Why Do People Lie?

Are you a liar? No need to lie about it: we all lie from time to time in some capacity, and you’re going to lie again.

So why do people lie? It’s been reported that the average human lies about ten times per week and that we’ve been lying since we’ve been about six months old. There are multiple excuses that people give for lying: saving face, protecting somebody, advancing our own goals, making a story sound better. Whatever the excuse may be, there is unlikely a single person alive that is above the age of six months and can speak that has not told a single lie. We do it without even thinking about it, because lying is a universally observed trait. It has been theorized that we evolved with the ability to lie as a result of natural selection.

People who are able to lie more convincingly are more likely to avoid the repercussions of their actions and they’re more likely to increase their desirability in the eyes of other people, in turn making it more likely that they will survive and reproduce.

People start lying at a very young age: at just six months old babies will pretend to cry or they’ll pretend to laugh so that they can get the attention of their parents, and we all know how well that works. When the ability to talk is developed, children often tell implausible lies. Even though they’ve developed the ability to lie they haven’t yet developed the ability to tell if it’s believable or not.

Scientists have used MRI scanners to take images of people’s brains when they lie so that they can see what parts of the brains are the most active during a lie. From these experiments, scientists have concluded that the ability to lie is directly linked to the prefrontal cortex in your brain and this is the part of the brain that’s responsible for personality behavior logic and complex thinking. This is further backed up by the fact that people with Parkinson’s disease have been shown to have a more difficult time deceiving others, because Parkinson’s disease largely affects the prefrontal cortex.

Other areas of your body are also affected when you lie. Adrenaline rushes through your body, which causes your heart rate to rise. You may get a little bit red and flushed as your blood vessels dilate to increase your blood flow, and your pupils dilate as you focus more intensely on making sure that you’re not discovered.

All of these reactions are caused by the fear of getting discovered. The more confident you are in your lie, the less likely that these symptoms are going to occur and, of course, not all lies are equal. We quickly develop the ability to judge if it’s appropriate to lie in a given situation or not or, more importantly, if it’s worth the risk of being discovered.

We’re more likely to lie if we consider the lie to be a white lie, but a white lie being harmless isn’t entirely true. Telling your partner that she looks fantastic in that new dress or that his haircut looks great when in reality it does not will protect their feelings, but we might actually be doing them a disservice by not being upfront with them. But most importantly, the reason that we tell small lies like this is not so much for them, but to protect their opinion of us. We also lie to improve or maintain our social status. Think about what would happen if you always told the whole truth in every situation.

Lying is a normal part of society, and we mostly do it to maintain politeness or to gain an advantage of some kind. Pathological liars, on the other hand, create an entire fantasy world about their lives that they continuously lie about. This is a psychological condition and luckily it doesn’t affect that many people in the grand scheme of things.

And that is the truth about lies.


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