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The Lying Game: How Often and to Whom Do Individuals With Psychopathic Tendencies Lie?



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Psychopathic individuals have widely and persistently been epicted as prolific and masterful liars within the clinical lore and the popular media. However, the paucity of research in this area has generally contradicted the claim that such individuals possess a superior ability, compared to nonpsychopathic individuals, in deceiving others. The present research examined the sound but largely untested hypothesis that psychopathic individuals’ apparent success at lying may simply be a function of their prolific pursuance of such behaviour. That is, the mere possibility that psychopathic individuals may pursue lying behaviour more frequently than nonpsychopathic individuals could explain why they appear to be more successful at lying over time, even if their rate of successful lying is unremarkable (Billings, 2004). Lying frequency was measured using a non-zero-sum game originally developed by Berg, Dickhaut, and McCabe (1995), which was modified in the present research to allow participants a number of opportunities to lie or to tell the truth, prospectively with their decisions affecting their chances of winning a prize. In addition to lying frequency, lying severity was also examined. Further, both of these variables were examined across males and females and across different types of social interactions (i.e., playing the game after having met/seen [Exposure Condition] compared to not having met/seen [Non-Exposure Condition] the other person). Psychopathy was measured using the Psychopathic Personality Inventory – Revised (PPI-R; Lilienfeld & Widows, 2005) and the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy scale (LSRP; Levenson, Kiehl, & Fitzpatrick, 1995). Machiavellianism, a construct that is similar, or overlapping with Psychopathy, as some have argued (McHoskey, Worzel, & Szyarto, 1998), was measured using the Mach-IV scale (Christie & Geis, 1970; McHoskey et al., 1998). Overall, the results suggested that lying frequency and lying severity were related to psychopathy when participants were able to see and interact with their opponents prior to playing the game but not when they were not provided with the opportunity to do so. No significant differences in lying frequency and lying severity were found between males and females across the two types of social interactions. The results on a postexperiment self-report measure also suggested that psychopathy was related to certain characteristics of self-perceived lying behaviour, though the latter was not related to lying behaviour in the modified non-zero-sum game. These findings have important implications for professionals within clinical and forensic settings, as they suggest that psychopathic individuals may not lie as indiscriminately as generally perceived.



Lying behaviour in individuals with psychopathic tendencies, Machiavellians, Non-Zero-Sum Games



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)






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