In our society lying is seen as moral wrongdoing, a truly antisocial and disrespectful behavior. If we find out that we have been lied to we are offended, hurt and disappointed. But, at a second thought, lies should not be condemned easily. Sure, on the one hand we`re told that being honest is the best policy. On the other hand, we know we should try to be nice to other people as often as possible. And these motives are opposites more often than not.
Why we lie
From a very early age on we`re told that lying is unjust and inacceptable. Children but also adults often lie to conceal misdeeds and wrongdoings in order to stay out of trouble. The motivation for this behavior is quite obvious: avoidance of negative consequences.
More complex motives why people tell lies could be to preserve their own reputation or to even increase their stature. Yes, guys, bragging might also be lying!
Furthermore, we all can imagine that some lies may be told to avoid hurting someone`s feelings:
“ Oh, I like your new haircut!” “This meal tastes delicious!” “Sure, I`ll call you!”
But it gets even more awful. People lie to manipulate others or control situations. Typically, especially this behavior strongly goes against our sense of justice and respect and deeply repels us. Clearly, we nobody likes to be manipulated by others.
On the other hand, the problem with truth is that it doesn’t always serve our purposes, further our careers or keep us out of trouble.
So, what do we do?
We all do it
Remember Bill Clinton`s famous “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” when he rather should´ve said “I had an affair with my intern, Monica Lewinsky.”? Did you follow Lance Armstrong`s confessional interview with Oprah about his unprecedented career and worldwide popularity being based on illegal doping?
Football player Manti Te´o took deception to a whole different level and made up a girlfriend just to tragically loose her soon after that. What a hoax!
Not every lie may be as big and bold as those examples. But still, look around you. Everybody does it.
You wouldn`t believe how early we learn it. Around age 2 children realize that they’re not under constant observation by an all-knowing, all-seeing “Eye of Truth”. A 4-year-old streches the truth once every two hours, while 6-year-olds will tell a straight lie every 90 minutes.
A normal adult basically lies every day. Lies are told — in some form or fashion — by just about everybody. These lies can range from little white lies meant to lubricate social situations to clearly deceiting others malevolently.
However, lying has long been a part of everyday life. We couldn’t get through the day without being deceptive.
Even worse! Research has shown that dishonesty also pervades our romantic relationships. Believe it or not, humans tend to tell the biggest lies to their loved ones.
“Of course I love you”
But why do we save the biggest lies and with it the biggest disrespect and deceits for those we`re closest to?
Eighty-five percent of couples interviewed in a study of college students reported that one or both partners had lied about past relationships or recent indiscretions. Researchers also found that dating couples lie to each other in about a third of their interactions—perhaps even more often than they deceive other people.
However, the sexes are not equal in their lying behaviour. Although women and men lie with equal frequency, women are especially likely to stretch the truth in order to protect someone else’s feelings. Men, on the other hand, are more prone to lying about themselves.
Scientists also coined the term affection deception, which means that an individual in a romantic relationship chooses to express affection he or she does not actually feel. There are various instances where this behavior might occur: lying about one’s own feelings or expressing affection instead of negative feelings. It seems couples use verbal and non-verbal affection in hopes that a sweet caress or confession of love will mask their true feelings or avoid a fight over not feeling in the mood to deal with the partner or his or her feelings.
You find this unromantic?
In fact, researchers believe deceptive affection might actually help maintain a relationship, if it doesn`t become standard behavior! It keeps conflict and negative feelings out of a relationship which is otherwise perfectly fine except for the fact that one of the partners is not in the mood for something at a given moment.
Lies foster personal and social well being
So if lying ist good for our relationships, let`s look at it from another, positive point of view: Lying is – among other things – a sign of cognitive advancement. It requires a fertile and high-functioning brain to manufacture a solid fake. This might not be any solace for those who happen to be on the receiving end of a hurting or disapointing lie, but still on a personal level we should find a way to live with ourselves as lying beings.
Although there is some evidence that lying less is linked to better health in one study, other findings suggest that humans need everyday lies to stabilize themselves and the self-image they project. Several studies indicate for instance that depressed people delude themselves far less than their non-depressed peers about the amount of control they have over situations.
So, let`s be honest (ha ha!). Lying is – as a general rule – not OK, as we probably all know. Chances are you hurt the people around you and maybe even yourself on the long run when you lie.
But a dream of a world in complete, relentless honesty would be a nightmare. It’s easy to think that lies interfere with our need for genuine communication or intimacy with loved ones. But clearly, our social lives would collapse under the weight of everybody telling the truth all the time.