The Lying Brain (Revised)


“Honesty may be the best policy, but deception and dishonesty are part of being human. Why do we lie? We all lie, but not all lies are the same. People lie and tell the truth to achieve a goal.” Research Tim Levine says, “We lie if honesty won’t work.” ~Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

Our human historical archives are strewn with examples of impeccable fact worthy truths told by honest and respectable people as well as impeccable improbable falsehoods told by scandalous ignobles. The fine line we walk, as humans, between expressing our beliefs, whether they be true or whether they be lies, is a very fine one between wrong and right. All people lie. In fact, lying is a sign of advancing cognitive development in our young. “Like learning to walk and talk, lying is something of a developmental milestone. [It] signals the beginning of a loss of innocence and a sign that their cognitive growth is on track,” says Kang Lee at the University of Toronto. Children begin to lie between the ages of two and five years of age. Most people will grow-up to learn that lying is socially unacceptable and will only tell the most innocuous small lies to hide inadequacies, or prevent hurt feelings. Although these small lies are told a few times through out everyone’s day, it is the mental state behind the actual lie that has to be considered. How hurtful was the lie and was it the intention of the perpetrator of the lie to hurt the victim(s). Most people possess a conscious state of awareness and, so, will not engage in grandiose lying in order to achieve a goal.

“That human beings should universally posses a talent for deceiving one another shouldn’t surprise us. Researchers speculate that lying as a behavior arose not long after the emergence of language. The ability to manipulate others without using physical force likely conferred an advantage in the competition for resources and mates, akin to the evolution of deceptive strategies in the animal kingdom, such as camouflage.”

The fact that we lie and that we play social games with each other to vie for a competitive edge in social sports, hints at our roots as a sociopathic and psychopathic species. The first and second stages of our human narcissistic development are a delicate and fragile time that, if not properly cared for, can have disastrous outcomes for individuals in the long run.

“There appears to be no agreement among psychiatrists about the relationship between mental health and lying, even though people with certain psychiatric disorders seem to exhibit specific lying behaviors. Sociopathic intervals – those diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder – tend to tell manipulative lies, while narcissists may tell falsehoods to boost their image.”

In an experiment conducted by Dan Ariely, a psychologist at Duke University, found that when given the chance to lie with the prospect to earn a lot of money, most people will only lie just a little bit. Most people will only cheat a little bit, something stops them from going all the way. Can you guess what it is? A conscious state of awareness. This is a testament that most of us have internalized honesty to some degree and socially value more honesty than more deception.

Research studies which have scanned individual’s brain activity among individuals who acted dishonestly show an increased “activation in the nucleus accumbens – a structure in the basal forebrain that plays a key role in reward processing. The more excited your reward system gets at the possibility of getting money – even in a perfectly honest context – the more likely you are to cheat,” explains Joshua Greene at Harvard University. “In other words, greed may increase one’s predisposition to lying.”

An experiment conducted by Tali Sharot at the University College London, showed how the brain can become accustomed to the pain and suffering of telling a lie making it easier to tell another lie. “In fMRI scans of the participants, the team focused on the amygdala, a region that is involved in processing emotions. The researchers found that the amygdala’s response to lies got progressively weaker with each lie, even as the lies got bigger.”

Social media and technology has opened up a new frontier for duping people with mistruths. It has created a protective veil in which predators can hide. It would seem that being fair and honest, in our social approach in dealing with others, may be the best policy. Or is it? Perhaps this approach is the best way to ensure our synchronicity and encourage a positive exchange of energy with others in a world riddled with deception. Or could it corral us in a pen, like a bunch of cattle? This is one sociopaths approach to life and his view on how a conscious state of awareness “does us in” by penning us in like a bunch of live stock unable to be truly free from social constraints. Luckily for him, our laws reflect the major opinion of our society. Perhaps one day we may see a radical democracy form, like the one that existed in ancient Greece, but it’s not likely.

This month’s issue of National Geographic magazine outlines several sub-types of liars, which, in my opinion, may illustrate several  sub-types of mental illness otherwise known as personality disorders. All these sub-types demonstrate some type of covert manipulative aggression. They are listed as follows:

The Art Forger – Lying for self-aggrandizement (a possible narcissistic personality disorder)*
The Champ – Lying for fun (a possible disingenuous psychopath)*
The Impersonator – Lying for personal gain (a possible anti-social personality disorder)*
The Secret Agent – Lying for country (a possible paranoid / schizoid personality disorder)*
The Con Artists – Lying to entertain (a possible dangerous liaison duet)*
The Card Shark – Lying for strategic advantage (a possible anti-social personality disorder)*
The Prankster – Lying to tell stories (a possible disingenuous psychopath)*
The Fabulist – Lying for professional gain (a possible narcissistic disorder)*

*No one can diagnose a person with a personality disorder except a trained professional who holds a degree in medical psychiatry or a degree in psychotherapy. Survey sheets or questionnaires are aids used by professionals to help diagnose mental illness. However, in order to achieve an accurate diagnosis a person has to spend several sessions with a trained professional to be diagnosed and then it could take several years of regular sessions with a therapist or psychiatrist to be “cured.”

The  break down below show the various reasons why we lie. The fact that the largest portion of lies comprise the “Personal Transgression” category supports the notion that we as a species are primarily socio / psychopathic. We should question why scientists want to make AI (artificial intelligence) units just like us. This would mean creating an AI that possess a narcissistic character trait. This trait combined with the fact that 80% of our liars tell lies to protect themselves cast suspicion on the scientists’ reasons for creating AI. The question scientists hope to explore, “What does it mean to be truly human?” Being a person who was raise and educated in a religious and spiritual atmosphere, and the fact that only 5% of our lies our altruistically told in order to help people, we really need to re-evaluate if science should create AI units to be just like us. Shouldn’t they be less like us? You decide. The breakdown of reasons why we lie:

To Protect Ourselves:
22 % Personal Transgression – We lie to cover up a misdeed or mistake
16% Economic Advantage – Gain Financial Benefits
15% Personal Advantage – Bring Benefits Beyond Money (Sexual Intercourse maybe ?)
14% Avoidance – Escape or Evade People
8% Self-Impression – To Shape A Positive Image Of Ourselves
5% Humor – Make People Laugh

To Impact Others:
5% Altruistic – To help people
4% Malicious – Hurt other people
2% Social or Polite – Uphold social roles or avoid rudeness

7% Unknown – Motives Are unclear, even to ourselves
2% Pathological – Ignore or disregard reality

*Quotes taken from the June 2017 issue of National Geographic Magazine, “Why We Lie” written by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee.

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