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The Art Of Lying

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Lying is a complex cognitive skill that develops throughout our lives from a toddler to and adulthood. Everyone tells lies but depending on the situation and intentions, it could be for personal gain or to mitigate social annoyances. Understanding the importance of lying and studying the affects it has on the brain has attracted many psychologists to study the ability to lie and conduct studies accordingly. Many religions consider the act of lying as sinful but the ability to lie and understand the impact it has, displays cognitive development in humans. Religious tenants have tried to admonish lying through it’s established laws. False statements towards one’s own neighbor would lead to serious repercussions and ruin the reputation of an innocent person. These religious philosophies understand humans can be malicious and lying isn’t something that could be tolerated. Modern philosophers have a different view on lying, they view it as a necessity that help people protect themselves from others who would try to deceive them.

We begin to develop the ability to lie as young children. The incentive for a child to lie would be avoid the consequences of their actions. For a child to lie, the child needs to understand rules and the consequences of breaking those rules. The child also requires the ability to conceptualize the thoughts of another person and know that the person being lied to doesn’t know what the child knows. Becoming skilled at lying requires time and practices. As we age to young adults, our lying becomes proficient. By the time we reach middle age, our ability to lie begins to diminish. Most people find it easier to be honest than to lie, we use an ability called response inhibition to subdue our responses in certain situations. We understand its sometimes better to keep quite than to express honestly what we are thinking. Being completely truthful all the time can cause tension. When being too honest with a person, you can appear to be brash and be hurtful to others around you. We bend the truth to put people at ease and to not mistreat them appearing to be insensitive.

Researchers have used fMRI to scan the brain while conducting studies on lying. Using fMRIs, researchers have found an increased activity in the prefrontal cortex and that most participants needed more time to craft their lies than to tell the truth. While participants lied, their prefrontal cortex became active with more blood flowing to the areas processing the lie. Subsequent studies show that there is a confirmed connection between the prefrontal cortex and the ability to lie. Psychologist Joshua Greene conducted an experiment were participants would have an incentive to lie. In order to properly conduct the experiment Greene wasn’t honest with the participants of his study. They were told the study involved testing paranormal abilities. He paid them for their correct answers and they lost money when the response was incorrect. The participants were paid even they lied. Honest participants were correct half the time, but the liars answered correctly at a higher rate that wasn’t believable.

The collected data from the fMRI, showed no additional activity in the honest participants in the prefrontal cortex, but the liars showed increased activity when they answered dishonestly. It took longer to respond when the participants lied and showed activity when truthful responses were mixed with lies. Activity in the prefrontal cortex doesn’t definitively prove your lying because it becomes active even if you considered lying but ultimately decided against it. Its not a concrete way to detect liars but it does give you clues to who is most likely lying. Another psychologist, Ahmed Karim used the process called transcranial direct-current stimulation to expose select areas of the brain to safe and painless weak currents. His study involved pretending to be a robber and stealing money from a wallet. Afterwards the participants were questioned on their actions. If they managed to convincingly lie, they kept the money but had to answer all trivial questions asked. The weak current inhibited certain areas of the prefrontal cortex causing some of the participants to improve their ability to lie and sped up their response times.

Since humans are not effective when exposing lies people have invented devices to expose lies. Polygraphs measure biological signs to detect when a person is lying. They are not reliable, though they can detect lying at a higher rate than humans can. When paired with the guilty knowledge test, the accuracy of the polygraph can increase to 95 percent. Many courts in other countries use polygraphs as evidence but there is criticism on how reliable these lie detecting device are. People who lie become tense and their stories leave out details that would otherwise be present with an honest account. Liars tend to rarely correct their stories causing them to seem a bit too polished. Several psychologists in 2003 summarized 120 behavioral studies, surmising that people who lie are more prone to be nervous and their stories lack minor details. Even though people like police men and judges who deal with liars on a regular basis can struggle to tell when a person is being honest or lying.

An official for the European Economic Community had a strange reaction to lying. He would pass out or convulse whenever he would tell a lie. This severely hindered his career, since he could not bend the truth during negotiations. His opponents quickly realized his dilemma and knew exactly when he was being dishonest due to his epileptic episodes. Doctors discovered the cause of the seizures, a walnut sized tumor within his brain. The tumor was affecting the region of the brain involving emotions, causing the amygdala to trigger seizures every time he lied. Eventually the tumor was removed, and the seizures stopped all together. The doctors called this condition Pinocchio syndrome due to the Disney character’s trouble with lying.

Having a neurological disorder can greatly affect the quality of life of the affected person. Mr. Pinocchio could not properly do his job because of the tumor affecting his emotions and amygdala triggering his seizures. Its important to have a job or career to sustain one’s self and if Mr. Pinocchio continued to fail at his, he would have been removed. Luckily the doctors found the cause and were able to cure his seizures with the removal of the tumor. Others are not so lucky and have to deal with their neurological disorders every day (Schaarschmidt, 2018).

Matt Utesch suffers from a neurological disorder, unlike Mr Pinocchio it cannot be cured with surgery. Matt suffers from narcolepsy and cataplexy (Lich,Hull & Ballantyne,2017). Mr Pinocchio would only pass out when telling a lie, but Matt suffer would have random sleep attacks that put him to sleep during day. Coping with this disorder was very taxing on Matt’s quality of life, it severely affected his ability to do anything from driving a car to talking to friends in a hallway. Matt had to adapt to his disorder to manage its affects, since there isn’t a cure for narcolepsy (Lich,Hull & Ballantyne,2017). Although Matt and Mr. Pinocchio’s neurological disorders are different, it shows the importance of having a properly functioning brain. Any abnormality within the brain will cause unpredictable consequences on the lives of the affected.

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