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 http://nexxworks.com/assets/files/content_events/Kenny_Louie_(flickr)_-_blog_customer_centricity.jpg