Understanding Why People Lie

I would be lying if I said I’d been honest my entire life.

“Yea, let me know what time and I’ll see if I can make it,” sounds better than saying, “Yeah, I don’t think I want to attend.” Saying, “Sorry for texting you back so late, but I’ve been super busy,” is much more polite than the truth of the matter which may be, “Sorry for avoiding you, but I really didn’t feel like talking.” Truth be told, the intentions behind an infraction are not always ill-fated. Believe it or not, experts say the reasons why people lie range from compassion to compulsion and understanding the reasons people lie is just as important as knowing how to spot a liar.

Everybody lies, at one point or another, so this doesn’t necessarily make someone a “bad” person. In fact, there could be a “good” reason the person you love is withholding the truth. If you’re curious as to whether you are being lied to, check out my post here, but for now, I’ll share 9 common motives for lying. I’ll begin with the most obvious one.

Truth Hurts

People lie to avoid an unfavorable outcome

Lizzo won a Grammy for the song title, Truth Hurts, and the popular phrase is one many can relate to. Robert Feldman, PhD, a professor of psychology at University of Massachusetts Amherst, reveals lying as a strategy to avoid the awkwardness of an uncomfortable conversation, disappointing someone, or hurting their feelings. Sometimes, people lie to avoid hurting their own feelings of shame or embarrassment and a lie is easier to digest than truth. People may also lie in order to protect their privacy, but it may come off as “sneaky” if this is not disclosed.

Then, there are times when people lie to save face and not hurt a person’s feelings. As admirable as an honest omission may seem, the damage of the person finding out the truth on their own can wreak havoc on a relationship. And to clarify, an omission of truth, technically constitutes a lie, in my opinion.

People lie to protect another person from punishment or harm

People lie to cover up bad behavior or a mistake

Lying makes us feel good. Or at least, that’s what we tell ourselves. If, for example, we say to our partner, “No, honey, I think your hair looks great,” then it’s a win for both parties. Imagine having dinner reservations with your significant other at 7, when he/she/they walks into the room 20 minutes beforehand and asks you what you think of the outfit. The truth may be that you might have paired the outfit with a different bag or pair of shoes, but for the sake of getting to the restaurant on time because you know that if you were honest, they’d go back and change, you appease them with a little, white lie? Of course, there is no harm in this instance, but under different circumstances, even the smallest tale can have lasting effects.

People lie to influence others

People lie to get what they want

Lying is the easier way to manipulate someone without using physical harm. “Lying is so easy compared to other ways of gaining power,” notes Sissela Bok, an ethicist at Harvard University who’s one of the most prominent thinkers on the subject. “It’s much easier to lie in order to get somebody’s money or wealth than to hit them over the head or rob a bank.” Likewise, if you can’t see a person’s pain, in the way you can if you were to hit them over the head, then it doesn’t really exist to you.

People lie for economic gain (& even for the perception of it)

People lie for personal advantage (to look better in someone else’s eyes)

Whether it’s to get a new job or a new love interest, oftentimes, people stretch the truth in order to attain a goal. The goal could be as simple as wanting a particular person to see them in a certain way, often a more favorable light. On the dating scene, for example, people often lead with their best attributes, obviously, because they want to be seen as good dating potential. Thus, they may not reveal their poor credit rating or ghosts of their relationships past. In some cases, people fear what may happen to the relationship if they are forthcoming. Will they still like me? Will they secretly judge me? Will the relationship end, maybe even before it begins?

People lie to inflate their image

People lie to maintain a previous lie

Not surprisingly, the act of lying can create a snowball effect. If you lied to your partner about spending time with your kids on the weekend instead of hanging out with them, then you may find yourself offering a story about how the weekend went, you know, just to make it look good. An experiment by Tali Sharot, a neuroscientist at University College London, and colleagues showed how the brain becomes inured to the stress or emotional discomfort that happens when we lie, making it easier to lie again and again. In the fMRI scans of the participants, the team focused on the amygdala, a region that is involved in processing emotions. The researchers found that the amygdala’s response to lies got progressively weaker with each lie, even as the lies got bigger. “Perhaps engaging in small acts of deception can lead to bigger acts of deception,” she says.

As much as I hate to admit this, research suggests that people continue to lie as they get older and, in fact, they get better at it. But given the motives behind an exaggeration here or an omission there, how bad can lying really be?

What are your thoughts? What’s the biggest lie you’ve ever told someone? What’s the biggest lie you’ve ever kept from someone?? Do people really lie more to protect you or themselves??

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