Fulfillment at Any Age

How to remain productive and healthy into your later years

Sex, Lies, and the Brain

Everyone lies, but in different ways, and for different reasons. A fascinating new study peered into the brains of men and women as they lied and told the truth. Find out who lied, why, and how their brains responded. Read More


This is a very interesting finding, but I have to say, the possible implications worry me a little. I worry that people might put too much stock in delays and cognitive effort as indications of lying. This might (or might not) have a disparate impact on those of us who have to put additional effort into anything social we say in order to frame it in a way that makes sense to the listener.

Not long ago, I was in a medical situation, and felt I was not being treated as credible. I suspected it had to do with the communication differences that come with being on the autism spectrum. So, I asked my husband (who isn't) for feedback.

His feedback was that the doctors, not knowing of my differences, could potentially have misunderstood some of my communication style as being either less than truthful or just odd. I had to stop to process things that were being said, and sometimes calibrate my response in a way that would make sense to them.

For example, how well would most people respond if you asked another person, "Are you in pain?" And they said, "I don't know"? That's not an unusual reaction for me, and I've learned to adjust it because it puts me in a very bad position. When asked that question, I have to stop and think how to answer, in order to "translate" what I am feeling into terms that would make sense.

Because my body processes pain differently, I can't always immediately tell the differences between degrees of sensation. I was asked by the doctor to give a sense of my pain on a number scale -- but knowing I typically under-report such things due to my sensory differences, I had to stop and think, "OK, I'd say this is a 4 but what would that translate to for a patient without my issues?"

The feedback my husband gave in that moment was that to a person who didn't know what was going on, it could have been perceived that I wasn't being truthful because people don't usually have to stop and think about such things. If they're in pain, they're in pain, and they know it. So, when I think about delay in response or cognitive effort being used as an indicator of dishonesty, it makes me fearful that some people like me will be unfairly judged by people who don't understand our differences.

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Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her latest book is The Search for Fulfillment.


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