Admittedly, I have lied. You have lied. We all have, whether we are aware of it or not. Our parents and teachers from a young age have taught us the repercussions of lying, yet, why do we do it?
The simplest reason, we can’t help it. We want to paint a better picture of ourselves, where we connect our fantasies to the person we wish we were to the person we are. It’s programmed into us, from cognitive evolutionary biology. Lying also helps us get through awkward situations, avoiding punishments, and they can help us “spare the feelings of others, preserve or strengthen alliances, enhance social standing, keep us out of trouble, and even save our lives”. When our lying works, it has benefits, and the receiving of those benefits can lead to more. We lie because it works, and because it has benefits. There are a plethora of reasons other than these.
Scientists have found that lying is associated with the prefrontal cortex. Using functional-magnetic-resonance-imaging (fMRI) machine (which monitors blood flow and therefore activity inside the brain), Joshua Greene, 35, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University, published a study to get people to lie without asking them to lie. “While inside an fMRI scanner, each participant was asked to predict the outcome — heads or tails — of about 210 coin tosses. The participants made their predictions privately, but after each toss, researchers asked them to reveal whether or not they had guessed accurately. A display mounted inside the scanner flashed the questions, and participants pressed a button in response. Each correct prediction was awarded up to $7; incorrect predictions were awarded nothing, but there was ample opportunity to lie and still win the money.
The researchers then divided the volunteers into groups on the basis of their answers. Those who reported an improbably high number of correct answers were labeled dishonest. Most of the others were classified as honest. Researchers then averaged the fMRI data — which monitors blood flow and, therefore, activity inside the brain in real time — for each group to try to establish a neural signature that represented truth-telling and one that characterized lying.”
Based on these findings, the honest volunteers had quieter minds, showing no distinctive activity in the prefrontal cortex (responsible for planning and desicion making), but in the dishonest group, the prefrontal cortices’ activity was rigorous.
How can we tell when someone is lying? There are both verbal and nonverbal cues of lying.
– One of the most prevalent are microexpressions, super quick expressions which cross over people’s faces without them being aware of it. These include a millisecond of anger, fear, sadness, disgust, contempt, surprise and happiness appearing in the person’s face. This is often detected due to intuition or a ‘gut feeling’.
– A forced smile is a nonverbal sign of lying. A forced smile usually only involves the muscles of the mouth and not the face. Sometimes, the verbal and nonverbal cues will also not match up, such as nodding yes during a denial. A lie needs to be constructed plausibly, and verbally executed, as well as deciding which body gesture matches the lie. There’s a lot going on.
– There are many other cues which may pertain to one certain person every time they lie, such as increased blinking, scratching the nose, or placing a hand over the mouth.
– Verbal cues include the liar spending more time searching for the right answer, so they may take long to provide an answer, or they could get words mixed up, as well as adding unnecessary details.
One of my favorite videos from the TEDed collection is the following video about using Linguistic Text Analysis to detect lies:
As you may have heard in the media and in history, there have been many negative repercussions from lying, including the Trojan Horse, the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, and especially NAZI propaganda by Hitler. The best advice I can offer; it’s best to learn our lessons from them.