Pathological lying

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Pathological lying
Other namesPseudologia fantastica, mythomania

Pathological lying, also known as mythomania (from Greek μυθομανία) and pseudologia fantastica (Latin for "fantastic pseudology"), is a chronic behavior characterized by the habitual or compulsive tendency to lie.[1][2][3][4] It involves a pervasive pattern of intentionally making false statements with the aim of deceiving others, sometimes without a clear or apparent reason. Individuals who engage in pathological lying often claim to be unaware of the motivations behind their lies.[5][6][7][8][9]

In psychology and psychiatry, there is an ongoing debate regarding whether pathological lying should be classified as a distinct disorder or viewed as a symptom of other underlying conditions.[3][4] The lack of widely agreed-upon description or diagnostic criteria for pathological lying has contributed to the controversy surrounding its definition.[4][7][8] However, efforts have been made to establish diagnostic criteria based on research and assessment data, aligning with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).[10] Various theories have been proposed to explain the causes of pathological lying, including stress, an attempt to shift locus of control to an internal one, and issues related to low self-esteem.[8][6][7][9] Some researchers have suggested a biopsychosocial-developmental model to explain this concept.[11] While theories have explored potential causes, the precise factors contributing to pathological lying have yet to be determined.

The phenomenon was first described in medical literature in 1890 by G. Stanley Hall and in 1891 by Anton Delbrück.[1][3][9]


Curtis and Hart (2020) defined pathological lying as "a persistent, pervasive, and often compulsive pattern of excessive lying behavior that leads to clinically significant impairment of functioning in social, occupational, or other areas; causes marked distress; poses a risk to the self or others; and occurs for longer than 6 months" (p. 63).[10]


Defining characteristics of pathological lying include:

  • An internal motive for the behavior cannot be readily discerned clinically: e.g., long-lasting extortion or habitual spousal battery might cause a person to lie repeatedly, without the lying being a pathological symptom.[3]
  • The stories are presented in a way in which the liar is portrayed in a favourable manner. The liar "decorates their own person"[9][12] by telling stories that present them as the hero or the victim. For example, the person might be presented as being fantastically brave, as knowing or being related to many famous people, or as having great power, position, or wealth.

Some psychiatrists distinguish compulsive from pathological lying, while others consider them equivalent; yet others deny the existence of compulsive lying altogether; this remains an area of considerable controversy.[7][9][13]


Pathological lying is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), although only as a symptom of other disorders such as antisocial, narcissistic, and histrionic personality disorders, not as a stand-alone diagnosis.[14] The ICD-10 disorder Haltlose personality disorder is strongly tied to pathological lying.[15]

It has been shown through lie detector tests that pathological liars exhibit arousal, stress, and guilt from their deception.[citation needed] This is different from psychopaths, who experience none of those reactions. People affected by antisocial disorder lie for external personal gain in the forms of money, sex, and power. Pathological lying is strictly internal. The difference between borderline personality disorder (BPD) and pathological liars is that BPD patients try to cope with their fear of abandonment, mistreatment, or rejection by making empty threats of suicide or false accusations of abandonment. Pathological liars do not feel rejected; they have high levels of self-assurance that help them lie successfully. Unlike those with histrionic personality, pathological liars are more verbally dramatic than sexually flamboyant. Narcissists think they have achieved perfection and are unempathetic to others. Pathological liars do not show these anti-social behaviors; they may lie because they think their life is not interesting enough.[14]

The only diagnosis in the current system where a symptom of purposeless, internally motivated deception occurs is specified as factitious disorder. This diagnosis deals with people who lie deliberately about having physical or psychological disorders. However, research or testing must be done to confirm the individual does not in fact have a physical or other disorder. This may become troublesome due to the fact that medical records are sealed to the public. People who pathologically lie tend to lie about their identities and history. Because the symptoms do not match up, the individual may go undiagnosed.[citation needed] They could well be diagnosed under the catch-all rubric of an unspecified personality disorder or even under "Other specified disorder of adult personality and behaviour" as this defines itself as "This category should be used for coding any specified disorder of adult personality and behaviour that cannot be classified under any one of the preceding headings".


Pathological lying is in factor 1 of the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL).[16]

Pathological liars[edit]

Lying is the act of both knowingly and intentionally or willfully making a false statement.[17] Normal lies are defensive and are told to avoid the consequences of truth telling. They are often white lies that spare another's feelings, reflect a pro-social attitude, and make civilized human contact possible.[14] Pathological lying can be described as an habituation of lying. It is when an individual consistently lies for no obvious personal gain.[18]

There are many consequences of being a pathological liar. Due to lack of trust, most pathological liars' relationships and friendships fail. If this continues to progress, lying could become so severe as to cause legal problems, including, but not limited to, fraud.[4][19]


The average age of onset is before adulthood.[9] Individuals with the condition tend to have average verbal skills as opposed to performance abilities.[20] Thirty percent of subjects had a chaotic home environment, where a parent or other family member had a mental disturbance. Its occurrence was found by the study to be equal in women and men.[12][14] Forty percent of cases reported central nervous system abnormality such as epilepsy, abnormal EEG findings, ADHD, head trauma, or CNS infection.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hart, Christian L.; Curtis, Drew A. (7 September 2020). "What Is Pathological Lying". Psychology Today. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  2. ^ Griffith, Ezra E. H.; Baranoski, Madelon; Dike, Charles C. (1 September 2005). "Pathological Lying Revisited". Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. 33 (3): 342–349. PMID 16186198. Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d Dike, Charles C. (June 1, 2008). "Pathological Lying: Symptom or Disease?". Psychiatric Times. 25 (7). Archived from the original on January 10, 2013. Retrieved August 28, 2009.
  4. ^ a b c d Curtis, Drew A.; Hart, Christian L. (December 2020). "Pathological Lying: Theoretical and Empirical Support for a Diagnostic Entity". Psychiatric Research and Clinical Practice. 2 (2): 62–69. doi:10.1176/appi.prcp.20190046. PMC 9176035. PMID 36101870.
  5. ^ Thom, Robyn; Teslyar, Polina; Friedman, Rohn (2017). "Pseudologia Fantastica in the Emergency Department: A Case Report and Review of the Literature". Case Reports in Psychiatry. 2017: 1–5. doi:10.1155/2017/8961256. PMC 5442346. PMID 28573061.
  6. ^ a b Dike, Charles C.; Baranoski, Madelon; Griffith, Ezra E. H. (2005). "Pathological lying revisited". The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. 33 (3): 342–349. PMID 16186198.
  7. ^ a b c d Treanor KE. Defining, understanding, and diagnosing pathological lying (pseudologia fantastica): an empirical and theoretical investigation into what constitutes pathological lying [Doctor of Psychology (Clinical) Thesis]. Wollongong, NSW: School of Psychology, University of Wollongong; 2012. Available at: Accessed December 2, 2019
  8. ^ a b c Grey, Jessica S.; Durns, Tyler; Kious, Brent M. (May 2020). "Pseudologia Fantastica: An Elaborate Tale of Combat-related PTSD". Journal of Psychiatric Practice. 26 (3): 241–245. doi:10.1097/PRA.0000000000000462. PMID 32421295. S2CID 218691784.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Pathological Lying: Theory, Research, and Practice. American Psychological Association. 2022. ISBN 978-1433836220.
  10. ^ a b Curtis, D. (June 22, 2020). "Pathological Lying: Theoretical and Empirical Support for a Diagnostic Entity". Psychiatric Research and Clinical Practice. 2 (2): 62–69. doi:10.1176/appi.prcp.20190046. PMC 9176035. PMID 36101870.
  11. ^ Curtis & Hart (August 2022). Pathological Lying: Theory, Research, and Practice (1 ed.). American Psychological Association. ISBN 978-1-4338-3622-0.
  12. ^ a b Healy, Mary Tenney; Healy, William (2004) [1915]. Pathological lying, accusation and swindling: a study in forensic psychology. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger. ISBN 978-1-4191-4030-3.[page needed]
  13. ^ "The Truth About Compulsive and Pathological Liars". Psychologia. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  14. ^ a b c d e King BH, Ford CV (January 1988). "Pseudologia fantastica". Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. 77 (1): 1–6. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0447.1988.tb05068.x. PMID 3279719. S2CID 221390958.
  15. ^ Kielholz, Arthur, Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse XIX 1933 Heft 4, "Weh' dem, der lügt! Beitrag zum Problem der Pseudologia phantastica"
  16. ^ Skeem, J. L.; Polaschek, D. L. L.; Patrick, C. J.; Lilienfeld, S. O. (2011). "Psychopathic Personality: Bridging the Gap Between Scientific Evidence and Public Policy". Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 12 (3): 95–162. doi:10.1177/1529100611426706. PMID 26167886. S2CID 8521465.
  17. ^ Lying. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved September 26, 2011
  18. ^ "When Does Compulsive Lying Become a Pathological Disorder". United We Care. March 12, 2021.
  19. ^ Dike, Charles C. (1 June 2008). "Pathological lying: symptom or disease? Living with no permanent motive or benefit". Psychiatric Times. 25 (7): 67–73. Gale A180555438.
  20. ^ Yong, Ed (2018-03-12). "How Psychopaths See the World". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2021-07-16.

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