The Science Behind a Lie


One of the prominent media stories that emerged in the 2016 presidential election was the need for constant fact checking among the candidates. While many “untruths” are labeled as lies, often a case can be made that information was cherry picked, taken out of context, incomplete, misconstrued or misinterpreted.

However, that’s not to say that out-and-out lying is uncommon. One researcher asserts that 60 percent of people tell, on average, two to three fibs during a typical 10-minute conversation.

Why so common? A recent study found that dishonesty grows with repetition. Scientists posit that the first time a person tells a lie, he or she tends to feel guilty. That’s (human) nature’s way of curbing an implicitly incorrect behavior. However, over time, the more lies one tells, the less guilty he or she feels, indicating that the brain somehow adapts to this illicit behavior.

Research has demonstrated that lies appear to escalate more when there is an element of self-interest: The more an individual benefits from lying, the more likely he or she is to lie repeatedly. The lies get bigger, and that self-conscious feeling of guilt tends to get suppressed.

Despite its prevalence, we tend to feel guilty when we suspect someone of lying, which is one reason why we’re often duped. Men and women lie with equal regularity, but often for different reasons. Psychologist Robert Feldman says women are more likely to lie to make the person they are talking to feel good, while men lie most often to make themselves look better.

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