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People Who Lie

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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.

Guests:

Yaling Yang

Comments [55]

Gina Teslington from New Jersey

There are two types of liars, those that are compulsive and those that are sociopaths. I married a sociopath. I knew he lied, he acted as if he could not help it, he even said things such as “what if I can’t quit lying” Then it escalated after his daughter got married, then his one sister died. he lies about everything big and small and pulls me in and I have been noticing he does get satisfaction when he can win me over. He told his daughter I am crazy and on drugs. That is easily seen. The think that made me understand that he is a sociopath was when he went back on me being his friend. I realized that because he had me convinced I talked about his daughter to a niece of his. when I brought it up she told me not to worry about it, she is sick of the gossip! So yes, it took years, I knew he lied but I didn’t know he was a sociopath until he was willing to take the one thing way I thought we had, friendship and we would enjoy vacations and going out together because friends do that. See in this clique who he claimed he did not like and would never hang around with, they are not taking their wives. It is bad, not sure what is next. I wrote him an email and was pretty civil and I was angry and crying, he is not home from work. I texted him. what is the point of being afraid. I read where the one who doesn’t care is the one who wins, well I want him to stop being a lying sociopath and I will not be called names. I was married before and he was abusive in all ways. Looks like I did it again except he is a liar, he did push me once but I flew hard into cabinets and if I would have been hurt Brett Gyllenskog would have lost his job. I do not think he was concerned about my health or if I was hurt, but he has not of yet pushed or hurt me physically again. He does not want me to have an affair, he obsesses about his first wife having an affair when he was sleeping but yet they went on to have a daughter then HE had an affair after playing some strip game, not strip poker. I doubt his wife even had an affair and when I finally said so, his eyes showed, this one time, yes he lied. there is more but I am feeling angry and he will be home soon so I am going to stop. Praying for this evil to stop.

Feb. 27 2014 04:04 PM
SJ from World at Large

Internet Investigator

Hope currently lives in Pennsylvania, is married with a new last name, and for at least the past year and a half has held an office job that involves taking credit card orders. And contrary to the ending of the radio story, Hope did not disappear from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. She disappeared several months BEFORE Katrina; a bench warrant was issued for her arrest in April 2005.
I really find this hard to believe. I know people like Hope. They do the con because that's what they know how to do. Money means nothing to them. And I do mean NOTHING. They do it for the thrill and nothing else. The thing they buy with the money most of the time they give away after a time because it means nothing to them. They believe that they will just go make more money tomorrow. Its like if you had a machine that would print money that was real. You would buy all kinds of stuff but after a time you would get rid of the stuff because it was meaning less to you. These people I know. Their kids want for nothing and their wives want for nothing. But they could careless. You become kinda numb to the way other people feel. You guys need to get WAY deeper into this subject.

Jun. 18 2013 05:13 PM
TR Jahns from Los Angeles

This is an interesting topic, and parts of the program are very much to the point and arresting. However, some loose ends and faulty definitions were especially frustrating. First, Paul Ekman's definition of a lie as misleading without notification. The qualifier of "notification" undermines the definition completely. A lie is, more simply, a false statement, something the speaker knows is inaccurate. (Even self-deception requires a willful avoidance of the reality of the deceit, to moderate the play of what we call conscience.) Whether the person on the other end is aware of the deception or not is irrelevant to the fact of the lie. If Ekman tells his wife the dress looks great on here, he's lying whether the two of them agree to this charade or not. People don't lie just out of laziness or timidity, though fear is part of it. We lie at times because we want to avoid conflict, or want to make ourselves appear to be better than we are, because we feel inadequate as we are.

The story of the con woman is the most compelling segment on this topic but doubly frustrating because no one seems to actually confront her with the damage she's done. Even the woman who trails her ultimately lacks the courage to pose the hard questions to Hope, and becomes an enabler like so many of her victims. She gets away with criminal behavior because all these people find her charming? Come on. She's leaving a lot of emotional and financial damage in her wake. I don't find that charming in the least.

As for the notion of lying as a trait that allows athletes and other high-performers to be successful, that's an inappropriate way of talking about their way of "psyching themselves up" for high achievement. We need better definitions for that type of pep talk to oneself. I would not call it lying. Likewise, acting is skillful pretending and not lying; the audience agrees to "suspend disbelief," by the classical analysis of this relationship. We grant authenticity to behavior we want to accept as real, and must remember it's called a "play".

Feb. 10 2013 01:24 AM
Jane from California

I cannot agree with the assumption that the embarrassing questions have a single correct answer based on universal truth. The individuals who came up with the questions can only speak for themselves. It is incorrect to assume that everyone who does not agree with them is a liar.

Feb. 08 2013 01:07 PM
Internet Investigator

Hope currently lives in Pennsylvania, is married with a new last name, and for at least the past year and a half has held an office job that involves taking credit card orders. And contrary to the ending of the radio story, Hope did not disappear from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. She disappeared several months BEFORE Katrina; a bench warrant was issued for her arrest in April 2005.

Mar. 15 2012 03:05 AM
Kali from Encinitas, CA

Good point, Lelia, about Radiolab's split-second, flash editing technique (or whatever its called). I found this segment more benign in this regard compared to much of Radiolab's fare. I rather enjoyed the content of the piece for a change.

Its unfortunate they feel the need for this sort of production; it often degrades a lot of otherwise interesting material. "Sesame Street on speed" -- indeed!

Feb. 12 2012 10:47 AM
Jorge

this reminds me of a quote i heard somewhere: "everything I told you was the truth... specially the lies"

Feb. 12 2012 03:42 AM
Leila from Montreal, Canada

Fascinating piece - brought here by Bob Leftsetz. But I'd like to comment on the editing: why all the snippet editing - the narrator, subject, story, etc. It's all over the place and hard to listen to. Isn't there an easier way to just tell the story? It's like you don't trust any piece that's longer than two sentences. As a lifetime CBC listener, this sounds like Sesame Street on speed. Just tell the story straight up for crying out loud.

Sep. 16 2011 03:17 PM
Rachel from Albuquerque

Hope and I were good friends all through high school. I have great memories of her sharp wit and hysterical sense of humor-much of which was of the self deprecating variety. The last time I saw her was about 11 years ago--a chance meeting in a vintage clothing store in San Francisco. We had coffee and caught up. Her stories were colorful and wild-she was as infectiously funny as ever. I learned weeks later that as we chatted over coffee, she slipped my wallet out of my purse, took it into the bathroom, and wrote down my credit card numbers in one of her notebooks. I would guess hundreds of others here in Alb. have the same fond memories of her that I do. I can't shed any light on the why's, but I can say that she was a sweet, funny, and frankly, ordinary girl indistinguishable from any other middle class kid I knew. I hope she and her daughter used Hope's freedom to find a way to create a new, more honest story to live.

Jul. 27 2011 06:26 PM
brad from utica, ny

i thought it was such an interesting story. the story of hope was certianly facinating. the self deception piece raised an interesting question to me. the conductors of the experiment with the self deception questionaire put another question in my mind though. they stated as a conclusion of their experiment that people who self decieve are typically are happier people. how did they determine this. did they ask them. and whose to say that that they didn't lie; if it was determined by a questionaire. to me happiness is an incredibly abstract emotion. and to lie to ones self is not benifiting. aside from my opinions i wish to know how others view this portion of the deception piece.

Mar. 03 2011 05:26 PM
boo from San Francisco

Why would someone who is working for a temp agency be a pathological liar? I think history shows us that pathological liars affect all social-economical classes.

Perhaps the financial collapse didn't scorch Yaling Yang's ivory tower, but it affected many people.

Jan. 31 2011 08:48 PM
TVJ

I've love to hear any followup information on Hope Balentyne- I dug on the internet for a while and could not find anything.

Jan. 29 2011 03:07 AM
Kay from Oklahoma

I suggest you add this guy to the list of serial liars. His paper thin story sounds way too familiar.

http://www.alvaradostar.net/Index.asp?Story=1457
http://www.durantdemocrat.com/view/full_story/8955271/article-Who-is-David-Alexander--and-what-is-his-real-story-?instance=secondary_news_left_column

Aug. 02 2010 02:29 PM
lulu103 from san francisco

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/07/29/BAR51ELOR0.DTL

Jul. 30 2010 08:38 PM
kristen from berkeley

So, did Hope leave her child with her mother? That was 5 years ago! So, her daughter's what 8 now? Oh, radiolab - could you please do an update story.

Jul. 13 2010 03:44 PM
russell pirlo

What is the song at the end of this story?

Jun. 11 2010 02:13 PM
David from Southcoast Massachusetts

So the story ends after Katrina hits N.O.? Has she ever turned up? Did she have a change of heart or is she still scamming? Material for a book here.

Dec. 24 2009 04:30 PM
Cidalia from New Jersey

Listening to the story about Hope reminded me of all the 20/20 stories I enjoyed watching on TV. It is scary because you never know the identity of a person could be. It is easy for people to lie and it kinda makes you think if life can just be one big lie ?

Oct. 25 2009 07:58 PM
Cidalia from New Jersey

It made me laugh because it made me think of my experience with catching a person in a lie. I am going to use these tactics on these liars!!!!!

Oct. 25 2009 07:20 PM
Amanda

GREAT radio piece. Caught a bunch of it tonight, loved the way you weaved layers of audio. Excellent stuff. Written well.

Oct. 18 2009 10:06 PM
leslie nuccio from it's a secret. not really.

reposting the photo of hope:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/42375589@N04/3907582813/

Sep. 10 2009 08:09 PM
Regina from New Orleans

The above link to a photo of Hope does not seem to be working. Would it be possible for you to repost it?

Thank you.

Sep. 10 2009 03:29 PM
leslie nuccio from it's a secret. not really.

i'm one of the many people who lived with hope, and i've been e-mailed multiple times for a photo of her.

thing is, i lost all the photos. or so i thought.

i just ran across her mugshot, so as a public service i've posted it to flickr and tagged/titled it appropriately.

here it is:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3420/3839779703_98eee8406e.jpg

be careful out there.

Aug. 20 2009 02:08 PM
selena from paris

this show is amazing.

I am wondering whether improv actors also have more white matter in their brains?

Apr. 26 2009 05:43 AM
Michael Pruitt from Consistently Inconsistant

I've been trying to answer either 1) Are you lying to us to prove a point? OR 2) Are you lying to us to point out how easy it is to lie?

It's late, I'm tired, I give up. I think your answer is "yes."

[Please pardon this rather flawed attempt at a transcript.]
37:22 JAD "All right, so let me ask a question, to get us to our next-next bit. Why, why exactly would Hope lie the way she does?
38:25 ROBERT "Haven't you met people like that who lies all the time? Like they keep doing and doing and doing it, like they can't stop?"
38:30 JAD "Yeah, I just, I, I just asked that a moment ago..."

Only, not really. Is this pointing out what one of your points is? Please, let us off the hook? Or am I just whistling in the dark?

Apr. 05 2009 06:07 AM
claudia from Berkeley

I listened to this podcast to Tahoe last weekend. We sat in the parking lot to finish it! Well, the Hope section. The rest was pretty disappointing.

But, someone liked that Craig from craiglist was part of it and I thought it worth mentioning here that he did eventually allow the posts on Hope to stay on craigslist. The SFExaminer article talks about it. Said that he made them show bounced checks etc to prove their case, but then allowed the postings to out her!

I want to know more!!!! But not PERSONALLY!!!

Mar. 14 2009 04:31 AM
Jon from Texas

There's a lovely piano piece that's played in the background as Jude describes the beginnings of his relationship with Hope in this segment. Does anyone know the title or artist?

Aug. 03 2008 03:56 PM
Steve from Philadelphia

I'm new to this story, just hearing it last night for the first time. I had to comment on what an outstanding piece it was. I was riveted to the radio as the layers and layers of the story unfolded. Imgine, Craig from Craig's list...too cool. So refreshing in a world of brainless reality programming. Thanks Ellen, keep up the good work.

Jun. 10 2008 09:36 AM
Jim Norman from Toronto

This segment is superb. In fact, I feel the whole of "Deception" is one of finest Radio Lab productions yet. It should be entered into and honored by every radio programming awards show around. I've listened to it three times and keep discovering new things about it. But then, I don't think I've listened to any RL less than three times! Thank goodness these are available as podcasts. Now, if only someone could clone Jad and Robert and get each pair to produce five new RL's a year! Thanks, guys.

Jun. 04 2008 09:14 PM
Ted from Missouri

My impression is that Hope is not a "pathologic liar", she is a psychopath. She acts without conscience because she doesn't have a conscience, so lying is second nature. I refer listeners to Hare, "Without Conscience" for further description.

To producers: there is a lot of interesting cognitive neuroscience/neuroimaging regarding emotional responses to words/images in psychopaths versus normal individuals. This would make for a fascinating show.

May. 31 2008 06:49 AM
Tom from Portland OR

Can anyone post a picture of "Hope?"

Apr. 22 2008 12:35 AM
paul alvarez from United States

Sometimes, when i lie just right, it becomes the truth.

Apr. 19 2008 11:21 PM
Aliza from New York City

The story about Hope is just like a con man I met while traveling abroad. He is very intelligent and charismatic; I think all of his stories are based in truth but changed, exaggerated, and twisted to serve his purpose.

I've been following his story for three years and he is still free. Instead of losing trust in people, I'm working to bring him to justice.

If you're interested, check out http://eduardo-perez.blogspot.com/

Thankfully I've only ever heard of two people like this over the years! First mine, now Hope. Let's hope for no more.

Apr. 15 2008 12:36 PM
Liz from Manhattan

In many ways, Hope sounds like a roommate- the first and only roommate- that I had. She seduced my brother. He was madly in love with her when she said she was pregnant with his baby. He was ecstatic! Then she was gone. With no word from her for days, my brother couldn't eat or sleep. Her bedroom door was locked. We broke in and found her closet was empty. There was a notebook in which she had written contradictory information and unsent letters. She left no phone number or address. Her believable Southern drawl was to have come from New Orleans. The situation was very hard to recover from. I was physically shaken by this RadioLab story. It so resonated with what happened in my life.

Apr. 13 2008 07:17 PM
Lisa from New York City

I enjoy listening to Radiolab. I liked the "People Who Lie" segment very much. But why is it being broadcast for (at least) the third time in two months? Is there really no new material?

Apr. 13 2008 06:33 PM
Harvey from Florida

This is from Leslie, in the Hope story:

Hope is like a bad penny. I swear I get an email or phone call like
this every 8 months - 2 years, usually from someone who's currently
being conned by her. But I haven't had anyone ask about her in about 4
years, making me wonder if she's out of prison and up to her old tricks.

So: why do you ask, and what story did you hear? I had someone recently
tell me that I was on the radio, and I don't even remember doing a radio
interview; so that must have been years and years ago, meaning that it's
quite possible that the information in the interview was a lot older
than the most recent information on Hope.

Mar. 27 2008 04:07 AM
venessa Sylvester from Georgia

I'd like to read more about Hope too. I can't imagine why there's *nothing* else on the web about this story. I'll keep checking back. The story reminds me so much of my father's 2nd wife. It is scary.

I wish the story hadn't ended that way. Seems like there would be a way to interview Hope at some point...especially when she was incarcerated. I also feel bad for her child.

Don't leave us hanging forever RadioLab.

Mar. 25 2008 08:29 PM
DP

I see a post on Hope Ballantyne here:
http://media.www.thehullabaloo.com/media/storage/paper958/news/2005/04/22/News/Big-Easy.Beat-1988782.shtml

Searching the web, I see nothing else besides the San Francisco Examiner story. If anyone else finds anything, please share.

Mar. 25 2008 01:05 AM
Mark Mascolino

fantastic story...I want to know more about this woman.

Mar. 21 2008 04:04 PM
SMS from Michigan

Last night I was mesmorized by this program. I have lived this story my entire life. I come from an upper middle class family and always lied about everything, whether I needed too or not. I lied to teachers, friends, parents, co-workers, bosses, children and my former spouse. It was lying that ended my marriage and it has always been something that I have not been able to control. It is an absolutley horrible existance. I am sure that if people who I have known in the past listened to this program, my name or face would have come to the front of their minds. I can never make up for all of the hurt that I have caused

Mar. 19 2008 09:48 AM
Suzanne Aiosa from Baldwin, NY

To live without trust of self to discern reality so that we can trust ourselves to explore reality: Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!! Thank you for the sensitive understanding of that anguished isolation.

Mar. 19 2008 09:26 AM
Steven F

The piece on the con woman and the effect that she has had on those whose lives she's touched was excellent; by far, the best segment on the show. I think the whole show could have been built around this segment.
Its juxtaposition with the research of Yaling Yang demonstrated to me the superiority of the anecdotal (the literary, the philosophical) to the scientific in seeking the truth. Her research is so speculative as to be practically meaningless. And I'm left with the question: even if she's right in her speculation about gray and white matter, so what?

Mar. 17 2008 11:22 AM
R McDonough from Napa Valley, CA

Who was the woman that was tracking Hope. Did she stop looking?

Does she have a blog?

Mar. 11 2008 09:40 PM
Suzy Laidlaw from Huntingdon Valley PA

I was married to a man for 24 years who was, what I always called, a "compulsive liar." He lied about just about everything - whether he "needed" to or not. He was eventually even "outed" on Prime Time Live! Everything I heard on NPR fit his psersonality completely.
The one thing you did not touch on in the radio piece and that I would be curious about was this: I am convinced that as soon as this guy told his lie - he believed it too. I think if you hooked him up to a lie detector test that he could have even passed.

Have you ever tested that phenomonon?

Mar. 06 2008 11:15 AM
mark from Minnesota

Interesting story, as a parent of an autistic son who cannot lie, I was wonderful if there has ever been any studies done on the white matter and autisim? I have two other children, the youngest who has no problem lying, so I no it is not genetic. Is there any way to contact the researcher? Thanks!

Mar. 06 2008 10:35 AM
S from Manhattan

This makes a lot of sense to me. It seems that people I know who are good liars/frequent liars (such as a good friend who will often admit to it later) tend to be very "quick" mentally with making connections and reaching conclusions. The quick thinking and some improvisation skill makes lying more "successful".

Mar. 06 2008 08:03 AM
gary brever from minnesota

Two years ago a woman fabricated the existence of grants and money available for our business. Currently, she is facing 3 felony counts of fraud because of her actions. It has been a long, wierd, tale for myself and my family and I can relate to the "shifting of reality" that Radio Lab spoke of when talking about Hope.

Mar. 05 2008 09:42 AM
Jill R. Davis from St. Paul, MN

Is there an in print copy of this program? My 91 year old aunt was fascinated by the subject of white and gray brain matter. She commented that she would love to be able to read it, and she reasoned, she may have had a hard time following the oral version because of a lack of white matter.

Mar. 04 2008 06:02 PM
Anna from New Jersey

Does anyone know what became of "Hope"?

A young-ish blonde woman who seems uncannily identical to Hope just moved upstairs into my building. She moved all her stuff in plastic bags and left them upstairs, inside and outside her apartment for a month and a half, and then disappeared. She paid the first month's rent and then did not come back for about two months and owed the second month.

When I asked what she did, she said she graduated from FIT and was a fashion design major. She seemed nice enough but I have a hard time imagining an FIT grad would dump everything they own around in dirty plastic bags. The times I've seen her going out or coming in she was wearing an old pair of sweats--- I don't mean to put that down-- that is fine-- I wear sweatpants. But it is not my idea that a fashion designer who has graduated from a competitive art college, would like being seen around town in old sweats.

I know I am most likely just paranoid, but does anyone know where "Hope" was last seen? I hope she didn't just move in!

Mar. 01 2008 10:09 PM
Zach Santamaria from 170 Ave C

Hi,

I heard this program and it confirmed everything I've always felt. I am one of those sad "fatalistic" or "negative" or "realistic" people and I have suffered for it. But I think that it is truely wise to see reality for what it is. Once you get over it you have overcome the "cognative dissonance" or energy or whatever it takes to keep your mind (and self) divided. I see it as an evolutionary process. Than you can truly be "okay" with reality.

Feb. 29 2008 09:07 PM
Lynn Jacobs from NJ

A friend of my daughter always told very elaborate lies from childhood. She invented stories that she was on heroin in 7th grade. She lied about having relationships, etc. Serious stuff was lied about. She ended up using heroine and dying at age 24 of a probable overdose. Her parents have always denies she had a problem and never discussed issues openly. They told everyone she died of an aneurism but the newspaper reported there were syringes in her apt, and her roommates reported she was using heroin. After she died, the father said she had temporal lobe seizures. My daughter said she had talked about a book called Liar and it's relationship to "temporal lobe seizures". Have you heard of this disorder and it's relationship to liars?

Feb. 29 2008 04:03 PM
R from Brooklyn

Listening to the story of Hope, the con woman, I am slightly shaken and overcome with memories of a woman I once knew - and was in fact engaged to at one point - who was every bit the pathological liar Hope was. However, rather than having a criminal intent (though she did commit minor crimes in the process), her lies were geared toward social advantages as well as sheer survival. For example, she successfully convinced all her friends and family that she had graduated from law school, when in fact she had not even finished her undergraduate studies. It came naturally to her - she was a social butterfly and a great storyteller. I spent a lot of time trying to understand the roots of her problem and trying to help her, but in the end the best thing for me to do was to walk away from the situation. Lying just came to her too easily.

Do I have a harder time trusting people? I did for quite a while, especially with people I didn't know well. Slightly out-of-the-ordinary stories always left a sour taste. But I'm pretty much over that.

Feb. 29 2008 03:43 PM
Ellen Horne from Radiolab

The podcast will be coming in about 2 weeks!

Feb. 25 2008 11:03 AM
carl josepeh from miami, florida

is there a podcast of the "people who lie" episode?

Feb. 20 2008 11:43 AM
Richard Frank from Rutland, Vermont

I heard the piece on Radio Lab this afternoon, while driving to my Theories of Personality class. I plan on hijacking today's class to discuss this. Very interesting.
Thanks

Feb. 12 2008 02:55 PM

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