Class Blog · Psychology · Social Cognition · Uncategorized

The Truth About Lying

We’ve all done it, the harmless “white lie”. I don’t think I can come across an individual in this world that can tell me (honestly) that they have never told a lie before in their life. But why do we do it? Weren’t we taught growing up that lying was probably the worst thing we could do as children? Yet it still persists throughout time. Clearly there has to be some type of advantage to lying or we wouldn’t do it, but what is it? To follow though in a scientific/blog method. I found a few papers that looks at possible reasons as to why one would lie and what kind of gain comes from a lie.

Pro-social lying, serves to benefit listeners, and is considered more socially and morally acceptable than anti-social lying, which serves to harm listeners. However, it is still unclear whether the neural mechanisms underlying the moral judgment of pro-social lying differ from those underlying the moral judgment of anti-social lying.

The first paper I looked at highlights the neural systems for moral judgement of anti and pro-social lying. Through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) researchers were able to examine neural activities associated with moral judgement in pro/anti-social lying. They found dissociable systems for both types of moral judgement meaning the neural basis of moral judgement in lying is moderated by the purpose of the lie:

The behavioural data taken right from the paper showed that anti-social lying was mostly judged to be morally inappropriate and that pro-social lying was mainly judged to be morally appropriate. The anti-social lying, which was judged to be morally inappropriate, was associated with increased activity in the right ventromedial prefrontal cortex, right middle frontal gyrus, right precuneus/posterior cingulate gyrus, left posterior cingulate gyrus, and bilateral temporoparietal junction when compared with the control condition. The pro-social lying, which was judged to be morally appropriate, was associated with increased activity in the right middle temporal gyrus, right supramarginal gyrus, and the left middle cingulate gyrus when compared with the control condition. No overlapping activity was observed during the moral judgment of anti- and pro-social lying. Our data suggest that cognitive and neural processes for the moral judgment of lying are modulated by whether the lie serves to harm or benefit listeners (Hayashi, et al. 2014).

I included that specific paragraph from the paper because it explains perfectly that there is a biological reason as to why we lie and the reason why depends on the morals that were instilled upon you growing up and the outcome. It’s a fitness gain but at what cost? (1)

*Note: there are actually 4 types of lies (pro/anti-social, selfish, and self enhancement) the fact that they left the other two types of lying out of the study may be a bias, or it may have been because they wanted to focus on the two specifically.

The other paper I looked at defined lying as social deception. We use this social deception to our personal gain when it comes to competition.

This idea comes from the Encyclopedia of Animal Behaviour but I still feel like that it’s still relevant. There are many innate qualities that remain from our primitive ancestors and its journal articles that can combine the fields of biology and psychology (like this one) to help give us a better understanding of such a complex concept like lying. (2)

With everything going on in the world right now, I wanted to highlight the importance of fact checking and gathering as much information as possible from multiple sources before making an assumption. There is too much ignorance being spread around; we could use a little more knowledge…


(1) Hayashi, A., Abe, N., Fujii, T., Ito, A., Ueno, A., Koseki, Y., . . . Mori, E. (2014). Dissociable neural systems for moral judgment of anti- and pro-social lying. Brain Research, 1556, 46-56. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2014.02.011

(2) Byrne, R. (2010). Deception: Competition by Misleading Behavior. Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior, 461-465. doi:10.1016/b978-0-08-045337-8.00097-8

(Photo) Louie, K. (n.d.). Pinocchio [Photograph found in Flickr]. Retrieved February 9, 2017, from


6 thoughts on “The Truth About Lying

  1. I really enjoyed reading your topic. It is so true when you mention that “We use this social deception to our personal gain when it comes to competition.” I looked at an article which goes on to further explain this stating that individuals lie because they “find that as soon as people feel that their self-esteem is threatened, they immediately begin to lie at higher levels.”
    And also,Feldman believes many lies are simply for the purpose of maintaining social contacts by avoiding insults or discord. Reference:

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is an interesting topic and it is funny that we lie so often, even though we were taught that it was bad and we now teach children that it is wrong. Children actually learn to tell white lies from adults as a way to make people who appear sad feel better? The first phase of this experiment looked at how children of different ages told lies in response to someone who felt sad about their artwork. The group of 7 year-olds were more likely to tell a white lie to those who expressed a sad emotion. The second phase looked at whether or not children told a white lie after witnessing an adult doing so. Modelling caused children of all ages to tell a white lie when presented with someone who was sad as opposed to a neutral emotion. So children are generally attentive to others emotions when choosing how to respond or interact with them.

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  3. I was intrigued by your statement ” Weren’t we taught growing up that lying was probably the worst thing we could do as children?”. I began to wonder why children so often get caught in their lies by parents and what is it about their cognition that makes them less sufficient lairs. Victoria Talwar (2007) explained that lying “often requires lie-tellers to produce verbal and nonverbal behaviors that are consistent with the false statement but inconsistent with their true beliefs and to conceal verbal and nonverbal behaviors that are consistent with their true beliefs but incongruent with the false statement”. I suggest it may be this complex combination of self monitoring ones words and their body language to match a statement inconsistent with their beliefs that is simply outside of the cognitive development of the child at that time.

    Talwar, Victoria., Gordon, Heidi M., Lee, Kang (2007). Lying in the Elementary School Years: Verbal Deception and Its Relation to Second-Order Belief Understanding. Developmental psychology. Vol 43 (3), pg. 804.

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  4. Great topic, fascinating to read about. I have found an article titled “Psychiatric aspects of normal and pathological lying.” which I believe will further supplement your topic. In this article, it takes a look at how pathological lying and mental disorders are related, as well as the difference between “normal” lying and pathological lying. An individual who feels the need to lie, for no reason at all could present a mental disorder hindering one’s social cognition.


    Muzinic, L. (05.2016). International journal of law and psychiatry: Psychiatric aspects of normal and pathological lying Elsevier. doi:10.1016/j.ijlp.2016.02.036

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  5. Avery, your post reminded me of Jimmy Kimmel’s “I gave my kid a bad Christmas present” videos. In the videos kids are given a terrible gift (like a potato or something) and their parents record their reactions. I find that, for myself and probably others, we tend to think of the kids who are grateful for the gifts as the “better” kids, while the kids who react poorly are seen as “bratty”

    I never thought of this too deeply but after reading your post I realized it’s a great example of pro-social lying. I then looked for some research to back it up and found this article:

    In this study they looked at reactions of children to an undesirable gift. They had three conditions, one in which the child responded on their own, one in which the child was encouraged by their parent’s to tell a white lie, and one in which their parent’s received a bad gift and the child was pressured to lie on behalf of their parents. They found in all conditions the child was more likely to pretend they enjoyed the undesirable gift, and that the older the child was the more likely they were to lie.

    I think this goes to show that the social context really shapes what behaviors we see as acceptable and moral.

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