Over the course of the past couple of weeks, a few articles about lying and deception have crossed my desk. I took this as a message that I should do a little research on the subject, and then write a blog about it.
The cover story of the June 2017 issue of National Geographic is called Why We Lie: The science behind our complicated relationship with the truth. In a fascinating way, this article uncovers the facts and science behind lying. Author Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, says that most of us are adept at lying, and many of us can easily make up both small and large lies. He says that lying is considered a developmental milestone, sort of like walking or talking, and that kids get better at lying as they get older. Bhattacharjee suggests that the ability to lie is often connected to a sense of sophistication and the ability to put oneself into someone else’s shoes. However, interestingly enough, in their more senior years, people tend to lie to a lesser extent because they care less about what others think.
There are many reasons why people lie: to inflate their images, cover up bad behavior, gain financially, humor people, hurt or help others, be socially correct, or avoid punishment or censure. In some cases, the art of lying might be pathological. According to a study by Serota, Levine, and Boster (2010), prolific liars are most likely those who have an honest demeanor; and that “unusually transparent liars avoid lying” (p. 22).
One of the first quantitative studies on lying was done a couple of decades ago by Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist and deception researcher. She studied 147 people between the ages of 18 and 71 who kept a diary of all the lies they told over the course of one week. The results showed that those who lied did so on an average of one or two times every day, and most of the lies were told to hide inadequacies or protect someone else’s feelings.
DePaulo found that those most likely to lie were extroverted individuals who cared about what others thought; and they were sociable, self-confident, and physically attractive. According to her findings, these people lied because they wanted to make a good impression on others and flatter them. Her studies showed that those who lied are more manipulative and irresponsible than those who lie less frequently. DePaulo also believes that “everyday lies are really a part of the fabric of social life.”
In her research, DePaulo (2011) found that there are two types of lies — self-serving and kind-hearted. Self-serving lies spare liars embarrassment and make them feel better. Kind-hearted lies are told to make others look or feel better. They are told from the heart.
There’s no doubt that some people are better liars than others, and most of us know our capacity for being “good” liars. In most situations, for example, I am an unskilled liar because not only is my face expressive, giving immediate clues to my dishonest message, but I also have an unreliable memory.
In ordinary life, we obviously can’t give those we meet polygraph tests, but we can be aware of certain behaviors and characteristics that tell us that others may be lying, such as:
- Changes in vocal pitch
- Unusual blinking or fidgeting
- When lying they use fewer first-person words, such as “I.”
- Less tendency to use emotional words, such as hurt or angry.
- Difficulty making eye contact when speaking (that is, shifty eyes).
- Using self-soothing techniques such as ear tugging, neck touching, collar pulling, mouth covering.
- Inconsistency of gestures/facial expressions in contrast to message content.
Originally published at www.psychologytoday.com.
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