(Slate) True or False
Is Adam Wheeler a pathological liar?
Former Harvard student Adam Wheeler pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that he lied on his college application. Among other fabrications, he claimed that he attended Phillips Academy, spent a year at MIT, and got a 1600 on his SAT. The prosecutor said that Wheeler “lived a life of lies and deceit” and that “if it wasn’t for his parents’ intervention, Mr. Wheeler’s pathological behavior wouldn’t have stopped.” What makes someone a pathological liar rather than just a regular liar—and does Wheeler fit the bill?
No. While there’s no official definition for pathological lying, also known as mythomania or pseudologia fantastica, psychiatrists generally use the term to mean telling falsehoods regularly but for no practical reason, and often in the form of over-the-top, complex narratives. (As opposed to minor lies told occasionally to grease social interactions.) Wheeler certainly lied frequently and boldly—he claimed on an internship application that he spoke Old English, Classical Armenian, and Old Persian and had authored or co-authored six book manuscripts. But insofar as the fabrications were meant to get him into college and advance his career, they were also practical and thus not pathological in the usual sense.