Nov 19, 2020

Deception

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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[RADIOLAB INTRO]

GORDON BURGHARDT: Some people like roses and others tulips. I've always liked snakes.

(SOUNDBITE OF RATTLESNAKE RATTLING)

JAD ABUMRAD: This is RADIOLAB. I'm Jad Abumrad.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And I'm Robert Krulwich.

JAD ABUMRAD: And our show today is about deception. And we thought, where better to start than with snakes?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Snakes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GORDON BURGHARDT: Oh.

JAD ABUMRAD: This is where you keep all your snakes?

GORDON BURGHARDT: Well, we keep some of them here. We have a variety of some of the lizards we're working with.

JAD ABUMRAD: This is Gordon Burghardt. He works at the University of Tennessee. I paid him a visit recently.

GORDON BURGHARDT: And I have several rooms here where we keep a variety of different reptiles - turtles...

JAD ABUMRAD: And he's got this one little snake that he likes to show off - small guy, about the size of a pencil...

ROBERT KRULWICH: Mmm hmm.

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Called a hognose snake.

GORDON BURGHARDT: These are the hognose snakes. You can see this guy's already starting to go into the display.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JAD ABUMRAD: And Gordon pops the top off the cage and then does something interesting.

GORDON BURGHARDT: But what I'll do is take a...

JAD ABUMRAD: He puts a chicken puppet...

GORDON BURGHARDT: ...Sort of a puppet of a chicken...

JAD ABUMRAD: ...On his left hand.

GORDON BURGHARDT: Right.

JAD ABUMRAD: And then with this puppet, he begins to kind of attack the snake or mock attack...

GORDON BURGHARDT: Simulate...

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Like, peck near it.

GORDON BURGHARDT: ...A bird that might be attacking it.

JAD ABUMRAD: What happens next is kind of shocking.

GORDON BURGHARDT: And you can see now how it's hiding its head a little bit. It's coiling its tail.

JAD ABUMRAD: First, the snake flips over on its back. Oh, there he goes.

GORDON BURGHARDT: There he goes upside down.

JAD ABUMRAD: Then it vomits blood.

GORDON BURGHARDT: Blood will even come out of the mouth.

JAD ABUMRAD: Then it poos itself.

GORDON BURGHARDT: And now, if you noticed, he had started to defecate a little bit. It's writhing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JAD ABUMRAD: And then it gets really, really...

GORDON BURGHARDT: And it'll finally stop.

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Still.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINE WHIRRING)

GORDON BURGHARDT: In fact, it'll stop breathing. And it's all a bluff, all a show.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JAD ABUMRAD: Wow. I was like, wait. That is - that is no bluff. Can I touch him?

GORDON BURGHARDT: Sure.

JAD ABUMRAD: But as soon as we took a few steps back from the cage, the snake pops its head up, goes fwoop (ph), unflattens itself... Wait a sec. It's back to life now.

GORDON BURGHARDT: And if you come close...

JAD ABUMRAD: ...And there it was alive again.

GORDON BURGHARDT: Yeah. And then, it'll start to breathe and gaze around.

JAD ABUMRAD: It was lying, basically.

ROBERT KRULWICH: That's pretty good.

JAD ABUMRAD: Thank you very much.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Although, you know, as the world turns, it was kind of an ordinary lie, really.

JAD ABUMRAD: What?

ROBERT KRULWICH: It was. Sure.

JAD ABUMRAD: When was the last time you pooed yourself for a lie?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Well, I could lie to you so beautifully, you would be on your back, tongue out.

JAD ABUMRAD: No way - 'cause I would catch you.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And that - no, you wouldn't catch me.

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah, I would.

ROBERT KRULWICH: No, you would not.

JAD ABUMRAD: I would totally catch you.

ROBERT KRULWICH: I'm so sorry to tell you this; that's not happening.

JAD ABUMRAD: (Singing) I would catch you.

ROBERT KRULWICH: No. If it were me, no, you wouldn't. So that's our hour - people who lie...

JAD ABUMRAD: And the people who catch them.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Not.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JAD ABUMRAD: To get things started in earnest, let us go to every New Yorker's favorite spot.

(SOUNDBITE OF AIRPLANE ENGINE)

ELLEN HORNE: I love that we're at the airport.

(LAUGHTER)

JAD ABUMRAD: John F. Kennedy Airport, of course. Just a little place I like to go to get away from it all. I ended up there with our producer Ellen Horne. We hadn't actually meant to come, but the guy that we had been interviewing...

PAUL EKMAN: In order for a lie to be betrayed by demeanor...

JAD ABUMRAD: This is him.

PAUL EKMAN: ...There has to be a high emotional...

JAD ABUMRAD: Right in the middle of the interview, he had gotten a call.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

PAUL EKMAN: Hello. Hello.

JAD ABUMRAD: Said he had to run.

PAUL EKMAN: Oh, that's my ride.

JAD ABUMRAD: And we were like, crap, we have more questions. What are we going to do? So we decide...

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR DOOR CLOSING)

JAD ABUMRAD: ...To jump in the car with him and...

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR ENGINE WHIRRING)

JAD ABUMRAD: ...There we were...

(SOUNDBITE OF AIRPLANE)

JAD ABUMRAD: ...In the relaxing presence of men with big guns.

PAUL EKMAN: Well, yes. There's these guys who look like they're in combat uniform for Iraq, and they have automatic weapons.

JAD ABUMRAD: In any case, this is Paul Ekman.

PAUL EKMAN: Ekman - E-K-M-A-N.

JAD ABUMRAD: 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 JetBlue security...

(CROSSTALK)

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Teach them a few things about how they might do their jobs better. OK.

ELLEN HORNE: We haven't.

JAD ABUMRAD: But...

UNIDENTIFIED SECURITY OFFICER: No reporter in a building - that's it.

PAUL EKMAN: How about over in a restaurant (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED SECURITY OFFICER: Not a JetBlue property.

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Security kicks us out.

PAUL EKMAN: We are leaving their terminal.

JAD ABUMRAD: And the only place it seems we're allowed to stand... How about right here? ...Is on the concrete median between two lanes of traffic, where Ekman finally pulls out the thing he'd been hoping to show the folks at JetBlue.

PAUL EKMAN: So...

JAD ABUMRAD: So here we have your...

PAUL EKMAN: My little...

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Your very stylish little laptop...

PAUL EKMAN: Yeah.

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Just starting up. It's a simple computer program that he promises, in about 40 minutes, will teach you to peer into a person's soul.

PAUL EKMAN: So we're going to start...

JAD ABUMRAD: Click start. All right.

PAUL EKMAN: ...And click on the start button.

JAD ABUMRAD: OK. So I'm stepping forward to the computer here. It's loading images - please wait.

PAUL EKMAN: Stepping up to the bat, waiting for the pitch (laughter).

JAD ABUMRAD: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JAD ABUMRAD: Whoa. I need to see that one again. That was so fast.

PAUL EKMAN: Aha.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JAD ABUMRAD: Whoa.

ROBERT KRULWICH: What is that?

JAD ABUMRAD: I promise I'll tell you, but let me just keep going with this. All right?

ROBERT KRULWICH: OK.

JAD ABUMRAD: To explain, Paul Ekman studies faces - the human face. He's probably studied the face more than anyone.

PAUL EKMAN: Up until my work that was published in '78, we didn't really know how many expressions a face could make, and there was nothing like a musical notation for the face.

JAD ABUMRAD: 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 decades trying to figure out how many ways those muscles can combine to form a facial expression.

PAUL EKMAN: And I developed something called the facial action coding system - basically, a muscular scoring system that you can apply to photographs, film or real-life behavior. You just did a one, two for me.

JAD ABUMRAD: I - you're numbering my facial expression?

PAUL EKMAN: The one, two is the most common thing in the world. Just raising your eyebrows up is one, two. Five is just raising the upper eyelid. Seven is tensing the lower eyelid.

JAD ABUMRAD: All in all, the human face is capable of 3,000 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...

PAUL EKMAN: Do you want an example?

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah. He demonstrated a few.

PAUL EKMAN: 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.

JAD ABUMRAD: The anger reliable muscle.

PAUL EKMAN: Do you want to see where it is?

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah, I want to see where it is. You're tensing your...

PAUL EKMAN: I'm tensing the red margin of my lips.

JAD ABUMRAD: 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 - like, genuinely happy and they're not just faking it - he says, look at their eyelids.

PAUL EKMAN: The skin in between your eyebrows and your upper eyelid - in a genuine, spontaneous enjoyment smile, that skin moves slightly down. Hard to detect, but visible if you know what to look for.

JAD ABUMRAD: You just did it when you said that. Anyways, the reason that we are talking about him here in an hour on lying is because with all the attention that's being paid these days to finding lies by using fancy brain scanners, Ekman 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.

PAUL EKMAN: All of these muscles are activated involuntarily when an emotion occurs, without your choice.

JAD ABUMRAD: Are there things happening on my face, on her face, on any face...

PAUL EKMAN: That you don't even know about.

JAD ABUMRAD: ...That we don't even know - we don't know about?

PAUL EKMAN: And I am seeing them. My God, the naked face (laughter).

JAD ABUMRAD: Which brings me to my new favorite word - leakage.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Leakage?

JAD ABUMRAD: Leakage. Yes, it is a word you will hear again and again when you talk to anyone in the field of lie-catching. Take, for example, Barry McManus.

BARRY L MCMANUS: Barry L. McManus, M-C-M-A-N-U-S.

JAD ABUMRAD: He's a longtime CIA interrogator.

BARRY L MCMANUS: 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 autonomic nervous system that you have no control over.

STEVE SILBERMAN: Basically, telling the truth is easy.

JAD ABUMRAD: That is the crux of it, according to Steve Silberman, a reporter for WIRED Magazine.

STEVE SILBERMAN: 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...

BARRY L MCMANUS: There is an effort. And with that, there's always leakage.

STEVE SILBERMAN: ...Even in an instantaneous moment.

BARRY L MCMANUS: Sometimes you even hear it where a person's breathing pattern will have changed or the sighs 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...

JAD ABUMRAD: If you've been trained and you know what to look for, according to Barry McManus...

BARRY L MCMANUS: It will strike you right in the face.

JAD ABUMRAD: Speaking of faces...

PAUL EKMAN: You're usually talking about...

JAD ABUMRAD: ...The particular brand of facial leakage that Paul Ekman specializes in has to do with something that he calls...

PAUL EKMAN: A micro facial expression, a very fast facial expression - about 25th of a second.

JAD ABUMRAD: OK, just to - just as an example, let's just imagine, Robert, that you're smiling. OK?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Yeah.

JAD ABUMRAD: But on the inside, as those of us who know you can attest, maybe you've got some rage.

ROBERT KRULWICH: A little, a little bit.

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah, 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF FEEDBACK SQUAWKS)

JAD ABUMRAD: And these are just little - like, just fleeting expressions on your face.

PAUL EKMAN: They're usually pretty extreme, but they're very fast.

JAD ABUMRAD: It happens constantly, he says. But it's so fast that most of us don't see it at all.

PAUL EKMAN: Most of us don't. And when I say most, I mean about 95% of us miss them. But once you learn it, you don't miss them.

JAD ABUMRAD: And once you don't miss them - oop, there's one - according to Ekman, you wake up to the startling possibility that...

PAUL EKMAN: Lies are everywhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF VOCALIZATIONS)

JAD ABUMRAD: It's enough to make a man obsessed.

PAUL EKMAN: When my daughter was born 27 years ago, I decided that I would take on as a life task to see whether I could lead my life without lying.

JAD ABUMRAD: To see whether you could lead your life without lying?

PAUL EKMAN: Yeah.

JAD ABUMRAD: That sounds impossible.

PAUL EKMAN: It's very tough. But I'm always looking to see whether there's a way I can solve the problem. It makes it more interesting. I mean, just telling a lie is really dull.

JAD ABUMRAD: But you could argue that telling a lie is - it's just what we do.

PAUL EKMAN: No, 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 said, I'm sorry, I can't make it. I'm being polite. It's not true. I could have made it. And he said, oh, but we enjoyed having you so much. Tell me a date when you could make it.

JAD ABUMRAD: Ooh.

PAUL EKMAN: Now, how am I going to get out of that in a polite way?

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah, how do you do - how do you stay true to your principles there?

PAUL EKMAN: I'm prepared. I'm prepared. So I said to him, look; the truth of the matter is that at this point in my life, I'm very busy. And there are friends I've had for decades that I don't get enough time to see, and I really can't pursue new friendships.

(SOUNDBITE OF VOCALIZATIONS)

JAD ABUMRAD: But that sort of shows it takes a lot of work not to lie. And for why - for what purpose?

PAUL EKMAN: One, you feel like a Zen hero.

JAD ABUMRAD: (Laughter).

PAUL EKMAN: Oh, my God - did it again. I can stay truthful. I didn't take the easy path.

JAD ABUMRAD: 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.

PAUL EKMAN: A lie is a deliberate choice...

JAD ABUMRAD: A deliberate choice.

PAUL EKMAN: ...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.

JAD ABUMRAD: (Laughter).

PAUL EKMAN: I even had tears because he had misled me. But I was notified.

JAD ABUMRAD: Right. So criteria No. 2 is canceled out.

PAUL EKMAN: So that's just not a lie. It's deception.

JAD ABUMRAD: 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, quote, "notified."

PAUL EKMAN: But it depends. Maybe there 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'm supposed to say, smashing. 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.

JAD ABUMRAD: So is this like the poker game where you're allowed to bluff?

PAUL EKMAN: I'm required to.

PAUL EKMAN: You're giving yourself a loophole, though.

PAUL EKMAN: No, no, no because she's notified. She knows she can't count on me.

JAD ABUMRAD: (Laughter) That sounds, like, very lawyerly to me. Just then, his phone rings.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

PAUL EKMAN: Hello. Hello, hello. Oh, that's my ride.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: So...

PAUL EKMAN: You want to ride out to JFK with me?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah, absolutely.

JAD ABUMRAD: All right. You know how this goes. We pile in the car, go to the airport...

(SOUNDBITE OF AIRPLANE TAKING OFF)

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Get kicked out.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: No reporter in our building.

JAD ABUMRAD: So there we were on the median, the center strip at JFK, coldish winter day. And Paul Ekman finally pulled the thing out of his bag, this new technology that he thinks is going to help our chances of catching liars at the airport. Basically, it is a computer game. It's 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...

PAUL EKMAN: Waiting for the pitch.

JAD ABUMRAD: OK. Pow. 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?

PAUL EKMAN: What was it?

JAD ABUMRAD: Surprise.

PAUL EKMAN: You got it right. Look at that.

JAD ABUMRAD: I was right?

PAUL EKMAN: Hey. Let's try another. Are you ready?

JAD ABUMRAD: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMPUTER PROGRAM NOISE)

JAD ABUMRAD: I need to see that one again. No, wait. Actually, no, no no. Angry, angry - I think it's angry.

PAUL EKMAN: All right. Let's go and try anger. Woo (ph).

JAD ABUMRAD: I was right?

PAUL EKMAN: Two in a row.

JAD ABUMRAD: I started out pretty strong.

PAUL EKMAN: OK, here we go. Are you going to get three in a row?

JAD ABUMRAD: But then it was all downhill.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMPUTER PROGRAM NOISE)

JAD ABUMRAD: Oh, I didn't even begin to catch that. Contempt? Wrong. In the end, after several minutes of this, I ended up getting more wrong than right, which put my microexpression-identifying powers at less than chance. I could have flipped a coin, and I would have done better.

ROBERT KRULWICH: But what if you were good at it? What if you were able to identify the particular expressions? What would you know?

JAD ABUMRAD: Well, I would know - I guess all I'd really know is that they were concealing something, some emotion.

ROBERT KRULWICH: That's it.

JAD ABUMRAD: That's it, yeah. And in fact, on the way over in the car, Ekman said it point blank. If you are looking for some surefire dead giveaway sign of lying, it's just not there.

PAUL EKMAN: Because we don't have a Pinocchio's nose.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PINOCCHIO")

DICKIE JONES: (As Pinocchio) Oh, look; my nose.

PAUL EKMAN: We don't have something that only occurs when people are lying.

JAD ABUMRAD: Really? So there is not, say, a muscle No. A19 that, if it twitches in a certain way, is a bulletproof hallmark of lying?

PAUL EKMAN: Nope. It doesn't exist. That's Pinocchio's nose.

JAD ABUMRAD: Is there something close to it on our faces?

PAUL EKMAN: No. There are signs of unusual cognitive load or emotional load, and that can occur for a lot of reasons. And you've got to find out the reason.

JAD ABUMRAD: So you're never going to be able to have an idiot behind the machine, in other words.

PAUL EKMAN: Nope.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JAD ABUMRAD: RADIOLAB will return in a moment. This is RADIOLAB. I'm Jad Abumrad.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And I'm Robert Krulwich.

JAD ABUMRAD: 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 Ellen Horne, a story that she heard from a friend of hers.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Robert Krulwich.

JAD ABUMRAD: No. So, Jude (ph), your friend Jude...

ELLEN HORNE: Yep.

JAD ABUMRAD: Describe him real quick for us.

ELLEN HORNE: Jude is a sweet guy. We used to work together. He's kind of a slight fellow with auburn hair, and he's just a really thoughtful, trustworthy guy.

JAD ABUMRAD: How do you know?

ELLEN HORNE: What do you mean?

JAD ABUMRAD: How do you know that he's trustworthy?

ELLEN HORNE: Well, you just know. I don't know.

JAD ABUMRAD: OK. Tell me about the story that Jude told you.

ELLEN HORNE: Well, this is a story about someone that he dated and someone who changed him.

JAD ABUMRAD: Is this a girl?

ELLEN HORNE: It's a girl, and...

JAD ABUMRAD: And how did he meet her?

ELLEN HORNE: He met her at a barbecue.

JUDE: A friend's party. And incidentally, it was my birthday.

ELLEN HORNE: Right. He was at this party. It was his birthday. He meets this girl.

JUDE: Sandy blonde hair, blue eyes.

ELLEN HORNE: And after the party...

JUDE: A couple days later...

ELLEN HORNE: ...He gets a phone call from his friend, saying...

JUDE: Do you remember Hope, who was at the party on Sunday? She was asking after you. Is it OK if I give her your phone number and tell her how to get in touch with you?

ELLEN HORNE: Were you flattered?

JUDE: Of course. So she calls.

ELLEN HORNE: He asked her out, and they went out on a date.

JUDE: 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. Yeah, 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...

ELLEN HORNE: So they went out again, and then they went out again. And pretty soon, they're spending all of their time together.

JAD ABUMRAD: And then what happened?

ELLEN HORNE: Well...

JUDE: I don't remember when it turned.

ELLEN HORNE: At some point, she started to have a lot of problems.

JUDE: Small crises started to come up.

ELLEN HORNE: A whole series of things.

JUDE: They were...

ELLEN HORNE: Knee problems, insurance problems.

JUDE: 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 roommate's, you know, crazy.

ELLEN HORNE: He felt himself sort of pulling back.

JUDE: Yes. Yes.

ELLEN HORNE: Until one evening, he gets a call from Hope. And she's totally panicked.

JUDE: She said, 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.

JAD ABUMRAD: Wow. What does Jude do?

ELLEN HORNE: Well, he basically stood up and did the right thing.

JUDE: There really was a part of me that was thinking, well, here's the test of a person.

ELLEN HORNE: He was going to stand by her and support her through the pregnancy. And he said, OK, let's go to the doctor together.

JUDE: I would say, where, when? I want to be there. And she would say 3 o'clock at the doctor's office. Then I would say, OK. And I would go be there early - you know, 2:45. And she would not be there. And 3:15 would roll around, and 3:30 would roll around. There I am, sitting sort of alone, and the receptionist would sort of - you know, can I help you? She would say, oh, well, that appointment was at 1 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 Hope's. And she had signed in two hours earlier.

ELLEN HORNE: So then did you confront Hope about giving you the wrong appointment times?

JUDE: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah. And as this continued, I would say, repeat that for me. Three - OK, so 3 o'clock. I mean, these are moments in crystal clarity of life. You're not losing track of stuff.

ELLEN HORNE: Then he gets a call from a woman named Leslie (ph).

LESLIE: I met Hope off Craigslist, actually. I 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.

ELLEN HORNE: Leaving the bags behind.

LESLIE: So it was right around that point where her check bounced. And I was like, oh, no.

ELLEN HORNE: And so through a mutual friend, she tracked down Jude.

LESLIE: I was kind of like, OK, well, she has this boyfriend.

ELLEN HORNE: She called him.

LESLIE: Called him and sort of wondered, like, is he in on this?

ELLEN HORNE: Jude had no idea what she was talking about.

JUDE: No.

ELLEN HORNE: He didn't even know she had a roommate named Leslie.

JUDE: 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.

ELLEN HORNE: Not knowing what else to do, Leslie decides to go into Hope's room and start looking through her stuff.

LESLIE: 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.

ELLEN HORNE: Spiral-bound notebooks, and inside...

LESLIE: Literally pages upon pages of different names with different socials next to them.

ELLEN HORNE: Credit card numbers, mother's maiden name, birthdate - page after page of that kind of information.

JAD ABUMRAD: What exactly was this?

ELLEN HORNE: These are, like, crib notes for a con woman.

LESLIE: That's when I called Jude, and I said, get over here.

JAD ABUMRAD: What did Jude do at this point?

ELLEN HORNE: Well, Jude knew he had to do something.

JUDE: 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 pregnancy.

JAD ABUMRAD: Well, and what about Leslie at this point? Was she...

ELLEN HORNE: 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.

LESLIE: Think "Single White Female" meets "Pacific Heights" meets "The Grifters" meets... If you meet a late-20-something, Gap-clothed, 5-foot-3 blue-eyed blonde, run away. Run away. In fact, warn your hairdresser.

ELLEN HORNE: She's posting warning after warning.

LESLIE: If you have any information about this person or simply want some empathy, please email at conbyhope@yahoo.com.

ELLEN HORNE: And Craig took them all down.

JAD ABUMRAD: As in Craig from Craigslist Craig?

LESLIE: Yeah.

CRAIG NEWMARK: Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.

ELLEN HORNE: He thought that they were inappropriate...

CRAIG NEWMARK: Yeah.

ELLEN HORNE: ...That they were unfair.

CRAIG NEWMARK: I want to do the right thing. But every woman has rights.

ELLEN HORNE: She would post.

LESLIE: Note - the drama is not over.

ELLEN HORNE: He would take it down. She would post.

LESLIE: Fact of the matter is that Hope is out there somewhere.

ELLEN HORNE: He would take it down. But within a few days, in those moments where Craig was in the bathroom, away from his desk, people responded.

CRAIG NEWMARK: I was starting to get multiple reports that she ripped people off.

ELLEN HORNE: Every different kind of person from all over the place - yoga instructors, landlords, car mechanics, banks, flower shop owners, spas, a veterinarian, car rental agency, check cashing place.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: $50.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: About $500.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: $1,000.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Approximately $10,000.

ELLEN HORNE: And everybody with the same story.

CRAIG NEWMARK: She is one good actor.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEYBOARD CLICKING)

LESLIE: Her MO seems to be to move in with tons of stuff, sans furniture. Pass a check out of a closed account, then bolt when it comes back.

ELLEN HORNE: Over the course of several years, there were postings on Craigslist. And there were people who were trying to find and stop Hope. She got kind of a celebrity following.

LESLIE: 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 in hiding. Sorry.

ELLEN HORNE: Who was this woman? Terry, can I get you to introduce yourself? Just say who you are and what you do.

TERRY ALARIO: My name is Terry Alario. I'm a special agent with the Louisiana Department of Justice.

JAD ABUMRAD: Louisiana? How did we get to Louisiana?

ELLEN HORNE: Well, after a few years, Hope resurfaced in New Orleans.

TERRY ALARIO: 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 talked to one victim, it led to one or two other victims. Hope has almost like a cult following. You know, her MO was that she knew them. She got to know them 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 were really let down, and they 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ELLEN HORNE: Jude had had that feeling. And for good reason. In one of the houses that Hope had blown through in San Francisco, he had found something that was really upsetting.

JUDE: I had come across a letter that she had written to my parents but never mailed, just saying some very, very terrible things...

ELLEN HORNE: ...Which Jude says were totally untrue. In this letter to his parents, Hope wrote...

JUDE: ...That at one point during the 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, either mine or hers, in this terrible condition. And that I had just left, totally abandoning the situation and my responsibilities - just a graphic and ugly depiction of an awful scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ELLEN HORNE: Jude was traumatized. The whole experience he compared to an earthquake. Have you ever been in an earthquake?

JAD ABUMRAD: No, never.

ELLEN HORNE: 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.

JUDE: 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 17, and that was true. (Laughter) It didn't say September 19 or September 15. It said September 17.

TERRY ALARIO: 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 detectives (laughter).

ELLEN HORNE: I make a lousy private detective.

JAD ABUMRAD: Where are you now?

ELLEN HORNE: In front of Hope's mother's house in a bad neighborhood in New Orleans around midnight.

JAD ABUMRAD: What's her name, by the way, her mom?

ELLEN HORNE: Oh, Marcia Ballantyne.

JAD ABUMRAD: And why are you there, exactly?

ELLEN HORNE: I had kind of gotten a little obsessed with Hope.

JAD ABUMRAD: You'd gotten obsessed?

ELLEN HORNE: Yeah. I can't see any house numbers. 623...

JAD ABUMRAD: Why?

ELLEN HORNE: I have no idea (laughter). There's, like, this heavying tightness in my chest. I'm so nervous. There was something about imagining how she was doing all this. I'm so nervous. It was, like, really fun to imagine. But maybe that's what happened to Leslie, too, that like, once I started looking, I was able to find a lot of victims, a lot of information. And I wanted to meet her.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Who are you looking for?

ELLEN HORNE: Do you know Marcia Ballantyne?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Who?

ELLEN HORNE: Marcia Ballantyne.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: I ain't never seen you around here.

ELLEN HORNE: Yeah, I'm not from around here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: You're standing on the corner looking like that, boy, you'll be having people spooked around here.

ELLEN HORNE: I'll come back later. OK, next day.

JAD ABUMRAD: All right, wait. Hold up. What did you know about Hope at this point?

ELLEN HORNE: Well, I knew that she had had a daughter.

JAD ABUMRAD: Really?

ELLEN HORNE: Hello? Is anybody home?

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

JAD ABUMRAD: Jude's?

ELLEN HORNE: No, not Jude's. 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 plastic 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: Ruby Moon. I live in New Orleans, La.

ELLEN HORNE: Ruby owns a coffee shop.

RUBY MOON: I live down the street from Hope's mother. And when Hope came to New Orleans, her mother, you know, introduced us.

ELLEN HORNE: 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.

RUBY MOON: She would pick them up. And when we got home about 5:30, 6 o'clock, we'd all eat dinner together. And she would spend the night sometimes. And quite frankly, I enjoyed having Hope around.

ELLEN HORNE: 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 $12,000 used car.

RUBY MOON: 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 bills. Wasn't much. It was, like, $250. It really wasn't much. And my husband was like, Hope, why? Why didn't you just come to us? Here you are. You're living in our house. You're our nanny. You're our friend. We would've given you the money.

ELLEN HORNE: 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.

RUBY MOON: It's a very, very difficult situation, especially when you're trying to do the right thing.

ELLEN HORNE: 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.

RUBY MOON: I mean, she's worked here for three months. And she still forgets how to do things. I mean, I don't know.

ELLEN HORNE: But here's the thing - the effect of a lie, like, real impact - it isn't just that it makes you question that piece of information that you were lied to about. It's that it makes you question everything. What happened next was that I watched Ruby completely unravel because of something that I said... Do you understand that Hope's father was a doctor? ...Which the detective had told me.

TERRY ALARIO: Her father was a doctor.

RUBY MOON: My understanding was that he wasn't really a doctor.

ELLEN HORNE: According to the attorney general's office, he was.

RUBY MOON: Then Marcia's a liar, too, because she says he was a con man.

ELLEN HORNE: She says that Hope's father was a con man? It's funny how a piece of information can take on a life of its own. The ground was shifting under Ruby's feet.

RUBY MOON: So then Marcia's lying. Marcia says he wasn't a doctor. If they say it turned out that he was really a doctor, then Marcia's lying.

ELLEN HORNE: And, I mean, that may not be information that means anything at all, you know?

RUBY MOON: And now you're telling me that he really was a doctor.

ELLEN HORNE: She began making call after call.

RUBY MOON: Hey, baby, it's Ruby, the hymn (ph) lady. Can you give me some information?

ELLEN HORNE: She phoned anyone she knew with a connection to Hope.

RUBY MOON: 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 verify. It's very, very important that you call me back. My number is... Please call me back. Hey, I'm freaking out.

ELLEN HORNE: That's her talking to her husband.

RUBY MOON: Well, I'm sitting here talking to the reporter, and there's things that Marcia's told me aren't true, that Hope's dad wasn't really a doctor, and he was.

ELLEN HORNE: 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 Jude 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. Hope has a trial this morning. It's 8:40. I've been here since 8 this morning. And I haven't, as yet, seen Hope. 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 - nothing. I'm starting to feel like she's not coming. OK, inside the courtroom, I am watching the door at every person who walks in, wondering, is it her? Is it her? And then she walks in.

JAD ABUMRAD: She walked in.

ELLEN HORNE: And she's...

JAD ABUMRAD: Had you ever seen her before this moment?

ELLEN HORNE: I had seen pictures of her.

JAD ABUMRAD: What did she look like?

ELLEN HORNE: What did she look like? Well, strawberry-blonde hair, blue pinstriped suit, pointy-toed high heels. She sort of looks like an attorney. Very well put together. And I watched 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.

JAD ABUMRAD: What did you talk about?

ELLEN HORNE: 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. She gets 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 a.m. on Friday morning.

JAD ABUMRAD: Do you ever get her on the record?

ELLEN HORNE: 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, moved it to 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 at the gate, talking. Hey there. Huh?

HOPE: At least just a little bit better weather for your entire thing.

ELLEN HORNE: For my dress. Yeah, totally. I was freezing yesterday. Hey there.

HOPE: This is my mother.

ELLEN HORNE: Hi. I'm Ellen.

MARSHA VALENTINE: Hi, Ellen. How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Hi, Ellen.

HOPE: Cleaning up - we get dog poop...

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Hi, Ellen.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Hello, Ellen.

ELLEN HORNE: Hi there.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: What's your name?

HOPE: Well, you just called her by her name.

ELLEN HORNE: You just said my name.

MARSHA VALENTINE: What's her name? Ellen?

ELLEN HORNE: So I'm trying to make it really easy. There's a cassette recorder. It's got batteries. It's got a cassette in it. I tested it out. It works.

HOPE: OK.

ELLEN HORNE: And...

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: For the battery? For the bubble?

HOPE: Yeah, you - we got to put batteries in your bubble thing, too. I know.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: In the bubbles?

ELLEN HORNE: And my other thought is, if you want to just record your thoughts and what - I mean, you know, like, I just want to...

HOPE: Right.

ELLEN HORNE: ...Give you some space to say what you want to say. So...

HOPE: OK. And it's all addressed and...

ELLEN HORNE: Got it posted. It's all addressed.

HOPE: Thank you.

ELLEN HORNE: Just seal it up and...

HOPE: OK.

ELLEN HORNE: Yeah.

HOPE: I'm sorry...

ELLEN HORNE: It's OK.

HOPE: ...I couldn't give you better, more quality time than...

ELLEN HORNE: 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. It was a really crummy tape, and so we had to use this voice - what do you - what do we call that?

JAD ABUMRAD: Noise reduction, yeah.

ELLEN HORNE: We had to use a noise reduction filter to clean it up so you could hear her voice. And it makes her sound kind of ghostly and strange.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HOPE: I have a child who is happy and healthy and bright and beautiful. And I don't think she could be - handle that if I was this horrible monster that people think that I am.

ELLEN HORNE: On this tape, Hope talks about her daughter a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HOPE: My life is now her.

ELLEN HORNE: 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HOPE: I'm sorry.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ELLEN HORNE: Hope mailed 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 - no.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JAD ABUMRAD: RADIOLAB's Ellen Horne. All right, so let me ask a question to get us to our next bit. 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, would have given her the money, the credit cards, whatever, and yet she still did it. So why...

ROBERT KRULWICH: Haven't you met people who lie all the time? Like, they just keep doing it and doing it and doing it. It's like they can't stop.

JAD ABUMRAD: Right.

YALING YANG: Yeah.

JAD ABUMRAD: Exactly.

YALING YANG: They just can't help it. They feel this impulse that they cannot control.

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah, the lie just tumbles out before they can stop it.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And that is who?

JAD ABUMRAD: Oh, that's Yaling Yang (ph). She's a researcher at the University of Southern California.

YALING YANG: In the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. And I'm a new mom (laughter).

JAD ABUMRAD: A really new mom.

YALING YANG: (Laughter).

JAD ABUMRAD: Her baby's about 2 months old. And she was nice enough to let us barge in on her maternity leave to talk with her.

YALING YANG: ...To talk a little bit.

JAD ABUMRAD: Because when she's not playing with her new baby...

YALING YANG: Say something.

JAD ABUMRAD: ...She is studying the mind of pathological liars.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT KRULWICH: Which, by the way, means - when you use that phrase pathological lying, what is - is there a definition of that?

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah, I just it a moment ago. It's people who can't stop lying. It's habitual. It's compulsive. Yaling's question was, is there something about their brains, their anatomy, that might explain this compulsion? And she thinks she may have found a clue.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JAD ABUMRAD: In any case - getting ahead of myself - first thing she had to do is find a group of people who lie a lot.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Why? Oh, to study them, you mean?

JAD ABUMRAD: To study them, yeah.

ROBERT KRULWICH: (Laughter) How - where do you find sitting pathological liars waiting to be studied?

YALING YANG: We actually recruit our subject from the temporary employment agency.

JAD ABUMRAD: Like a temp agency - where, you know, you would go if you typed 60 words a minute kind of place?

YALING YANG: Yes, exactly. Exactly.

ROBERT KRULWICH: This is her notion, that she's finding a bunch of liars at a temp agency?

JAD ABUMRAD: Well, her...

ROBERT KRULWICH: That's so ridiculous.

JAD ABUMRAD: It's not ridiculous. Her idea was that liars would be overrepresented at a temp agency.

YALING YANG: 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.

JAD ABUMRAD: 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...

YALING YANG: Problem with their - you know, their lifestyle.

JAD ABUMRAD: A truth problem.

ROBERT KRULWICH: All right, let's keep going. I want to hear how this comes out. Go ahead.

JAD ABUMRAD: OK, so Yaling and her crew went to a couple of temp agencies in the LA area, interviewed 108 people, asked them all kinds of questions - not just about their employment history, but about their past.

YALING YANG: You know, their childhood history.

JAD ABUMRAD: About their families.

YALING YANG: Very personal information.

JAD ABUMRAD: 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.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And in the 108 folks that she queried, she found a pathological liar?

JAD ABUMRAD: Twelve, actually.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Twelve?

JAD ABUMRAD: Twelve.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Out of 108 samplers? Whoa.

JAD ABUMRAD: Are they pathological liars? I don't know. It depends on how you define it.

ROBERT KRULWICH: I would hope so.

JAD ABUMRAD: But she found 12 people that she wanted to look at further. She said to them, would you be willing to come, you know, on a purely voluntary basis, into the lab and let me scan your brain?

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERT KRULWICH: Just another day at the temp office.

YALING YANG: So, basically, we put people in the MRI scanner, and then we scanned their brain.

JAD ABUMRAD: She scanned everyone's brains, all 108 participants - the liars and the nonliars. No one knew which group they were in. And she was looking at a particular part of their brains just behind their forehead called...

YALING YANG: The prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that process the information.

JAD ABUMRAD: This is where the real thinking happens.

YALING YANG: Making decisions and moral judgment, for example.

JAD ABUMRAD: Now, if you zoom into 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.

ROBERT KRULWICH: I've heard of gray matter.

JAD ABUMRAD: Yes, well, we think of the brain as being gray, but actually, it's two things. It's gray and white. The gray stuff - you can kind of think of it as, like, the computer processor part.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Yeah.

JAD ABUMRAD: It's these little clumps of neurons that process information...

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD CHIRPING)

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Like computer chips. That's the gray, whereas the white...

YALING YANG: The white matter is, like, the connections between all these computers.

JAD ABUMRAD: The white matter, in other words, is what moves the thoughts around.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Gray is where the thinking happens, and then white is when you move the thought from here...

(SOUNDBITE OF WHOOSHING)

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...To there.

JAD ABUMRAD: Exactly.

YALING YANG: Yes. They transfer information from one end to the other.

JAD ABUMRAD: OK, so you've got your gray. You've got your white. What Yaling thought she would see when she looked into the brains of people who lie a lot...

YALING YANG: I thought we would see a reduction.

JAD ABUMRAD: Just some piece of it not there.

YALING YANG: Yeah, they're missing something.

JAD ABUMRAD: Specifically, she thought she would find less gray stuff, less of the thinking stuff.

JAD ABUMRAD: Why would - why?

JAD ABUMRAD: Because that's what she's seen in other mental disorders that are kind of like this. And if you think about it 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.

ROBERT KRULWICH: OK.

JAD ABUMRAD: But when she got the pictures back, what she saw was...

YALING YANG: Such a great increase. It's...

JAD ABUMRAD: More. And not the gray.

YALING YANG: More white matter.

JAD ABUMRAD: More white stuff - a lot more.

YALING YANG: Twenty-five percent - it's, like, a quarter.

JAD ABUMRAD: So they have 25% more connections in their head than non-liars.

YALING YANG: Yes.

JAD ABUMRAD: Before we get to what that means, what were you thinking when you saw this?

YALING YANG: I was really bubbling (laughter). I thought this was something.

JAD ABUMRAD: Something.

YALING YANG: Something.

JAD ABUMRAD: Something. Here's her idea so far. Ready?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Yes.

JAD ABUMRAD: 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 go into the elevator. And an annoying but nice co-worker corners you...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Oh, hey, Sally.

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Corners you in the elevator...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Sally) Hey.

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Asks you out.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) You know, I've been meaning to ask, do you maybe want to go out with me on Friday?

JAD ABUMRAD: So there you are, questions dangling in the air.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, distorted) Do you want to go out with me on Friday?

JAD ABUMRAD: For most of us, right at that moment inside our head, in our brains, we're thinking...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Sally) Crap. Oh, shoot.

JAD ABUMRAD: Say you're busy. Say you're busy. Say you're busy.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Sally) Say you're busy, but with what? What? What are you doing?

JAD ABUMRAD: What are you busy with? Say something. Think of something. Think. Think.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Sally) What should I say?

JAD ABUMRAD: You're just, like, reaching out into the void, trying to form a connection with some idea that can help you come up with some excuse.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Sally) I could say...

JAD ABUMRAD: I could say, well...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Sally) Shoot. What should I say?

JAD ABUMRAD: What? What? What?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Sally) I can't think of anything.

JAD ABUMRAD: Really, what you need to do at this moment is you have to take a bunch of disparate thoughts on different sides of your brain - like me, tonight, teeth, dentist - and connect them all together.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Sally) I'm having some late-night dental work.

JAD ABUMRAD: Like that.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Oh, OK.

JAD ABUMRAD: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Sally) My mom is visiting that night. I'm meeting a friend for sushi. I am performing in the circus. Friday night book club. Ice hockey practice. Yoga. I have to polish the silver. I've got chemo.

YALING YANG: Like, the more connections...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Sally) Sorry - beekeeping.

YALING YANG: ...The faster the speed of the processing can jump from one idea to another. And you can come up with more random stories.

JAD ABUMRAD: She thinks that in the brains of most of us, we have trouble making those connections. We have...

ROBERT KRULWICH: Would you have trouble? If I said to you, like, come on; come on; go out with me on Friday night, would you not be able to come up with a wowzer (ph)?

JAD ABUMRAD: I would say, well, yeah, I...

ROBERT KRULWICH: I have to count straws. See; Thursday night is straw-counting. We always - we have about 316 straws so far. And I'm only doing ones with little red circles on them. So that's Thursday night. Sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERT KRULWICH: I don't know where this comes from. It just happens. I just - yeah.

JAD ABUMRAD: There you go. See; you've got extra white matter, perhaps.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So she's saying this is a cause of lying or an effect of lying? Like...

JAD ABUMRAD: Well, she's not sure, and this is a big debate. What she can say is that children, as they grow...

YALING YANG: Yeah. From age two to age 10, there is a big jump in their white matter. And that's actually the same age that they develop the skill to lie.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Among other things, but, you know...

JAD ABUMRAD: To close, let me just ask you; 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?

YALING YANG: Yes, it's my first one.

JAD ABUMRAD: Boy or girl?

YALING YANG: A girl.

JAD ABUMRAD: What's her name?

YALING YANG: Zoe (ph).

JAD ABUMRAD: Doesn't it make you wonder a little bit about Zoe and what's going on inside her head?

YALING YANG: Oh, yes. I wonder about that all the time. It's still too early to scan her brain, but (laughter) eventually I will do it.

JAD ABUMRAD: Are you serious?

YALING YANG: Yes (laughter).

ROBERT KRULWICH: This is a moral to this. Never, if you're a little baby, have a social psychiatrist as a mother. It's a 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...

JAD ABUMRAD: This is RADIOLAB.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And we'll be back in a moment.

JAD ABUMRAD: I'd like to scan your brain.

ROBERT KRULWICH: (Laughter).

JAD ABUMRAD: Hello. I'm Jad.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And I'm Robert.

JAD ABUMRAD: And this is RADIOLAB. Today on our program, the topic is liars.

ROBERT KRULWICH: 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, Jad.

JAD ABUMRAD: What's that?

ROBERT KRULWICH: This is the self-deceiver.

JAD ABUMRAD: Hey (laughter). What do you mean?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Somebody who lies not to others but actually lies to oneself, if you get my drift.

JAD ABUMRAD: Thanks, Krulwich. Thanks a lot. Anyhow, what does that even mean, to lie to oneself? How would you...

ROBERT KRULWICH: It's tricky. Let me give you a classic example. Let's say that you are madly in love with somebody.

JAD ABUMRAD: Who?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Just conjure up whoever you really, you know - I don't know who.

JAD ABUMRAD: OK.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So now you're in love with her, and strange things start to happen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT KRULWICH: You're at home. The phone rings.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

ROBERT KRULWICH: You pick it up.

JAD ABUMRAD: Hello?

ROBERT KRULWICH: And the person on the other end of the line is breathing and then...

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE HANGING UP)

ROBERT KRULWICH: Hangs up.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Next, she's suddenly staying late at the office many nights a week. Didn't used to.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Jad, honey, I've got to work late tonight again. Don't wait up.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Then your friends tell you that they see this woman...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) So who's this guy?

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...In the company of a man...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Does she have a brother, maybe?

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...Repeatedly.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) Dude, come on.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT KRULWICH: In short, all the signs are there. And yet, despite the evidence, you, Jad, continue to believe - I mean, you truly, truly believe that the woman is being faithful.

JAD ABUMRAD: Well, maybe in this little scenario that you've created for me, I'm just stupid or clueless.

ROBERT KRULWICH: (Laughter) 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 clueless.

JAD ABUMRAD: OK.

ROBERT KRULWICH: 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 what's really going on here.

JOANNA STAREK: 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.

ROBERT KRULWICH: That's Joanna Starek. She's a psychologist, and we're going to hear more from her later.

JAD ABUMRAD: All right, so how does that work then?

ROBERT KRULWICH: What?

JAD ABUMRAD: What you just said, like, to have two contradictory thoughts in your brain at the same time, and yet you're only letting in one?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Well, there's an experiment on this subject, kind of an interesting one. And so...

JAD ABUMRAD: Another experiment?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Let me introduce you to the two guys who did it, OK?

HAROLD SACKEIM: I'm Harold Sackeim. I'm a professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Radiology at Columbia University.

RUBEN GUR: OK. My name is Ruben Gur. I'm a neuropsychologist by training.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Harold Sackeim and Rubin Gur are friends. They met back in 1974.

RUBEN GUR: '73.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Make that '73. One was a grad student. That would be Harold. One was a professor.

RUBEN GUR: Yeah.

ROBERT KRULWICH: That's Gur.

RUBEN GUR: And we started talking, and...

HAROLD SACKEIM: To make a long story short, we did a couple of experiments.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HAROLD SACKEIM: In one of them, we played clips of one's own voice and the voices of other people.

ROBERT KRULWICH: 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.

JAD ABUMRAD: OK, press the button.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

ROBERT KRULWICH: Not yet.

JAD ABUMRAD: Oh, sorry.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And out of the speakers in this room, you're going to hear ten different voices.

HAROLD SACKEIM: And everybody was saying the same thing. The words were the same.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And one of the voices in this group, one of the many, is you, Jad, you saying...

JAD ABUMRAD: Come here.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Right there, that was you. Now, when you hear yourself saying come, press the button...

HAROLD SACKEIM: Press the button - me or not me.

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...When you hear your own voice.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Come here. Come here. Come here.

JAD ABUMRAD: So one of these is mine?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: Come here.

JAD ABUMRAD: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here.

JAD ABUMRAD: Nope. No.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: Come here.

JAD ABUMRAD: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Come here. Come here.

JAD ABUMRAD: Not me. Not me.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #10: Come here.

JAD ABUMRAD: Not me.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #11: Come here.

JAD ABUMRAD: Not me.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Come here. Come here. Come here.

JAD ABUMRAD: Me...

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

JAD ABUMRAD: ...I think.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Come here. Come here. Come here. Come here.

JAD ABUMRAD: Not me.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #12: Come here.

JAD ABUMRAD: Not me.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #13: Come here.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Now, if you listen very closely...

JAD ABUMRAD: I don't know.

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...It's going to come in three...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #14: Come here.

JAD ABUMRAD: Me.

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...Two...

JAD ABUMRAD: Come here.

ROBERT KRULWICH: That's it.

JAD ABUMRAD: Not me. Not me. Not me.

ROBERT KRULWICH: He missed it.

JAD ABUMRAD: This is hard.

ROBERT KRULWICH: You're right. And the people in Harold's study - many of them didn't do too well, either.

JAD ABUMRAD: So they had some trouble recognizing their own voice.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Mmm hmm.

JAD ABUMRAD: All right. Bring it home, Robert. What's the point of this?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Here's what I didn't tell you - when they did this experiment in real life, the real subjects, in addition to having the little pusher button thing that we gave you...

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah.

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...They also had diodes all over their body measuring...

HAROLD SACKEIM: We recorded their physiology.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Perspiration...

RUBEN GUR: ...Skin sweating, heart rate...

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...Heartbeat, stuff like that.

RUBEN GUR: ...Blood pressure.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And what they found is that when a person failed to recognize his or her voice, nevertheless, their bodies - the sweat, the heartbeat...

HAROLD SACKEIM: Most often, the body is going (vocalizing).

ROBERT KRULWICH: Their bodies 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.

JAD ABUMRAD: Oh, come on now. No. I mean, I'll give it to you. That's kind of interesting.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Thank you very much.

JAD ABUMRAD: But that is not the same thing as lying.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Well, we're just starting here. We're just - this is - now at least grant me this. You can have two different experiences simultaneously.

JAD ABUMRAD: Yes. OK. I grant that you've just...

ROBERT KRULWICH: OK. So we're on our way. We're on our way. Now...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT KRULWICH: OK, Step 2 - Harold and Ruben decide to leave the laboratory and go to a bar...

RUBEN GUR: Yeah, I believe it was Smokey Joe's (ph).

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...Just to sort of talk things over...

RUBEN GUR: Kick back a bit.

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...And to deal with your very question. Like, so let's really get to the core of what lying to yourself is about.

RUBEN GUR: Exactly.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So they're in the bar, and they're getting kind of drunk.

HAROLD SACKEIM: We were probably pretty drunk.

ROBERT KRULWICH: 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.

RUBEN GUR: And - yes, and at some point, I said, let's ask people questions.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Questions so...

HAROLD SACKEIM: ...So threatening...

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...So uncomfortable that you don't want to tell the truth about them.

JAD ABUMRAD: Like what? What questions would those be?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Well...

HAROLD SACKEIM: I mean, we had to get down and dirty.

ROBERT KRULWICH: They got drunker and drunker and drunker, and they came up with a whole bunch of them.

RUBEN GUR: Started writing them down...

HAROLD SACKEIM: It was fun.

RUBEN GUR: ...Right there in the bar on a napkin.

ROBERT KRULWICH: We were curious. So we took their questions off the napkin, so to speak, and we brought them out onto the street.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #15: Can I ask you some questions while you're waiting?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #16: Yeah, sure.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So here's one.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #17: Have you ever doubted your sexual adequacy? No.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #16: Yeah.

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...Another.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #18: Have you ever enjoyed your bowel movements?

JAD ABUMRAD: (Laughter) Enjoyed my bowel movements?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #19: I think most normal people do.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #20: No.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Here's another.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #21: Have you ever thought of committing suicide in order to get back at somebody?

JAD ABUMRAD: Yikes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #21: No.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And another.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #22: (Laughter) OK.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #23 AND UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #24: Have you ever wanted to rape or be raped by somebody?

JAD ABUMRAD: Come again?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #25: No, no.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #26: Absolutely not.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #27: Oh, no.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #28: Well, yeah.

JAD ABUMRAD: Have I what?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Jad (laughter).

JAD ABUMRAD: What kind of question is that?

ROBERT KRULWICH: If you answered no to any of those questions, they would say that you're lying to yourself.

JAD ABUMRAD: So they are assuming, then, that everybody enjoys their bowel movement secretly, everyone secretly has rape fantasies.

ROBERT KRULWICH: That's what they are assuming.

HAROLD SACKEIM: Yes, it was a supposition that these things are universal truths. But it was a supposition that seemed to work.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT KRULWICH: Because that night at the bar, Harold and Ruben 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 that previous study we talked about with the voices?

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah.

ROBERT KRULWICH: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #29: Have you ever wanted to rape or be raped by somebody? No, not at all.

ROBERT KRULWICH: However, when other scientists got ahold of Harold and Ruben's questionnaire - and they used it a lot in lots of situations...

HAROLD SACKEIM: It's been given to thousands and thousands of people.

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...They dug deeper into the question of, what do these people have trouble with truthiness? What happens to them...

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah. And?

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...In life, you know? And it turns out that they do a whole lot better in all kinds...

JUDE HOFFNER: Better?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Yes - better, better, better - in all kinds of things.

JAD ABUMRAD: Like what?

ROBERT KRULWICH: A whole lot of stuff.

JAD ABUMRAD: Like?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Can we now say, by the way, that these people are liars?

JAD ABUMRAD: I'm not quite ready to say that. But let's...

ROBERT KRULWICH: All right.

JAD ABUMRAD: OK. Fine. Let's just call them liars. And can you please tell me what the hell you're talking about? What sorts of things did they do better at?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Well, just to start, let me introduce you to someone.

JOANNA STAREK: OK. My name is Joanna Starek, and I'm a psychologist.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Psychologist and athlete.

JOANNA STAREK: 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?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Joanna had heard about Harold and Ruben's questionnaire, so she and her research partner, Caroline Keating, decided to give the embarrassing question questionnaire to the swim team...

JOANNA STAREK: Yes.

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...Just to see what they'd find.

JOANNA STAREK: 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.

ROBERT KRULWICH: That's the big race at the end of the year.

JOANNA STAREK: It's a very objective measure. You either swim fast enough during the season to qualify, or you don't.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And when, at the end of the season, Joanna and her research partner Caroline looked at which swimmers did the best - which ones qualified...

JOANNA STAREK: We did find a bizarre relationship.

ROBERT KRULWICH: The swimmers who said - the one - the liars who said no to all these questions...

JOANNA STAREK: Do you enjoy your bowel movements?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #30: No.

JOANNA STAREK: Have you ever thought about killing yourself?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #30: No.

JOANNA STAREK: Have you ever thought about raping someone?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #31: No.

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...Consistently...

JOANNA STAREK: They were the winners.

ROBERT KRULWICH: The fastest and most successful swimmers were the ones who, on the questionnaire, according to Harold and Ruben, lied to themselves.

JOANNA STAREK: Yes. I do think a little bit of deception is not necessarily a bad thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT KRULWICH: 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 the sound artist Ben Rubin. And listen to how these athletes describe the process of getting ready to race.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED OLYMPIC ATHLETE #1: We believe we're invincible because if we go in there with any other thought, there's no chance of us accomplishing our goal.

UNIDENTIFIED OLYMPIC ATHLETE #2: Well, of course, I always win in my thoughts (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED OLYMPIC ATHLETE #3: It's like I have the ability to catch this person. It's going to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED OLYMPIC ATHLETE #4: Take your head off. Leave your head at home. Leave your brain at home today.

UNIDENTIFIED OLYMPIC ATHLETE #5: When I step on the runway, I just relax myself - (inhales, exhales) you are the best. And I go.

ROBERT KRULWICH: 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.

HAROLD SACKEIM: We - the questionnaire served a couple of purposes. One of the things that it taught us is that people who were happiest were the ones who were lying to themselves more.

JOANNA STAREK: The people who are the most realistic, that actually see the world exactly as it is, tend to be slightly more depressed than others.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Time and time again, researchers have found that depressed people lie less.

HAROLD SACKEIM: 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 is to help them be wrong.

ROBERT KRULWICH: 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.

HAROLD SACKEIM: We're so vulnerable to being hurt that we're given the capacity to distort as a gift.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JAD ABUMRAD: Well, that's it for us. If you want any more information on anything you heard this hour, check our website, radiolab.org.

ROBERT KRULWICH: I'm Robert Krulwich.

JAD ABUMRAD: I'm Jad Abumrad.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And this is RADIOLAB.

JAD ABUMRAD: Thanks for listening.

AUTOMATED VOICE: You have two new messages.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

JUDE HOFFNER: RADIOLAB is produced by Jad Abumrad with Lulu Miller, Rob Christiansen, Ellen Horne, Justin Paul and Soren Wheeler. Production support by Amber Seely (ph), Lasca Kebbell (ph), Jed Teres (ph) Sara Pellegrini, Arielle Lasky (ph), Heather Radke, Michael O'Ryan McManus (ph) and Sally Herships. Special thanks to me, Jude Hoffner, Jane Dumestre (ph)...

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

SCOTT ROBINSON: ...And Scott Robinson. RADIOLAB is produced by WNYC, New York Public Radio, and distributed by NPR, National Public Radio. Bye.

 

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