Though we often don’t think about it this way, creating and substantiating lies is one of the most advanced functions that our brains can do. In order to tell a lie, one must gather information about the situation, make determinations about the consequences of actions, and fabricate scenarios in order to achieve a desired outcome. Pretty damn complicated, if you ask me! Today, I'd like to focus on the neurological and psychological foundations of dishonesty (Shaffer, 2019).
At around age 4 or 5, humans develop two important brain capabilities that aid in creating believable lies:
- First the capability of understanding both the basic social rules that guide behavior and the consequences of violating these social norms, a function called deontic reasoning.
- The ability to understand the emotional states and motivations of others, a function called mentalizing (or developing a Theory of Mind) (Schaarschmidt, 2018).
In terms of lying ability, children and elderly people tend to be the worst liars, while adolescents and adults lie the best. This is because of another important brain function involved in lying: response inhibition. Essentially, the prefrontal cortex of younger adults acts more efficiently and is therefore better able to suppress undesired actions and responses, allowing for better lying ability (Schaarschmidt, 2018; Tiego et al., 2018).
While little lies here and there may seem harmless they have the potential to alter brain organization. In neuroimaging studies, it was found that the more we lie, the less our brains react to lies. Specifically, the studies found that there was a reduction in amygdala activity (which regulates emotionality) during lying exercises occurred in participants who previously participated in trials that required dishonesty (Bray, 2016). While lying may seem like an easy way out of an uncomfortable situation, it has the potential to reduce your credibility and add additional, unnecessary stress to your life!