By | March 23, 2010 21 Comments

Physiologically, power makes it easier to lie

A new study by the Columbia Business School is titled, People with power are better liars.

The average liar experiences negative emotions, physiological stress and fear of getting caught. Power, however, enhances the same emotional, cognitive and physiological systems that lying depletes. So holding power over others makes it easier to lie.

Read People in power make better liars, study shows on

Link submitted by a Lovefraud reader via Facebook.

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Not a suprising outcome to the study. Thanks for linking it.

I think the problem of power corrupting and leading to a dishonest business or political culture ( and the two are completely enmeshed) is that when P’s gain power, they are exemplary liars, so acutally have an advantage in making their way up the food chain, to more power, and more rewards for their “successful” dishonesty.

Unfortunately, these powerful people telling lies can achieve (as we have seen and it is not over ) stupendously spectacular results for their interest group, or business. And they are lauded, feted, written up in Forbes, until it all comes crashing down.

So we end up with a system that strongly favors the best liars.

I bet Liona Helmsley would have agreed, “honesty is for the little people” – just as it played out in the study.

I would imagine that another study would also show that lying itself empowers the liar, as it gives them new power, they now maniuplate your reality, and that is a VERY powerful tool. A closed loop.

The truth shall set you free,…but when?

Ox Drover

Yes, this was a great link. The quote from it that I thought jbest summed it up was

“The better a person can do at concealing their true motivation, the better they do at climbing the corporate ladder and the better they do in abuse and missappropriation of assets”

What is the BEST thing most “successful” and “smart” psychopaths do—CONCEAL MOTIVATION—so who would be the best person for climbing the ladder to the top?

Having observed the recent downfall of a few politicos who were at governor level, and the downfall of Bernie Maddof, it tends to make me distrust politicians almost completely.

I have a little video in my head of Bill Clinton (Called “slick Willie in Arkansas, his home state, when he was governor) when he was the president of the US stating, UNCONVINCINGLY I THOUGHT, “I did NOT have sex with that woman…Miss Lewinski.”

The whole country, after the initial bruhaha went on to play the game of “let’s pretend none of this happened.” When is the world going to wake up to the fact that pretending someone is not a liar and/or a psychopath and is dishonest shows their true character and they should not be “eligible” for high office in either government or business?

AT the risk of sounding like a cynic, me thinks never!


“Power, it seems, enhances the same emotional, cognitive, and physiological systems that lie-telling depletes. People with power enjoy positive emotions, increases in cognitive function, and physiological resilience such as lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Thus, holding power over others might make it easier for people to tell lies.

If you can hide your motivations you have power. Systemically it is easeir to hind your motivations and actions if you’re at the top.

What amazes me about the study is that these folks aren’t even REALLY at the top – this isn’t a study of case histories, or a poll of workers – this is a controlled, completely fabricated situation, that calls on people’s experience of socio-economic power in the ‘real’ world.

The next two quotes made me chuckle a bit. Sigh. They seem to be naive about the VERY structures that are being addressed. although the ‘mba pledge’ might help steer honest people, it won’t affect dishonest ones, or change the culture of dishonesty (which i think is the goal). it’s too weak an initiative. Protection for whistelblowers (HAHAHAHA) would be a much more constructive and useful thing to create. And, unfortunately the article doesn’t go to the end of the spectrum of corruption and directly mention spaths and Ns, although i sure thought it would given the quote about chemicals and hormones.

“Some situations warrant going over the boss’s head, but sometimes you can influence their behavior by simply letting it be known what you know and understand about the issue at hand, in a non-accusatory way,” she said, “so that the boss realizes that they cannot fly under the radar with this deceit.”

“We know that high-powered people do crazy, bad stuff,” she said. “I think reminding a person that the behavior is bad can get them to stop engaging in those transgressions.”

my spath holds power by being anonymous, and by being the recipient of LOADS of private intimate details that she can use against her dupes. but this article really spoke to me about how much she holds with anonymity. not that she admits to what she does when she gets caught….noooo, she has another story for that. but it does make her mask fall to the floor. watchig her scramble to create new stories is almost entertaining in a really weird i gotta get a life kind of way.

if every one one of her dupes spoke out all at once….no way she could type fast enough to smear us all at the same time. so, systemic problems, require systemic solutions – even on the personal level.

kim frederick

Good point, One-step…It’s kind of like the old cliche, “When guns are out-lawed, only out-laws will have guns.”

Most honest people operate within the confines of their conscience, anyway. Assuming a little card in the wallet of corporate America will solve the problem of corruption Is ludicris.


hhhm just thought about the actual study group. would be interesting to know what the socio economic status and experience of the participants was. this status could skew the results one way or the other. not that i think the thesis is inaccurate…but am questioning the veracity of the data and methodology.


Kim – when i read your post, i pictured all the spaths carrying a litle card in their wallets that says,

‘i’m a good guy/woman. no really’.

kim frederick

In fact, we could take the argument one step furthar and say that the little card in the wallet would only serve as a reinforcement of the hierchy.. dishonest people would have even more of an advantage if the underlings were continiously reminded to, ‘play fair”. Oh Lord, I’m sooo jaded.

I still believe in the goodness of humanity, and that good will always prevail….I think.


exactamundo! a prop for gas lighting.

i think there is good most places. and now i know there is ‘everyday’ evil some places.

i was at a meeting last night and someone asked if there was ‘hope for humanity’ given the existance of evil’. of course this is an impossible BIG and black and white question to answer.

but there IS good. and it’s almost everywhere. good people need to stand up more. that would change things. only thing that ever has (to paraphrase Margaret mead)

kim frederick

One-step, As you know I’m having trouble finding a job. I just called a lady that I used to work for, and asked if she needed ay help. Her first question: Are you still with HIM?

On no, I said. He’s been gone for over two years. Good. she said. I always knew he was your biggest problem.

She said she planned to hire help soon, and would call me… 🙂

Ox Drover

Hey, Kim! Good work puttting your name out there for a job. Have you checked with your local unemployment office yet? IT might be a good place to start in case this woman doesn’t come through.

Might print up some sort of resume as well, there are some good resume tutors on the web, more or less fill in the blanks. Even if you are applying at McDonald’s a resume always looks good. Good luck!!!

kim frederick

I’m reminded of George Orwells, “Animal Farm,” when we talk about power structures and how they’re set in place and reiforced. I read it when I was 12. I think I might go back and read it again.

kim frederick

Yeah, Ox. I went yesterday, but had time constraints. I was told it was important to have an on-line resume….So I dilegently started to fill in the blanks, but ended up feeling sooo frustrated, my time was up, and I hadn’t accomplished anything. I find technology sooo confusing and it frustrates me, makes me feel stupid…..when I got back to the car I was in tears.

So, I took a look at myself, and realized I needed to change my attitude, be willing to do the foot work, and excercise humility….All good stuff.

I know the lady I spoke to today quite well. She knew what I was dealing with in the past and was as supportive as she could be. I don’t think she would tell me she would call me if she didn’t intend to… So, I am hopeful… And even taking that tiny step out on a limb, makes me feel good.

How you doin’ today?


Kim, that’s awesome! yay!

i had a job interview yesterday. someone called me who had heard about me through the grapevine.

i liked him, but i used to work for one of the board members – one of three employers in my life time who i ran away from like my hair was on fire. so, i have asked to meet with the board first, and see how she is when she isn’t my boss. she can make me feel like crap in a bout 5 minutes. that’s a heavy skill. not many peole can do that.

then this am they set up a meeting….and i say great, as long as it isn’t at the scary person’ business as they have a dog. i get a message back saying, no it’s somewhere else, and their dog doesn’t cause allergic reactions……………….

there is NO sucj thing for me. just going into an old house in that part of town means there might be mold and i can’t do dog and mold.

i was very up front about my allergies and enviro sensitivities with this guy. but i don’t think he really understands yet.
and he can learn…but

it made me very sad – hurdle after hurdle. i am going to go for a walk in the rain – my form of prayer, and see what i can figure out.

hope this isn’t a downer…don’t mean it to be. i am chuffed for you. i know how hard it is to make the steps and i am so happy for you.

kim frederick

Yeah, One, I get it. He just brushed you aside and assumed you didn’t know what you were talking about. That is hard to take.
He might just be ignorant, though, and ignorance can be taught….so maybe it’s worth taking a chance on…


kim – i think he is just unaware. and my impression of him is that he is a compassionate person. i think he just didn’t understand what it would ‘mean’ when i told him about my allergies. i need accommodations.

for me – there is anxiety. it’s hard to have that attention on me, when people have to make accommodations for me, or if it singles me out as a target (oh, she’s making it up) in a group.

this is all new to me, so i am pretty raw about it. i was injured at my last 2 jobs – through mold and chemical exposures. i have wicked skills – but if i can’t go in to the room….well, it makes a difficult job market worse.

but i see i have to stand for myself. i can’t work in certain environments, and that’s just the way it is. and i can’t be certain about any environment on any given day. this is the worse part. if i get a chemical exposure one day, then i can’t go some places the next day. i never know. and the uncertainty means i cannot be dependable in the way i truly am.

so, i need to let people know i need accommodations. and the less anxious i am about that reality, the more st8t i can be about what it ‘means’ when i say i have bad allergies.

i am just learning. but i am learning.


One Step,
If your impression of him is that he is a compassionate person than that is good. Most people who do not suffer from severe allergies to smells and enviornments really just DON’T understand. But maybe he can if he is open minded. And if you patiently try to explain it to him. Sometimes this is a lost cause explaining this to someone, but sometimes it can be done.

I have major issues with mold, but I also have some strange allergic type reactions to certain strong smells and this is difficult for people to understand. Gas, kerosene heaters, burning leaves, to name a few. And these can just trigger me to start a wheeezing and I can’t breath. My sinuses also just clog right up. I am a smoker and so this makes it even more difficult for even me to understand. Why I can’t tolerate certain smells. I know many can’t tolerate cigarette smoke.

There is nothing like struggling to breath and feeling like you are being strangled.
And sometimes the best way to explain it to those that don’t understand it is to put it in straight, simple terms.

It is difficult enough, to be out there looking for a job and feeling like you have to “sell” yourself for the position and yet at the same time have to ask for certain accomodations in order to be able to work. But many people in this world are accomodated for, for different reasons in the work place.

Believe in yourself one, your worth it.


thanks for the support witty!

i am learning.

i am the same way with petroleum products. the bus goes right past my place (didn’t know that when i moved in cause they were rerouted for construction) and it makes me sick. they are all the rage here in businesses and restuarants. i do a little education about them. i also sabotage a fair number. 😉

the new ‘electronic air fresheners’ with petroleum based scents make my face and lips go numb immediately.

but, i have to just stand up for myself. and believe that kind people will hire me.

x one step

Elizabeth Conley

This is fascinating. I had often wondered why certain relatively successful people seemed to lie compulsively, without any compunction whatsoever, and without any meaningful consequences. Now I think I get it.

This study provides the missing link I needed in order to understand why “leaders” seemed to lie so often, and so effectively.



Physicians are masters at lying. They have the power and the money. Smart enough to stay under the radar and be secretic. They don’t get caught easily. My podiatrist sociopath was so skillful at lying. Most spouses of sociopaths don’t last as long as I did. I chalk it up to the power and status that my husband had to get away with gambling, cheating and medicating himself. After 17 years, I learned enough of the truth to divorce him. Yet, the community and our family will never know the truth. It was nearly impossible to expose him. AFter the divorce I found out he had friends who were friends with my attorney. He managed to manipulate him and the agreement was in his favor, not mine and my 3 sons. The attorney made it sound like I hit the lottery. My ex was paying his fees instead of the attorney taking it out of the settlement. I got alimony and basically house arrest. I can’t move, I can’t rent, I cant’ sell my house, I can’t get married, I didnt’ get colleg for my kids or health care for me. Never worked and he walked with all the retirement, social security and right to both his practice and a shoe store that I helped open. Meanwhile, his drug use, illegal purchases of narcotics, affairs and gambling away the equity in house and retirement in penny stocks remain only known to me. He even got a drug charge expunged so there is no record of his arrest, jail or prosecution agreement on public record.


I won’t go near a man who has power. If they have power they more than likely are fantastic liars. Even knowing what i know now -I don’t think I would be able to recognize the lies he told me for so many years. He was too good, too convincing, too logical and managed to erase all evidence.


Carla-I know what you mean about physicians. My ex spath was a surgeon. He was married and conned me into a relationship with him. He was telling me he was in love with me after 3 weeks and spent a year telling me I was the love of his life. I believed everything he said because I was naive. He was making plans to spend the rest of our lives together after his divorce. His wife found out and she filed and he moved in with me. One minute he was making plans for our future and the next day came home and said that he was leaving me, he used me for sex and that he never loved me. He moved out on the spot.

His wife tried to befriend me but she ended up taking him back and cancelling the divorce because he bought her so many gifts to buy her back. He had always said that I was the only woman that he was able to see behind her back because we had something so special and I believed all that crap. I found out later that he had done it 3 other times prior to me and all of the others were younger too, like me. He was 16 years older.

I promised myself that I will never go near another physician in my life, ever. They are narcissistic, power hungry and they lie so freakin bad. His friends were cheating on their wives too.

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