Aug 19, 2010

People Who Lie

What's going on in the mind of a liar? Producer Ellen Horne tells the story of a con woman and the trail of mistrust she leaves in her wake. Then we delve into the brains of pathological liars with Yaling Yang, a psychologist at the University of Southern California. She tells us that pathological liars have a surprising advantage over normal people: they are better at making connections between ideas in different parts of their brain.

THE LAB sticker

Unlock member-only exclusives and support the show

Exclusive Podcast Extras
Entire Podcast Archive
Listen Ad-Free
Behind-the-Scenes Content
Video Extras
Original Music & Playlists

Announcer: Listener-supported WNYC Studios.

Jad: This is Radiolab I'm Jad Abumrad.

Robert: I'm Robert Krulwich.

Jad: Today our topic is liars and the people who try and catch them. We've got a tail for you now from our own Ellen Horne, a story that she heard from a friend of hers.

Robert: Robert Krulwich.

Jad: No, so Jude, your friend Jude?

Ellen: Yes.

Jad: Describe him real quick for us.

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

Jad: How do you know?

Ellen: What do you mean?

Jad: How do you know that he's trustworthy?

Ellen: Well, you just know. I don't know.

Jad: Okay, tell me about the story that Jude told you.

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

Jad: It's a girl?

Ellen: It's a girl.

Jad: How did he meet her?

Ellen: He met her at a barbecue.

Jude: A friend's party and incidentally, it was my birthday.

Ellen: Right, it was at this party it was his birthday. He meets this girl.

Jude: Sandy blonde hair, blue eyes.

Ellen: After the party-

Jude: A couple of days later--

Ellen: - 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 okay if I give her your phone number and tell her how to get in touch with you?"

Ellen: Were you flattered?

Jude: Of course.

Jad: She calls.

Ellen: He asked her out and they went out on a date.

Jude: I remember thinking to myself, "Wow, this girl is, she's electric, vibrant. We were saying yes a lot to each other." We were laughing a lot. She just had a wonderful smile. She would look you right in the eye and then she just had a way of connecting right through to back behind your own eyes. You just felt like you were dealing with [crosstalk]--

Ellen: They went out again. Then they went out again, and pretty soon just spending all of their time together.

Jad: Then what happened?

Ellen: Well-

Jude: I don't remember when it turned.

Ellen: - at some point, she started to have a lot of problems.

Jude: Small crisis Started to come up.

Ellen: A whole series of things.

Jude: They were?

Ellen: Knee problems, insurance problems.

Jude: I got a situation where I need to move out of the place where I'm currently living, and it's because my roommate's crazy.

Ellen: He felt himself pulling back.

Jude: Yes, and that's [crosstalk]-

Ellen: Until one evening he got the call from Hope and she's totally panicked.

Jude: She just said, "You have to come over. We have something we really need to talk about." 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: Wow, what does Jude do?

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

Jude: There really was a part of me that was thinking, "Well, here is the test of a person."

Ellen: He was going to stand by her and support her through the pregnancy, and he said, "Okay, let's go to the doctor together."

Jude: I would say, "Where? When? I want to be there." She would say, "Three o'clock at the doctor's office." Then I would say, "Okay." I would go be there early 2:45 and she would not be there. At 3:15 I would roll around and at 3:30 I would roll around. There I am sitting alone and the receptionist would come to me, "Can I help you?"

She would say, "Oh that appointment was at one o'clock." I would notice on the sign-in sheet that she had actually signed in and I could see the handwriting, it was her, indeed it was Hope's. She had signed in two hours earlier.

Ellen: Then, did you confront Hope about giving you the wrong appointment times?

Jude: Yes, Oh, yes and as this continued I would say, "Repeat that for me three o'clock." These are the moment's crystal clarity of life. You're not losing track of stuff.

Ellen: Then he gets a call from a woman named Lesley.

Lesley: I got Hope off Craig's list. Actually, I put out an ad for a roommate. She moved in with no furniture. She showed up with just all of her stuff in trash bags, and then she disappeared.

Ellen: Leaving the bags behind.

Lesley: It was right around that point where her check bounced. I was like, "Oh, no."

Ellen: Through a mutual friend she tracked down Jude.

Lesley: I was like she has this boyfriend.

Ellen: She called him.

Lesley: Called him and wondered is he in on this?

Ellen: Jude had no idea what she's talking about.

Jude: No.

Ellen: He didn't even know she had a roommate named Lesley.

Jude: Who the hell was who? Who are you? You owe me money. No, I don't and it was all very confusing.

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

Lesley: I just thought like, "You know what I'm just going to go through this see what's in here." That's when I found those notebooks.

Ellen: Spiral-bound notebooks and inside?

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

Ellen: Credit card numbers, mother's maiden name, birth date page after page of that kind of information.

Jad: What exactly was this?

Ellen: These are like crypt notes for a con woman.

Lesley: That's when I called Jude and I said, "Get over here."

Jad: What did Jude do at this point?

Ellen: Well, Jude knew he had to do something.

Jude: I finally got up the courage

to confront Hope and say, "This is over." My own responsibility here notwithstanding to the pregnancy is-

Jad: What about Lesley at this point? Was she?

Ellen: Lesley wondered how many of those people in that notebook, hoping that through Craigslist which is where Lesley met her. She went back to Craigslist and started posting warnings many times a day.

Lesley: Thin, single white female meets specific height, meets the grifters. [unintelligible 00:05:25] twenty-something gap, clothe 5'3 blue-eyed blonde. Run away, run away. In fact, warn your hairdresser.

Ellen: She's posting warning after warning.

Lesley: If you have any information about this person or simply want some empathy, please email at

Ellen: And Craig took them all down.

Jad: As in Craig from Craigslist list, Craig?

Ellen: Yes.

Craig: Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.

Ellen: He thought that they were inappropriate, that they were unfair.

Craig: I want to do the right thing but everyone has rights.

Ellen: She would post-

Lesley: No, the drama is not over.

Ellen: He would take it down. She would post-

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

Ellen: He would take it down but within a few days in those moments where Craig was in the bathroom away from his desk people responding.

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

Ellen: 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.

Female Speaker 1: $50.

Male Speaker 1: About $500.

Female Speaker 2: $1000.

Male Speaker 2: Approximately $10,000.

Ellen: Everybody with the same story.

Male Speaker 2: She was one good actor.

Female Speaker 3: Her MO seems to be moving with tons of stuff, [unintelligible 00:06:28] furniture. Pass a cheque out of a closed account and then bolt when it comes back.

Ellen: Over the course of several years, they were posting on Craigslist and there were people who were trying to find and stop Hope. She got kind of a celebrity following.

Female Speaker 3: By the way, we used to get emails 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: Who was this woman?

Ellen: Terry can I get you to introduce yourself? Just say who you are and what you do.

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

Jad: Louisiana? How did we get to Louisiana?

Ellen: After a few years, Hope resurfaced in New Orleans.

Terry: We had a call and 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. Her MO was that she knew them. She got to know them really well. I've talked to a lot of victims and they just don't trust people anymore.

A lot of these people did some good human open-hearted things with her and said, "This poor girl, I've got to help her out." They were really let down. They just don't trust people anymore and it's sad. Not only do you have to worry about clearing up your credit and getting your money back from your banks. You've got to deal with people on this earth now that you don't know who you're standing next to.

Ellen: Jude had had that feeling and for a good reason. 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: 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 severe vaginal bleeding and 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.

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

Jad: No never.

Ellen: Well, one of the things that happen is that there's this aftershock 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: I can tell you, there were days when it was significant to hear anybody say anything of any consequence that was just true. To say, "I have a carton of milk in my refrigerator that expires on September 17th," and that was true.

Jude: [laughs] It didn't say September 19th or September 15th. It said September 17th.

Terry: I heard 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. That's when they become detective.

Ellen: You make a lousy private detective.

Jad: Where are you now?

Ellen: In front of Hope's mother's house

in a bad neighborhood in New Orleans and around midnight.

Jad: What's her name [unintelligible 00:10:03] of her mom?

Ellen: Oh, Marsha Valentine.

Jad: Why are you there exactly?

Ellen: I had gotten a little obsessed with her.

Jad: You'd gotten obsessed?

Ellen: Yes. I can't see any house number 623.

Jad: Why?

Ellen: I have no idea. [laughs] [unintelligible 00:10:19] having 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 really fun to imagine, but maybe that's what happened to Lesley too. Once I started looking, I was able to find a lot of victims, a lot of information, and I wanted to meet her.

Male Speaker 3: Who are you looking for?

Ellen: Do you know Marsha Valentine?

Male Speaker 3: Who?

Ellen: Marsha Valentine.

Male Speaker 3: I've never seen you around here.

Ellen: I'm not from around here.

Male Speaker 3: You're standing on a corner looking like that, but you be having people spooked right now.

Ellen: I'll come back later. Okay, the next day.

Jad: Wait, hold up, but what did you know about Hope at this point?

Ellen: I knew that she had had a daughter.

Jad: Really?

Ellen: Hello, is anybody home?

Jad: Jude's?

Ellen: No, not Jude's. The timing was all wrong, and I had located the father. I'm standing outside of Hope's mother's house. There's three plastic tricycles piled up against the gate. I don't see anyone inside the house. The next morning, I went out to find a woman Ruby.

Ruby: I'm Ruby Moon. I live in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Ellen: Ruby owns a coffee shop.

Ruby: I lived down the street from Hope's mother. When Hope came to New Orleans, her mother introduced us.

Ellen: Ruby has a kid who's about the same age as Hope's daughter and they go to Montessori together. When Ruby opened her shop a year ago, Hope did carpool duty.

Ruby: She would pick them up, and when we got home about 5:30, six o'clock, we'd all eat dinner together and she would spend the night sometimes. Quite frankly, I enjoyed having Hope around.

Ellen: 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: Here you are, you really like this woman, your kids love her, and you can't believe it. You don't believe it. I wanted to stand by her. I wanted to help her. She hadn't screwed me over, she hadn't done anything to me. Maybe she's turning around. 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.

She'd been buying gasoline and paying her phone bills. It wasn't much. It was like $250. It really wasn't much. 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 have fucking given you the money."

Ellen: 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 to care for her.

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

Ellen: Trying to do the right thing, Ruby hired Hope's mom to work at her coffee shop even though she's an awful waitress.

Ruby: She's worked here for three months and she still forgets how to do things. I don't know.

Ellen: Here's the thing, the effect of a lie, the real impact, it isn't just that it makes you question that piece of information that you're 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: Her father was a doctor.

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

Ellen: According to the Attorney General's office, he was.

Ruby: Then Marsha's a liar too because she says he was a con man.

Ellen: 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: Then Marsha's lying. Marsha says he wasn't a doctor. If they say it turned out that he was really a doctor, then Marsha's lying.

Ellen: That may not be information that means anything at all.

Ruby: Now you tell me that he really was a doctor.

Ellen: She began making call, after call.

Ruby: Hey, baby, it's Ruby, the [unintelligible 00:14:35] lady. Can you give me some information?

Ellen: She found anyone she knew with a connection to Hope.

Ruby: 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: It's her talking to her husband.

Ruby: I'm sitting here talking to the reporter

and those things that Marsha has told me, aren't true, that Hope's dad wasn't really a doctor and he was.

Ellen: 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.

How could you live in the world without trusting? What sort of world would that be? I am in front of the Jefferson Parish courthouse. Hope has a trial this morning. It's 8:40, I've been here since 8:00 this morning, and I haven't, as yet seen Hope. I have been trying to reach Hope for a week and a half, left her phone messages, mailed her a letter, left her a note at the door. Nothing. Strangely, I feel like she's not coming. Okay, inside the courtroom. I am watching the door at every person who walks and wondering is it her, is it her? Then she walks in.

Jad: She walked in? Had you ever seen her before his moment?

Ellen: I had seen pictures of her.

Jad: What did she look like?

Ellen: What did she look like? Well, strawberry blonde hair, blue pinstriped suit, and pointy toed high heels. She looks like an attorney, very well put together. I watch her look around this courtroom at all of the intimidating and scary-looking people in the court. I see her see me and she just makes a beeline right in front of 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." She just sits down next to me and we ended up spending the next four hours together.

Jad: What'd you talk about?

Ellen: The weather mostly. She very charming. She told me all sorts of things about New Orleans, New Orleans' history. 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 9:00 AM on Friday morning.

Jad: Did you ever get her on the record?

Ellen: Well, I couldn't have my equipment in the courtroom, but while we were in court, she agreed to an interview. Then a few hours before the scheduled interview, she called me and told me she couldn't make it, and moved it to the next one morning, then the next day, and the next. While I know I can't trust her, I don't know what else to do. I decided to run to the drug store and buy a tape recorder and bring it to her. I go to her mom's house, it's been a few minutes of talking.Hey there.

Hope: [unintelligible 00:17:36]

Ellen: Huh?

Hope: At least it's a little bit better weather for your photography.

Ellen: My dress, yes, totally. It's freezing yesterday. Hi, there.

Hope: This is my mother.

Ellen: Hi, I'm Ellen.

Hope's mother: Hi, Ellen.

Ellen: How are you?

Hope: Cleaning up the [unintelligible 00:17:48].

Kid: Hi, Ellen. Hello, Ellen.

Ellen: Hi, there.

Kid: What's your name?

Ellen: Well, you just said my name.

Hope: What's her name? Ellen?

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

Kid: [unintelligible 00:18:10].

Ellen: Yes, we've got to put batteries in your bubble thing too. I know.

Kid: And the bubble?

Ellen: My other thought is, if you want to just record your thoughts, I just want to give you some space to say what you want to say.

Hope: Okay, and it's [unintelligible 00:18:32]?

Ellen: Got posted, it's all addressed. Just seal it up.

Hope: I'm sorry, I couldn't give you better quality--

Ellen: 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. We had to use this voice-- What do we call that?

Jad: Noise reduction.

Ellen: Had to use a noise reduction filter to clean it up so you could hear her voice and it makes her sound ghostly strange.

Hope: [unintelligible 00:19:07] beautiful, and I don't think she could be all about it. I was this horrible monster.

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

Hope: My life is now [unintelligible 00:19:26].

Ellen: 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.

Hope: I'm sorry.

Ellen: Hope mailed this tape to me, reported to prison. She was released due to prison overcrowding. 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.

Jad: Radiolab's, Ellen Horne. All right, so let me ask a question to get us to the next bit. Why exactly would Hope lie the way she does? There was a point in the story where Ruby, one of the characters said, "You know I would have given her everything she wanted, I would have given her the money credit cards, whatever and yet she still did it."

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

Jad: Right, exactly.

Yaling: Yes, they just can't help it. They feel this impulse that they cannot control.

Jad: Yes, the light just tumbles out before they can stop.

Robert: And that is who?

Jad: Oh, that's Yaling Yang. She's a researcher at the University of Southern California.

Yaling: In the department of psychology and Neuroscience and I'm a new mom.

Jad: Yes, and a really new mom. Her baby's 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.

Robert: Which by they the way it means why don't we use that phrase pathological lying. Is there a definition of that?

Jad: Yes, I just said 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. In any case, I'm getting ahead of myself. First thing she had to do was find a group of people who lie a lot.

Robert: Why? Oh, to study them, you mean.

Jad: To study them, yes.

Robert: How would you find sitting pathological liars waiting to be studied?

Yaling: We actually recruit out the subject from the temporary employment agency.

Jad: Like a temp agency, where you would go if you type 60 words, a minute kind of place?

Yaling: Yes, exactly.

Robert: This is her notion that she's going to write a bunch of lies at a temp agency, that's so ridiculous.

Jad: It's not ridiculous, her idea was that the liars would be overrepresented at the temp agency.

Yaling: It's you can probably imagine people who need to go to the temp agency or usually people who cannot remain in one job for a very long period of time.

Jad: 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: Firm with their lifestyle.

Jad: - a truth problem.

Robert: All right, let's keep going. I want to hear how this comes out. Okay, good.

Jad: 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: Know their childhood history.

Jad: About their families.

Yaling: Very personal information.

Jad: She'd 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 inconsistencies, big ones.

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

Jad: 12, actually.

Robert: 12, out of 108 samplers, wow.

Jad: Are they pathological liars? I don't know, it depends on how you define it.

Robert: I would hope so.

Jad: She found 12 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.


Robert: Just another day at the temp office.

Yaling: Basically we would put people in the MRI scanner and then we scan their brain.

Jad: Just scan everyone's brains, all 108 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?

Yaling: The prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that passes the information,-

Jad: This where the real thinking happens.

Yaling: - making decisions, and moral judgment for example.

Jad: Now, if you zoom into that place just behind your forehead, what you'll see are two kinds of brain tissue. You've got gray matter, and then you've got white matter.

Robert: I've heard of gray matter.

Jad: Yes, what we think of the brain is being gray, but actually it's two things it's gray and nd white, the gray stuff. We think of it is like the computer processor part. It's these little clumps of neurons that process information like computer chips. That's the gray, while as the white--

Yaling: The white matter is like the connections between all this computer.

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

Robert: Gray is where the thinking happens and then white is when you move the thought from here to there.

Jad: Exactly.

Yaling: Yes, they transfer information from one end to the other.

Jad: Okay, so you've got your gray, you've got your white, but Yaling thought she would see when she looked into the brains of people who lie a lot--

Yaling: I thought we will see a reduction.

Jad: Just some piece of it not there.

Yaling: Yes, they're missing something.

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

Robert: Why would?

Jad: Because that's what you've seen in other mental disorders that are 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. Liars, she figured have trouble in this department, so maybe they have less gray. That was her notion. When she got the pictures back, what she saw was-

Yaling: Such a great increase. It's-

Jad: -more. Not the gray.

Yaling: - more white matter.

Jad: More white stuff, a lot more.

Yaling: 25%, it's like a quarter.

Jad: They have 25% more connections in their head than non-liars?

Yaling: Yes.

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

Yaling: I was really bubbling. [laughs] I thought this was something.

Jad: Something.

Yaling: Something.

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

Robert: Yes.

Jad: She thinks that these extra connections play a crucial role in in-the-moment storytelling. That's essentially what lying is, coming up with a story on the fly. Let me give you an example. You're leaving work, you're walking down the hall, and you go into the elevator, and an annoying but nice co-worker corners you.

Male Speaker 4: Oh, hey, Sally.

Jad: Corners you in the elevator-

Sally: Hey.

Jad: -asks you out.

Male Speaker 4: I've been meaning to ask, you maybe want to go out with me on Friday?

Jad: There you are. The question's dangling in the air.

Male Speaker 4: Do you want to go out with me on Friday?

Jad: For most of us, right at that moment inside our head and our brains, we're thinking, "Crap. Oh, shoot. Say you're busy. You're busy, but with what? What are you busy with? Say something. Think of something. 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 don't know what to say. Well, [unintelligible 00:26:39] Maybe if I said-- Shoot. What should I say? Oh, I can't think of anything."

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.

Sally: I'm having some late-night dental work.

Jad: Like that.

Male Speaker 4: Oh, okay.

Jad: 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.

Female Speaker 4: My mom is visiting that night. I'm meeting a friend for sushi. I am performing in the circus Friday [unintelligible 00:27:09] club. Ice hockey practice, yoga. I have to polish the silver. I've got chemo. Sorry, beekeeping. [crosstalk]

Yaling: The more connections, the faster the speed of the processing. You can jump from one idea to another and you can come up with more random stories.

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

Robert: Would you have trouble if I said to you like, "Come on, come and go out with me on Friday night?" Would you not be able to come up with a wowser?

Jad: I would say, "Well, yes--"

Robert: I have to count straws. See, Thursday night is straw counting. 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.


Robert: I don't know where this comes-- It just happens.

Jad: There you go. See, you've got extra white matter perhaps. [laughs]

Robert: She's saying this is a cause of lying or an effect of lying?

Jad: She's not sure, and this is a big debate. What she can say is that children, as they grow--

Yaling: From age 2 to age 10, there is a big jump in their white matter.


Yaling: That's actually the same age that they develop the skill to lie.

Robert: Among other things.

Jad: 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? [laughs] Is this is your first kid?

Yaling: Yes, it's my first one.

Jad: A boy or a girl?

Yaling: A girl.

Jad: What's her name?

Yaling: Zoey.

Jad: Doesn't it make you wonder a little about Zoey and what's going on inside her head?

Yaling: Oh, yes. I wonder about that all the time. It's still too early to scan her brain, but [laughs] eventually, I will do it.

Jad: Are you serious?

Yaling: Yes.

Robert: This is a moral to this. Never, if you're a little baby, have a social psychiatrist as a mother [unintelligible 00:28:53]. Anyway, if she does this, then maybe we'll know a little bit more about the nature-nurture of liars, but until then-

Jad: This is Radiolab.

Robert: We'll be back in a moment.


Jad: I'd like to scan your brain. [laughs]

Marissa: Hi, this is Marissa calling from Leominster, Massachusetts. Radiolab is supported by the CBS All Access series, Star Trek Discovery. Season 3 finds the crew of the USS Discovery landing in an unknown future far from the home they once knew. Far from home, their fight begins, disconnected, but together. Starring Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, and Anthony Rapp. Star Trek Discovery is now streaming on CBS All Access with new episodes of the 13-episode season available on demand every Thursday.


Copyright © 2020 New York Public Radio. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use at for further information.

New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.