Psychology of lying

Lying is popular nowadays. Some newspapers keep a count of all the lies Donald Trump tells. My favorite of his: That he has the best brain. 

Other politicians also lie. If you told a politician you want the truth about something important, and you received a heartfelt reply, you might hear something like this famous line by Jack Nicholson in the movie A Few Good Men: “You can’t handle the truth.” You see, politicians tell us what we want to hear — or we vote against them. 

Politicians do not have a monopoly on lying. CEOs lie sometimes. That plane that crashed – it was well designed – must have been pilot error. Those millions of dollars I gave to politicians — I don’t expect anything in return.

Criminals lie at times, especially when they get arrested. Certain individuals lie and admit to crimes they did not commit. Some of these individuals are pressured by police into “confessing.” Others have one mental problem or another. 

If you watch the docudrama “Unbelievable,” you will see the true story of a young woman who was raped in her home by a stranger. After a period of weeks, detectives started to doubt her story and pressured her to say that she was lying. So she recanted her prior statement and ended up pleading guilty to making a false police report. Later, better detectives in another state arrested the rapist for other rapes and found incontrovertible evidence that the young woman had actually been raped. The woman had falsely recanted. 

Animals lie too. Take the bird called the Kalahari drongo. It screeches when it sees a predator. When ground animals hear the sound, they drop anything they are carrying and run for a hole. Sometimes a drongo makes the sound just to induce an animal to drop the dead prey it is carrying. Then the drongo gets an easy meal. 

Why do people and animals lie? Usually for personal advantage. We either gain something good or avoid something bad. Psychologists call both results reinforcement. 

The results can be dreadful though if we get caught in a lie. Then we lose credibility. Since trust is the bedrock of social and economic relations, we can get excluded from important parts of life. 

You may find that it works best to go through life mostly telling the truth and mostly trusting others to tell the truth. Sometimes you will get fooled. Maybe by a drongo.

[Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash]

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