According to researchers, many animals engage in deception, in deliberately misleading another, but only humans reach the performance of deceiving not only others but also themselves. People are so engaged in managing how others perceive them that they are often unable to separate truth from fiction even in their own minds, said Robert Feldman, a psychologist from the University of Massachusetts.
"It's tied in with self-esteem," he said. "We find that as soon as people feel that their self-esteem is threatened, they immediately begin to lie at higher levels."
In his extensive study of how and when people lie and on whether we are always aware that we are doing
it, Feldman resorts to various experiments. In one such experiment, two strangers were left in a room together. They were videotaped while they conversed. Later, independently, each was asked to view the tape and identify anything they had said that was "not entirely accurate". Feldman did not use the word "lie" because of the moral baggage of that term.
At first, all participants said that they haven't told anything which was not entirely accurate. But as they watched the tape they were themselves genuinely surprised to observe various departures from the "entirely" accurate. The lies ranged from pretending to like someone they actually disliked to falsely claiming to be the star of a rock band.
"People almost lie reflexively," Feldman says. "They don't think about it as part of their normal social discourse. We're trying not so much to impress other people but to maintain a view of ourselves that is consistent with the way they would like us to be."
Researchers also found various differences between men and women and between extroverts and introverts. They found that extroverts tend to lie more often than introverts, and that although both women and men lie in equal amounts, their "style" differs. Men's lies tend to be more egotistic, their goal is to make them look better, while women's lies tend to be directed toward the other person, trying to make the other person feel better.
Feldman says we should become more aware of the extent to which we tend to lie. "The default ought to be to be honest and accurate [...] We're better off if honesty is the norm. It's like the old saying: honesty is the best policy." Feldman adds that honesty yields more genuine relationships and trust.Photo credit: Jerry Hazard