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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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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.

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.

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.

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RELATED IDEAS

  • 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. 

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IDEAS

Trust Your Instincts

People often rely on stereotypical behaviors that are often associated with lying such as fidgeting or shifty eyes. But these signs are simply old wives' tales.

Your first gut reactions might be more accurate than any conscious lie detection you might attempt.

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 high, they are not going to be dishonest.