somebody who lies not to others, but actually lies to oneself?
You get my drift. Thanks, Krulwich. Thanks a lot. Anyhow, what does that even mean to lie to oneself? How would you.
It's tricky to give you a classic example. Let's say that you are madly in love with somebody who just conjure up whoever you really, you know. I don't know who.
OK, so now you're in love with her and strange things start to happen.
You're at home, the phone rings, you pick it up. Hello. And the person on the other end of the line is breathing and then hangs up next. She's suddenly staying late at the office many nights a week and used to that.
Honey, I've got to work late tonight again. Don't wait up. Then your friends tell you that they see this woman who's this guy in the company of a man.
You have a brother, maybe repeatedly. Dude, come on.
In short, all the signs are there. And yet, despite the evidence, you just continue to believe it.
I mean, you truly, truly believe that the woman is being faithful.
Maybe in this little scenario that you've created for me, I'm just stupid or clueless.
Well, I'm not going to take that away from you. I'm not. But in this case, though, for the sake of argument, let's say you're not OK.
Let's say you believe both these things in some different compartments in your head. You believe that she is faithful.
And at the very same time, you know you know what's really going on here.
What self-deception really is, is that you have two contradictory beliefs and you hold them at the same time and you allow one of them into consciousness and that you have a motivation for allowing one of them into consciousness. That's Joanna Starick. She's a psychologist and we're going to hear more from her later.
So how does that work then, what you just said, to have two contradictory thoughts in your brain at the same time and yet your own letting in one?
Well, there's an experiment on this subject, kind of an interesting one. And so another experiment introduce you to the two guys who did it is for OK, I'm Harold Sack.
I'm a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Radiology at Columbia University.
My name is Rubin Gore and I'm neuropsychologists by training.
Harold Sackheim and Rubin were our friends. They met back in 1974. Seventy three make that. Seventy three. One was a grad student. That would be. Harold is a professor. That's Yeah. Gore.
And we started talking it make a long story short.
We did a couple of experiments and one of the we played clips of one's own voice and the voices of other people. Here's the experiment. You, the subject, are sitting in a room, OK? And we're going to give you a big red button and you can press it. Press the button yet yet. And out of the speakers in this room, you're going to hear ten different voices.
And everybody was saying the same thing. The words were to say, come here, come here, come here, come here, come here, come here, come here.
And one of the voices in this group, one of the many is huge ad you saying come here like that was you know, when you hear yourself saying, come press the button, press a button, me or not, when you when you hear your own voice here.
Come to one of these mine. Yeah. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come now. If you listen very closely it's going to come to me.
Come here. Not me, not me. Not he missed his heart. You're right. And the people in Harold study, many of them didn't do too well because they had some trouble recognizing their own voice.
All right, bring it home. Robert, what's the point of this year? I didn't tell you when they did this experiment in real life, the real subjects, in addition to having a little push a button thing that we gave you.
Yeah, they also had diodes all over their body measuring recorder dishes and perspiration, sweating, heart rate, stuff like that, blood pressure.
And what they found is that when a person failed to recognize his or her voice, nevertheless their bodies, the heart, most often the body going to their body seemed to notice their voices, even though their conscious minds missed the voice the body knew the conscious mind didn't.
Two thoughts in the same person. Come on now. I mean, I'll give it to you.
That's kind of interesting. Thank you very much. But that is not the same thing as lying.
Well, we're just starting here. We're just this is now at least grant me this. You can have two different experiences simultaneously, OK?
I grant you on our way, we're on our way out. OK, step two, Harold and Rubin decide to leave the laboratory and go to a bar. Yeah, I believe it was Smokey Joe's just to sort of talk things over and kick back a bit. And to deal with your very question, like let's really get to the core of what lying to yourself is about. Exactly. So they're in the bar and they're getting kind of drunk. We were probably pretty drunk.
And Ruben proposes we need to come up with some way to get test subjects to have one thought and instantly have a contradictory thought. Maybe we could do that with embarrassment. Maybe we could embarrass them into having two thoughts at the same time. And yes.
And at some point I said, let's ask people questions, questions so threatening, so uncomfortable that you don't want to tell the truth about what questions would those be? Well, I mean, we have to get down and dirty.
They got drunker and drunk and drunk and they came up with a whole bunch of about it writing them down.
It's not like they're in the bar on a napkin. We were curious.
So we took their questions off the napkins, so to speak, and we brought them out onto the street.
Can I ask you some questions while you're waiting? Yeah, sure. So here's what. Have you ever doubted your sexual adequacy? Oh, no.
And yeah, another. Have you ever enjoyed your bowel movements during Wimbledon? I think most normal people do. No.
Here's another. Have you ever thought of committing suicide? Never get back at some of the snow and another hot ok. Have you ever wanted to rape or be raped by somebody? Come again? No, no. Absolutely not. Oh, no. Well, yeah.
Chad, what kind of question is that? If you answered no to any of those questions, they would say that you're lying to yourself.
So they are assuming then that everybody enjoys their ball movement secretly. Everyone secretly has rape fantasy that they are assuming.
Yes, it was a supposition that these things are universal truths, but it was a supposition that seemed to work. Because that night at the bar, Harold and Rubin stumbled across something. It turns out that how you answer those questions predicts some very surprising things about the kind of person you are, about the course of your whole life. First of all, remember the previous study we talked about with the voices? It just so happens that the people who were very bad at the voice test failed the voice test.
They were the very same people who did very badly on the embarrassing questionnaire test. They didn't want to admit to stuff. Have you ever wanted to rape or be raped by somebody? No, not at all.
However, when other scientists got a hold of Harold and Rubin's questionnaire and they used it a lot in lots of situations to give it to thousands and thousands of people, they dug deeper into the question of what do these people have trouble with truthiness? What happens to them? Yeah, you know, and and it turns out that they do a whole lot better in all kinds. Better, better, better in all kinds of things. Like what? A whole lot of stuff.
Like can we now say, by the way, that these people are liars?
I'm not quite ready to say that, but it's OK to call them liars. And can you please tell me what the hell you're talking about? What what sorts of things they do better at?
Well, just to start. Let me introduce you to someone.
OK, my name is Joanna Starick and I'm a psychologist, psychologist and athlete. I was actually a swimmer. I was a competitive swimmer at Colgate University. And I think one of the questions that I was really interested in is how can you have two people who have the same physiological capacity and then one person over and over again would consistently win or outperform the other.
Joanna had heard about Harold and Rubin's questionnaire, so she and her research partner, Carolyn Kaeding, decided to give the embarrassing question questionnaire to the swim team. Yes, just to see what they'd find.
So we gave them that questionnaire at the beginning of the season and then they trained trying to qualify for the Eastern Athletic Conference Championship.
That's the big race at the end of the year. It's a very objective measure.
You either swim fast enough during the season to qualify or you don't and win at the end of the season. Joanna and her research partner Carolyn looked at which swimmers did the best, which ones qualify. We did find a bizarre relationship.
The swimmers who said the one, the liars who said no to all these questions.
Did you enjoy your bowel movements? No. Have you ever thought about killing yourself? No. Have you ever thought about raping someone so consistently?
They were the winners. Fastest and most successful swimmers were the ones who on the questionnaire, according to Harold and Rubin, lied to themselves.
Yes, I do think a little bit of deception is not necessarily a bad thing. It might even be a crucial thing. Just for example, I want you to listen to these Olympic track athletes. We got these interview clips from sound artist Ben Rubin. Listen to how these athletes describe the process of getting ready to race.
We believe we're invincible because if we go in there with any other thought, there's no chance of us accomplishing our goal.
Of course, I always win in my thought. Like I have the ability to catch this person.
It's going to have to take your head off, leave your head at home, leave your brain at home. Today, when I step on the runway, I just relax myself.
You are the best and I go and more than sports, denying certain facts about the real world around you, according to any number of new studies, produces people who turns out are better at business and better at working with teams.
And now here's the real kicker. They turn out to be happier people.
That question served a couple of purposes. One of the things that have taught us is that people who were happiest were the ones who were lying to themselves more.
The people who are the most realistic that actually see the world exactly as it is, tend to be slightly more depressed than others. Time and time again, researchers have found that depressed people lie less.
They see all the pain in the world, how horrible people are with each other, and they tell you everything about themselves, what their weaknesses are, what terrible things they've done to other people. And the problem is they're right. And so maybe it's the way we help people to help them be wrong. It might just be that hiding ideas that we know to be true, hiding those ideas from ourselves is what we need to get by. We're so vulnerable.
To being heard they were given the capacity to distort. As a gift. Well, that's it for us if you want any more information on anything you heard this hour. Check our website, Radiolab Dog. I'm Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad. This is Radiolab. Thanks for listening.
You had two new messages. Radiolab is produced by Jad Abumrad with Lulu Miller, Rob Christensen, Helen Hornes, Justin Paul and Sean Wheeler. Production support by Amber Seele, Cookeville said, is Sarah Pelligrino, Ariel Laski, Heather Radka, Michael O'Brien, McManis, and Sally Herships special thanks to me. Jude Hoffner, Jane Demetra and Scott Robinson. Radiolab is produced by WNYC New York Public Radio and distributed by NPR National Public Radio.