It is commonly known that a lie is a false statement made with the deliberate intent to deceive. As much as lying is frowned upon in society, people lie constantly, to the extent that some claim lying is a part of human nature. Each individual has a unique combination of core beliefs and political motivations that can shape either the angel or devil on his/her shoulder. The big lies – political scandals, corporate fraud, false statements, cheating in sports, etc. – are loudly popularized by the media and press. When the lies of important, sometimes infamous people are exposed in public, we tell ourselves “I could never do that,” as if we are fundamentally different from Bernie Madoff or Tiger Woods. In reality, a big lie is a series of small deceptions, little lies that build up over time, and everyone is definitely guilty of those. In turns out that many of us are very adept at lying, big or small. Why do we lie so easily and so well?
“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.” Spilling distruths in many cases is a lot easier than holding onto the truth and doing honest work. As Bok points out, manipulating others without physical force is often how people get away with things discreetly and thus, very conveniently.
However, people don’t just lie because it is easy to. Pathological liars are statistically not that common (possibly because not that many people would admit to it), and telling a lie takes more time than telling a truth does. Matthias Gamer, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of Wuerzburg, claims in “Deception Research Today”, an article he published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), that “deception is complex social behavior which involves a higher set of cognitive functions”. He details that today “deception is not characterized by a single cognitive process but rather involves the combination of a variety of basic cognitive processes such as working memory, response monitoring and inhibition.” It is for this reason that in fact some studies claim the emergence of lying in children is a sign of their conceptual development and development of social cognition.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Intercultural Communication Research gave the most common and compelling reasons for lying: 22% of people lied for personal transgression (to cover up a mistake or misdeed), 14% for avoidance (to escape or evade other people), 16% for economic advantage (to gain financial benefits), and 15% for personal advantage (to bring benefits beyond money). More importantly, the study categorized these reasons and found that 44% of people lied “to promote themselves” (for economic advantage, personal advantage, self-impression, and humor), 36% “to protect themselves” (for personal transgression and avoidance), and 11% “to impact others” (altruistic, social or impolite, and malicious). The goal of deception researchers today is to analyze these reasons and to identify and modulate the specific processes involved in lying. Unfortunately, there has not been a lot of scientific research on why we lie. Hopefully, continued deception research will open up new frontiers in our understanding of human behavior.
Jennifer Park ,Grade 11
University High School