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Study reveals why people lie

News Desk

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Sun, May 5, 2019  /  06:03 pm
Study reveals why people lie

Although the intention behind lying comes from within, external factors can influence the frequency as well. (Shutterstock/Chanwoot_Boonsuya)

Everyone tells a little white lie from time to time. People can lie to protect someone else or to avoid awkward situations, among other reasons. 

However, some people lie out of habit. Plus, the more people lie the easier and more frequent it gets. Science has now discovered why liars lie, as reported by The Washington Post.

According to psychologists, children start lying at the age of two. As telling a lie requires paying attention to the environment, sophisticated planning and the ability to manipulate a situation, it is actually considered an essential milestone in their development. 

What about adults? An American study in 2010 surveyed the frequency at which adults lie. Within a 24-hour timeframe, most participants claimed to tell the truth. Only 5 percent of the examined adults were responsible for half of all recorded lies. It turned out that most of them started lying when the truth was unpleasant.  

During an experiment, Harvard cognitive neuroscientist Joshua Greene investigated the physical process of lying. Participants were given the chance to win money by lying. Some of them stuck to the truth, while others turned to deception. 

Read also: We all lie, scientists say, but politicians even more so

Using an MRI machine, the participants' brains were examined during the study and the group of liars showed increased activity in their frontal parietal control network, as deciding between truth and dishonesty requires difficult and complex thinking. As the neural reward centers of the people who won money by telling lies were more active, it can be assumed that dishonesty may be a consequence of the inability to resist temptation. 

Still, there is no scientific explanation yet as to why we tend to avoid lying. Is it the social norm, a result of conflict in our brains or an understanding of morality and self-control? “We are our own judge about our own honesty. And that internal judge is what differentiates psychopaths and non-psychopaths,” explained Dan Ariely, a behavioral psychologist at Duke.

Although the intention behind lying comes from within, external factors can influence the frequency as well. According to research, people tend to be dishonest when they are suffering from stress or lack of sleep, or when they see others lying. “We as a society need to understand that when we don’t punish lying, we increase the probability it will happen again,” Ariely added for consideration.

Together with colleagues he conducted a study in 2016 to show the change people’s brains underwent when being dishonest. The study found increased activity in the amygalda, a part of the brain that produces fear, anxiety and emotions. This transformation made lying easier. The amygalda’s signals only decreased when people expected no consequences for being dishonest, for example when playing a game. 

“If you give people multiple opportunities to lie for their own benefit, they start with little lies and get bigger and bigger over time,” said Tali Sharot, a cognitive neuroscientist at University College London who led the research. (sop/kes)