Why do people lie?

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Boy lying to girl
There are numerous reasons why people lie
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Understand why do people lie and discover the secret fears of liars

There is not one of us that could say, in all honesty, that we haven't bent the truth on several occasions. Most people fib when they are afraid of what would happen if they told the truth. According to Margaret Paul, Ph.D., "Lying may be one end of a relationship system, with anger and judgment on the other end." So why do people lie? There are many reasons—some simple, some more complex.

Simple Reasons Why People Lie

Recent research indicates that most of us have not told the truth in one-fourth of our daily interactions with others—usually to spare ourselves or someone else humiliation. For example, if someone asks a casual acquaintance if a certain dress looks good, she will (more than likely) not comment negatively even if she does not particularly like the outfit. That is, unless she's a really good friend!

Regularly, doctors used to not tell the truth to their patients—thinking the patient didn't want to hear any bad news.  Thankfully, with new privacy and ethics rules in medicine, that practice has been minimized.

Learning to Lie

Kids learn to fib very early on for many of reasons—topping the list is to avoid punishment. Other reasons are to win favor with friends or to gain control.

A new theory has been proposed to explain one way the habit of lying develops: children are copying their parents. This theory is expounded in an article in New York Magazine by Po Bronson. Bronson found that children start lying at a very early age. He also found that smarter children begin to fabricate stories when they are just two or three-years-old. "Lying is related to intelligence," according to Dr. Victoria Talwar, an assistant professor at Montreal's McGill University and a leading expert on children's lying behavior.

Additionally, Talwar concluded, "Although we think of truthfulness as a young child's paramount virtue, it turns out that lying is the more advanced skill. A child who is going to lie must recognize the truth, intellectually conceive of an alternate reality, and be able to convincingly sell that new reality to someone else. Therefore, lying demands both advanced cognitive development and social skills that honesty simply doesn't require. It's a developmental milestone."

If children are successful in their first attempt to escape a reprimand (or worse), they will begin to fib at will. If you're a parent, you've surely heard your child telling a blatant untruth — one that is so obvious because you've witnessed the action for which he's claimed no responsibility. For example, you were in the room and saw Jimmy hit his sister Jane. As you start to scold him, he immediately denies ever touching Jane.

According to Talwar, "…kids who grasp early the nuances between what is not true and truth use this knowledge to their advantage, making them more prone to not tell the truth when given the chance."

Social Lies

Children will not outgrow the lying habit as they transition into the teen years. One study found that out of 36 topics, the average teen was lying to his parents about 12 of them. They fibbed about many things: what happened to their allowances; who they are dating; movies they had seen; alcohol and drug use; parties they attended and the sobriety of drivers with whom they rode. The list goes on and on.

Basically, if one wanted a simple answer to the question why do people not tell the truth, it would probably be to avoid punishment or anger or a fear of reduction in social status; and, in some cases, to enhance one's social status. Some people lie to achieve recognition, such as in the case of reporters filing not factually true articles. One need only to observe the politics of today to realize that lying (or a slight fabrication of the truth) is used to gain an advantage over an opponent!

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