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Why We Lie: The Science Behind Our Deceptive Ways

Why we limit our lies

We like to see ourselves as honest because we have internalized honesty as a value taught to us. We generally place limits on how much we are willing to lie.

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Why We Lie: The Science Behind Our Deceptive Ways

Why We Lie: The Science Behind Our Deceptive Ways

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/06/lying-hoax-false-fibs-science/

nationalgeographic.com

4

Key Ideas

To lie is human

  • Lying is something that most people are very practiced in. We lie in big and small ways, to strangers, co-workers, friends, and loved ones.
  • Researchers found that people lie on average one or two times a day, mostly to hide inadequacies or to protect others' feelings.
  • Many lie and deceive to gain unjust rewards.
  • Sometimes people lie to inflate their image or to cover up bad behavior.
  • Even science contains deceivers, such as physicist Jan Hendrik Schön, who claimed a breakthrough in molecular semiconductor research, which later proved to be fraudulent.

Lying increases with maturity

The increase in lying is driven by the development of the ability to see the world from someone else's perspective. We gain an understanding of the beliefs, intentions, and knowledge of others.

The more we lie, the easier it becomes. Among two-year-olds, only 30 percent are untruthful. Among three-year-olds, 50 percent lie. By eight, kids learn to mask their lying by deliberately giving a wrong answer or making their statement seem like a guess.

Trust and vulnerability

To navigate the world, we need to trust human communication implicitly, otherwise we would be paralyzed and cease to have social relationships. But we have to be aware of some facts:

  • We don't expect lies and are not continually searching for lies, giving liars an advantage.
  • We are more prone to falsehoods from people of wealth, power, and status.
  • We are very prone to accepting lies that affirm our worldview.
  • People are more likely to believe familiar information. Even if the information turns out to be false, we may continue to lean towards it.

However, we get so much from believing, that there is little harm when we occasionally get deceived.

EXPLORE MORE AROUND THESE TOPICS:

SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

The prevalent theory of dishonesty

From a legal perspective, dishonesty is the idea of cost-benefit analysis. When people think about being dishonest, they wonder what can be gained or what can be lost. If the cost of lying is too h...

The slippery slope

People often feel the need to rationalize their dishonesty. The danger is taking that first step.

The story of Joe Papp, an Olympic cyclist falls into this category. Papp consulted his physician, who wrote Papp a prescription for erythropoietin (EPO), a cancer treatment that increases the production of red blood cells. Papp injected himself, but also imported and distributed EPO to his team and to other teams. This essentially made him a drug dealer.

Morals or ethics tilt behaviors 

People that are required to put their signature at the top of a document instead of the bottom are more likely to provide truthful information.

They are confirming that the information they’re about to provide is true before they have a chance to falsify it.

Lies Motivated By Compassion

When we decide to lie, we privilege some other value over honesty. The value is often compassion, as people lie more about their feelings than about anything else. 

Those who tell...

Lies Motivated By Desire for Material Gain
When a desire for material gain motivates lying, the consequences are likely to be negative. 
One factor that prevents people from lying for personal gain is the need/desire to see oneself as a moral person. 
Desire to Maintain a Positive Self-Concept
  • People sometimes lie to themselves or others out of a need to see themselves positively. 
  • People often experience greater positive emotions when exaggerating their intelligence or skill to themselves or others.
  • Liars driven by the desire to see themselves positively can forget that their dishonesty contributed to their success. Consequently, they may make misguided bets about their future performance. 
Our reasons for lying

Where lying is concerned, we just can't seem to help ourselves. 

We lie for two reasons: behavioral conditioning and cognitive evolutionary biology.

Behavioral conditioning

Lying keeps us hooked because we enjoy the reward. The outcomes are unpredictable.
Lying is reinforced every time we get away with it. 

Cognitive evolutionary biology

Lying is a valuable tool in our survival kit. We can spare someone's feelings or build social standing. Lying can keep us out of trouble or even save our lives.

Practicing deception starts as early as six months of age such as fake crying or laughter. But people only start to get good at it after another four years where they learn to let go of the unbelievable lies and settle for what kind of lies work.