I listened to a fascinating story this morning about a woman who made her way through life by lying. The people who had been victimized by her lying spoke of their difficulty trusting again…something I can relate to easily enough, as I don’t readily trust people at all. I felt incredibly sorry for this person…from a clinical perspective I’m diagnosing her while from a spiritual perspective I’m grieving for her quality of life. The story, as always, hooked me, drawing me into their world as any good story will. The story piqued my interest in the research behind it.
The host of the program interviewed a researcher who has made an interesting discovery in the brains of so-called “pathological liars.” Brain scans of the prefrontal cortex, the area that is linked to the appropriateness of social interactions, among other things, reveal interesting discoveries. For example, there are a number of interconnections in the prefrontal cortex, and there seem to be fewer of these in incarcerated individuals, suicide victims, etc. I’ve seen real-world examples of these: I once had a friend who had been involved in an accident that damaged the tissue in this area of the brain. This person could verbalize some extremely blunt things in conversation: think House in the real world.
The research referenced this morning, though, points out the presence of some white matter, also, and this white matter is (apparently) increasingly present in those who lie easily and frequently. The theory here is that perhaps the more white matter there is, the easier it is for one to dig up a lie and tell the story.
This leads me to wonder, then, where do story-tellers fall in this area? Not necessarily story-tellers like the reporter in the beginning of this morning’s piece, but fiction writers, for example. Do we have more white matter? What about actors? Have we simply located a socially acceptable medium of expression for our “story-telling” tendencies?
A second researcher featured at the end of this program focused on self-deception: the ability to readily lie to ourselves. Her conclusion was the those of us who are able to self-deceive easily tend to be happier and more successful. While certainly I recognize the ability of man to self-deceive at a frightening capacity, I wonder if the artist wouldn’t prove an exception to her theory? By her definition, the self-deceiver (or one with the ability to easily lie) sees life more positively, and that those who are more honest about life are more depressed, more pragmatic, seeing life “as is.”
So, if (and this is a big “if” backed up by only my musings and no concrete research of which I am aware), the artistic story-teller has the ability to formulate these fictions so readily, why is it that the artist is the one who paints the human condition in all of its bleakness as well as its joy? If the artist is, in some sense, the prophet of our day, then doesn’t the happiness-caused-by-self-deception theory break down?
Strange perceptual shifts tend to happen, after all, when one is exposed to the truth.