Does someone you know seem to lie to you and everyone around them frequently? They could be a pathological liar. In many cases, these individuals are hard to detect. They’re cunning and manipulative and generally have an easy time lying to people with straight faces.

Did you know that as many as 7 to 10 million people in America might be pathological liars? That’s around 3% to 5% of the population. So, the chances are good that you’ll encounter someone with this disorder at some point in your life. It could be at work, in friendly gatherings, or it might even be a family member.

Pathological liars are exceptionally good at lying to others and do it all the time. What makes a person a pathological liar? What behavior can you analyze to assess if they’re a pathological liar? Are these people so good at lying that they could possibly pass a lie detector test?


What Is a Pathological Liar?

A pathological liar is a person that has a lying disorder where they tell lies to other people frequently. Most experts agree that pathological liars have an underlying “pathology” causing their behavior, hence the name of their condition.

Some of the disorders contributing to the development of pathological lying behavior include Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Narcissistic Personality Disorder (PD), and Bipolar Disorder.

These individuals often develop the behavior as kids. They may experience trauma that causes them to start lying, or they might experience societal issues causing them to begin lying as a protective or coping mechanism. They continue the lying behavior into their teens and early adulthood and get better at lying as the years pass.

Some individuals develop pathological lying behavior later in life due to the onset of mental illness, issues with substance abuse, and other extenuating circumstances in their life that cause them to start lying.

People with Antisocial Personality Disorders (ASPD) often develop other pathologies involving sociopathy and psychopathy. While some people grow out of this behavior as they age, many carry it throughout their life.


How Are Pathological Liars Different from Other Liars?

Pathological liars and compulsive liars tell lies frequently. However, they’re very different conditions. In most cases, compulsive liars enjoy lying and lie more often than tell the truth. They’re prone to telling fantastical stories, such as knowing a celebrity and having lunch with them.

Pathological liars tend to be more cunning and manipulative with their lies. They’re different from compulsive liars in the sense that they’ll deny lying to you if you confront them. If pressed on the issue, a compulsive liar will usually admit they’re lying. However, pathological liars will get defensive when confronted and often make up more lies to cover themselves in these situations.

Compulsive liars have some sense of right and wrong and know that lying is not socially acceptable behavior. However, they like lying and prefer telling lies over the truth. A pathological liar may or may not think that their behavior is wrong. Typically, they have a skewed moral compass where they justify their behavior when lying to others.

While compulsive liars usually feel shame and guilt about telling big lies to people, pathological liars don’t experience this same sense of internal distress surrounding their lies. Some of them might feel a bit guilty afterward, but when they’re in the moment, telling a lie, they rarely feel bad about lying to others.

Pathological liars usually don’t exhibit the same body language, and verbal cues compulsive liars do when lying to others. They can look you straight in the eye and tell a lie to your face. Some might even get a kick out of doing so.


Are There Different Scales of Pathological Liars?

Since pathological and compulsive lying both have connections to people suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), there’s a good chance that their underlying problem might result in them developing into a sociopath or psychopath.

Not everyone with ASPD will turn into a psychopath, sociopath, or pathological liar. However, there’s a bigger propensity for it to occur. Things can get really interesting when all three worlds collide, and you have a sociopathic or psychopathic pathological liar.

Both sociopaths and psychopaths have limited to no empathy for others. This means they’re manipulative and cunning. If their lies hurt other people, they are not concerned about it. They may also try to push people into risky behavior, such as convincing someone with a drinking habit to drink more and then watching them get into a car to drive home.

The primary difference between sociopaths and psychopaths is that psychopaths don’t have a conscience. A sociopath may have a limited conscience, but they don’t let it deter their decision-making, but they may feel some sense of guilt if their lies cause harm to others.

The psychopath is a lot more challenging to spot than the sociopath. Around 3% to 5% of Americans are either psychopaths or sociopaths, and the bulk of psychopaths have interesting careers. Experts agree that the bulk of psychopaths holds positions of power in government and business.

Psychopathy makes the person cold, calculating, and unconcerned about their decisions’ effect on people in their organization or the community. Both sociopaths and psychopaths will tell lies to gain personal advantage, usually at the cost of others. They don’t care about placing other people at risk, they care about their lies getting them the result they want.

It’s important to note that not all psychopaths are the cold-blooded killers we see in movies. While people like Jeffrey Dahmer are psychopaths and pathological liars, not all psychopaths share his passion for bloodlust and killing.

The psychopath usually enjoys having power over other people. They get a rise out of being in control of others and manipulating them into doing what they want. That might be a corporate CEO who enjoys his job’s wealth and power. He loves his titles and the respect he gets from others, and he doesn’t care about breaking laws and social standards to maintain his position.

Suppose his company is poisoning a local town’s water supply or dumping toxic chemicals in a rail disaster. In that case, he may not care about the effects of his decisions leading to that disaster or its outcome. All that concerns him is that the shareholders keep him in charge.


Can a Pathological Liar Pass a Polygraph Exam?

There’s plenty of speculation that pathological liars may be able to pass a polygraph exam. Most pathological liars have different wiring in their brains from normal people. They don’t have the same connection between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, creating feelings of guilt and shame around their lies.

However, this is not a black-and-white area; we need to consider it more as a sliding scale or spectrum. Some pathological liars might feel guilty after telling a lie but have no problem with telling a lie at the moment. Others might experience slight sensations of guilt or shame, and others won’t feel these emotions at all; it varies from person to person.

Many pathological liars, especially those with sociopathic or psychopathic tendencies, will believe their lies. So, it makes them hard to spot in a lie detector test. While the lie detector machine is a very capable instrument, it’s not infallible.

According to data from the American Polygraph Association (APA), the polygraph is only 87% accurate. However, software designers state their products are up to 97% effective. Coincidentally, that 3% failure rate equates to around how many sociopaths and psychopaths are estimated in the US population.


How Does the Polygraph Exam Catch a Liar?

The polygraph exam will catch a liar by looking for signs of the activation of the “Fight-or-Flight” response (FoF) in the examinee. The FoF is an autonomous process launched by the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) when were under stress.

In normal people, the SNS activates the FoF when we experience a threat in a stressful environment, such as the polygraph exam room. You’ve probably experienced this yourself. If you hear a strange noise in your house late at night, you might assume it’s a burglar raiding your property.

The fear of them harming you causes your heart to start beating faster. Your blood pressure rises and your start breathing faster, with short, shallow breaths. Your eyes widen to take in more light and help you see your surroundings, and you start listening for the slightest sound.

Your skin turns to gooseflesh and you feel the hair on your skin start to stand on end, you might even begin to sweat slightly. This reaction is the FoF launching, preparing you to flee the scene or to stand and fight the intruder.

Your cat enters the room, and suddenly you realize there’s nothing to be afraid of. Your physiological state returns to normal almost immediately as you feel a sense of relief wash over you. The polygraph exam relies on the FoF response for detecting signs of deception.

When you’re in the exam room strapped into the polygraph machine, the SNS is ready and primed to launch the FoF, and all it takes is the examiner asking you a question, and you have to lie to protect yourself, and you trigger the response.

Since the FoF is an “autonomous” bodily function, you can’t control it. The examiner picks up these changes in your physiology using the instrumentation attached to your body and the software on-screen. The FoF is part of our primal evolution as part of our physiological response to environmental stimulus. Therefore, you can’t turn it on and off like you can’t turn your liver or kidney function on and off.


How Does a Pathological Liar Pass a Polygraph Exam?

Pathological liars usually respond differently to the lie detector machine when asked a question and have to lie. Since they often believe their lies and have a disconnection in their neural chemistry preventing sensations of guilt from forming when lying, the SNS doesn’t launch when they lie.

As a result, there’s no FoF response for the polygraph machine to detect during the test, and the pathological liar passes the test. However, this isn’t always the case. As mentioned, there’s a spectrum of pathological lying. Typically, it would take a sociopath or a psychopath to pass the lie detector without triggering their FoF.

The polygraph exam might still catch a pathological liar if they are further down the spectrum and don’t have psychopathic or sociopathic tendencies. Sociopathic and psychopathic pathological liars often create exactly the opposite of what the examiner wants to see when they lie.

Instead of getting uncomfortable and stressed and launching the FoF, they get calmer and more collected, exhibiting behavior that indicates “NDI” (No Deception Detected). Psychopaths are more talented at this than sociopaths. Psychopaths enjoy engaging in risky behavior and have better control over their emotions than sociopaths.


Can an Examiner Detect a Pathological Liar?

In many cases, when pathological liars lie on the polygraph exam, it comes down to the examiner’s talent, experience, and skill to detect them acting deceptively. The psychopathic or sociopathic pathological liar might lack an FoF response, but they might still exhibit body language cues giving them away.

If the examiner suspects the slightest hint of deception, they usually review the video camera footage they take during the session when they return to their office. Examiners are highly proficient at reading a person’s gestures and facial micro-expressions.

They might catch the psychopath making small gestures like dropping their shoulder or turning up the corner of their mouth when they tell a lie. While it’s challenging to catch these individuals lying, it’s not impossible.


Can You Catch a Pathological Liar with a Lie Detector Test – The Verdict

Whether or not you can catch a pathological liar with a lie detector test depends on the extent of their lying ability and the severity of their condition. There’s a good chance the exam may flag deception in individuals that don’t have sociopathic or psychopathic tendencies in their character. However, those that do might be more challenging to spot during a polygraph exam.