What Are The Psychological Reasons We Lie? Examining The Science Of Deception
Even babies do it, starting at just nine months of age.
Of course, they don’t mean to deceive anyone—it’s just a natural inclination, often brought on by necessity.
Being able to lie is a helpful skill in many situations; it allows us to protect our friends’ feelings or help ourselves out of sticky situations.
But why do we have this innate need to tell lies? And why is lying so harmful when sometimes it can actually benefit us? In our exploration of this topic, we’re going to learn more about why people lie and how it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
We’ll find out how lies can even promote physical health, as well as that most of our memories are composed of false information.
No matter the context, these pieces of information prove that deception isn’t only common – it’s expected.
Lying: The Essential Social Skill That Made Us Human
Lying is an essential part of who we are – and that’s something that has been with us since our ancestors first began developing bigger brains to cope with the growing sophistication of social dynamics.
We lie for a number of reasons, usually stemming from our inherently social nature.
Being able to deceive effectively can give us an advantage in the competitive landscape of society.
Primatologists Richard Byrne and Andrew Whiten observed two young chimpanzees digging for food, and when they saw an older chimp watching them, they quickly sat back, scratched their heads and pretended like nothing was going on – until the older chimp had gone.
This kind of deceit requires intelligence; timing and understanding which gestures will make it more believable.
So you see, lying isn’t necessarily malicious – indeed, it’s been with us for ages as it gives us an advantage over others in certain situations.
It’s a hardwired part of being human, so much so that according to Nicholas Humphrey’s “social intelligence” hypothesis proposed in 1976, it’s contributed directly to our evolution!
We’ve always had use for the ability to convince – or deceive – our peers and rivals.
How Our Understanding Of Lying Changes From Infancy To Adulthood
As we grow, the ability to tell lies becomes more advanced.
Initially, when we are babies and toddlers, it is innocent enough.
We may pretend to laugh in order to be part of the fun that other children are having.
But when we reach around four years old, our understanding of how and why to lie becomes clearer; this is psychologists refer to as the theory of mind.
It’s around this point that we can understand that what’s happening inside our own mind isn’t happening in someone else’s, which gives us the idea that it may be possible to deceive if the situation calls for it.
As time passes and social interactions become more relevant in our lives, we learn when lying is appropriate or when it should be avoided entirely.
We all know that if we’re consistently lying about different things, then people won’t trust anything that comes out of our own mouths anymore.
Furthermore, some lies have bigger risks than others; for instance, fibbing to a close friend can potentially lead to greater consequences compared to a complete stranger.
Therefore, by gaining experience with how lying affects various situations, we can build up an understanding of when telling a lie makes sense or not.
This knowledge carries onward throughout adulthood into workplaces and other relationship dynamics.
The Advantage Often Lies With The Liar: Why It Pays To Be A Smooth Talker
It’s notoriously hard to spot when someone is deceitful, so it makes sense that we can often get away with lying more than we think.
If a particular expression or body language signals our true emotions and thoughts, some of us are better at controlling these indicators than others.
It’s evidence that even though there may be signs of deceit, it’s still an uphill struggle to spot the liar in any social situation.
Psychologist Emily Pronin from Princeton University explains that the advantage is usually on the liar’s side in most scenarios, because only they know what they’re thinking and their facial expressions are understood by others as genuine.
In situations where you have to act pleased with something you don’t like, your friend won’t know this unless you expose the truth through your facial features – which is unlikely since it’s hard to control your facial expressions accurately.
Basically, most people take things at face value, assuming that a smile means happiness.
Therefore, if we tell a lie about something, we’ll probably be more successful at deceiving people than we anticipated.
That being said, it can be argued that an individual should never tell lies due to the ethical problems associated with them.
The Limitations Of Lie Detectors And The Danger Of False Confessions
Machines have been used for centuries in an effort to spot liars, but the truth is that they are not foolproof.
The most famous of these machines is the polygraph machine, which works by monitoring several physiological responses like blood pressure and respiratory rate to judge whether someone is lying or not.
But there are other factors which can affect our physiological responses too.
Innocent suspects, for example, may be so anxious about being falsely imprisoned that their blood pressure drops regardless of their guilt.
And if the subject truly believes their own lies, then any type of lie detector won’t accurately reveal the truth either.
Beyond that, there are also ways in which interrogators can manipulate a suspect into forming false memories – essentially brainwashing them – through the use of persuasive language and loaded questions.
This was demonstrated in the 1999 case of the Norfolk Four who were wrongfully convicted due to a false confession implanted during a grueling interrogation process.
The bottom line is that machines alone cannot reliably reveal when someone is lying; it takes more than just technology to uncover the truth and avoid errors such as wrongful convictions.
Our Brains Deceive Us To Protect Ourselves, But How Far Should We Take Self-Deception?
It’s human nature to lie to ourselves when our beliefs are challenged.
Our minds create what is known as cognitive dissonance, an effort to protect our beliefs from being confronted with facts which conflict or contradict them.
This makes it easier for us to ignore certain truths rather than contend with them.
We see this happen often in matters involving addictions, or overestimating our capabilities and skills– 88 percent of college students surveyed admitted that they thought they were in the top 50 percent of their group for driving skill, despite the fact that mathematically this is impossible.
Though self-deception can sometimes bring beneficial progress on a societal level when dreamers defy the odds and make the unimaginable a reality, it shouldn’t be taken too far–wars have been started because leaders turned their back on reason and convinced themselves that victory was inevitable.
The Power Of Placebos: How Lies Can Help Us Heal And Taste Better
When it comes to the power of lies, some have a greater impact than others.
In 1944, Henry Beecher, a Harvard Professor and doctor aiding Allied troops in Anzio, Italy, witnessed one such lie help save someone’s life.
When all morphine was gone and an injured soldier needed urgent aid, one of the nurses injected the soldier with salt water telling him that it was morphine.
To Beecher’s surprise (and relief) this deception worked and the soldier barely flinched during the procedure.
What Beecher had witnessed is now known as the placebo effect; where a person’s belief or expectation can have therapeutic value even when no real medications are involved.
This is why placebo drugs are still very popular today – with studies showing that 35-45% of all prescribed meds being placebos – and even why our food tastes better at times!
An example of this was in 2006 when Hunter Somerville repackaged traditional shredded wheat cereal in an appealing diamond shape and named it Diamond Shreddies – causing people to believe they were eating something new and improved when in reality nothing had changed!
Some lies save lives while others help us sell things – either way you look at it they both show how powerful deception can be!
Is Lying Wrong? A Matter Of Perception, According To Cultures And Traditions
It’s clear that there is no clear-cut answer when it comes to the morality of lying.
Even the Bible, which provides us with many moral teachings, does not make a definite statement about whether or not telling lies is wrong.
For instance, the Ten Commandments include “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” – but in other places in the Bible, lies can be told with God’s approval.
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant proposed that lying should always be deemed wrong since it takes away from one’s human dignity; however, he still left room for uncertainty as he himself wondered if it was okay to tell a friend a white lie in order not to hurt their feelings.
In the early 2000s, Chinese-Canadian professor Kang Lee tried to find out where people draw the line.
He presented groups of children with different scenarios and found that Canadian children saw lying as generally wrong whereas some of the Chinese children viewed this kind of dishonesty as being OK.
After further investigation, Kang Lee concluded that differing opinions come from different values they had been taught – Canadians value personal achievement while Chinese culture emphasizes humility and self-effacement.
The final summary of Born Liars is that lying isn’t a character flaw, but rather a useful tool.
As we make our way through life, this tool can be especially helpful when it comes to avoiding hurt feelings.
We should also become more aware and skeptical of our own knowledge – switching “I know” for “I think”.
By being open to discussion and accepting the potential of being wrong, not only do we progress as individuals, but as a human race too.
Overall, Born Liars encourages its readers to explore the dynamics of truth and deception in an insightful and thought-provoking way.