Liar, Liar: We All Lie, but Why?

Lying is in our nature, and it’s socially acceptable

Robert Roy Britt
Elemental
Published in
8 min readFeb 24, 2020

--

Photo: Cirilopoeta/Getty Images

DDuring a recent episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, a surrogate for the host hit the streets to ask people how they voted on President Donald Trump’s impeachment that day. “Um, I voted to impeach,” said one man, looking sincere and thoughtful. Next, he was asked how the lines were at his polling place. “Um, they were actually not as long as I thought they would be, unfortunately,” he said. Another man, who said he voted against the impeachment, said his polling place was “pretty packed.”

How could their voting experiences have been so different? Well, for starters, there was no public vote, of course. So why did these people lie blatantly, on camera, about something they did not do, and could not possibly have done?

“We don’t like to sound stupid,” says Kim Serota, PhD, a professor of marketing at Oakland University in Michigan. “We lie on dating apps and resumes to pump ourselves up and impress others. If we don’t know the answer to a question, we make one up. That is one of the more common reasons that people lie.”

“Lies occur between those we love and trust as much as they do with those we dislike, and even happens among complete strangers.”

But like all human behavior, lying exists on a spectrum, from sometimes harmless “white lies” to egregious and highly consequential fabrications told to gain money or power. Psychologists don’t all agree on exactly how common lying is, but research suggests that while most people may rarely lie in ways that are intentionally hurtful, pretty much everyone is untruthful, at least in small ways, quite often. Experts do agree that lying is part of human nature and that it’s sanctioned and even encouraged by society.

What’s in a lie

A lie is “a deliberate choice to mislead,” says Paul Ekman, PhD, a psychologist, author, and professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco. Ekman’s research finds that virtually no one is beyond lying or being lied to. “Most (if not all) human relationships involve some form of deceit or at least the possibility of it,” Ekman contends. “Lies occur between…

--

--

Robert Roy Britt
Elemental

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB