When the Truth Hurts: Relations Between Psychopathic Traits and the Willingness to Tell Varied Types of Lies
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Duplicity is a hallmark of psychopathy. To date, however, most studies of deception and psychopathy have examined the tendency to tell self-beneficial lies (e.g., lying to cover up one’s cheating on an exam). Such research is unable to disambiguate whether increased lying in psychopathy is due to an inherent delight in deceiving others or instead simply due to an interest in helping oneself. To disentangle these possibilities, I presented adult participants with a series of vignettes which presented the opportunity to tell different types of lies in addition to self-beneficial lies (e.g., white lies, lies that neither help nor hurt). Participants rated their likelihood of telling the truth in each scenario and completed a standardized measure of psychopathic traits. Results indicated that psychopathy was related to an elevated tendency to deceive across situations, including in situations where the lie did not affect the teller or recipient (e.g., lying about a favorite color). In spite of this general elevation in lie-telling, the largest relations between psychopathy and lie-telling were in cases where the lie benefited the teller. Thus, findings support a small tendency toward ‘duping delight’ in psychopathy which interacts with a heightened willingness to violate moral norms specifically to benefit oneself. Overall, this pattern of results has implications for understanding psychopathic traits and this general approach should be extended to real-world clinical contexts.