Whether you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed, conversing with your co-worker in the next cubicle, or watching political pundits battle it out on CNN, it seems that many people these days aren’t exactly being truthful.
Yet if you can believe longstanding research, spreading falsehoods is pretty common behavior. A nearly 15-year-old study from the University of Massachusetts concluded that 60 percent of people lie at least once during a 10-minute conversation and tell an average of two to three lies during a typical chat.
The reason: They’re trying to appear likable and competent.
Both the research author and the study participants were shocked by these findings. “When they were watching themselves on videotape, people found themselves lying much more than they thought they had,” stated psychologist Robert S. Feldman in a press release.
And the truth is that the majority of us are guilty of fibbing.
“Most of us have lied at some point in our lives, whether it was to protect someone’s feelings, to get out of a bind, or to simply avoid telling the truth,” Stacy Kaiser, licensed psychotherapist and author of How to Be a Grown Up: The Ten Secret Skills Everyone Needs to Know, tells Yahoo Beauty.
Robert W. Firestone, psychologist, consultant for the Glendon Association, and author of Overcoming the Destructive Inner Voice, shares what he believes are the five likely reasons people tend to be dishonest.
“No. 1, they are ashamed of the truth,” he states. The second most common cause is to manipulate others for personal gain, followed by being afraid of getting into trouble, to build up self-importance or self-esteem, “and [having] malice toward others, such as a psychopathic or sociopathic liar.”
Kaiser adds that many lies stem from a place of insecurity. “These are typically the lies where one will exaggerate or avoid telling the truth in order to impress someone or to make themselves look better,” she explains.
However, some lies come straight from the heart — for example, complimenting a friend on her new hairstyle even though you don’t think it’s flattering. “Or there’s the lie of omission where you do not tell someone something because you’re afraid they will get upset,” says Kaiser.
And then there are people who aren’t even aware of the truth. “In this case, the liar is also lying to themselves, and this type of lying is a form of denial,” she continues. “They are not willing — or able — to look at the reality of the situation, so they lie in order to keep the truth hidden.”
Also, science states that telling even little lies can have a snowball effect because the brain actually encourages the behavior. A study from University College London discovered that the amygdala (the part of the brain associated with emotion) was most active when study subjects initially lied for personal gain.
“However, this response fades as we continue to lie, and the more it falls the bigger our lies become,” said senior author Dr. Tali Sharot in a press release. “This may lead to a ‘slippery slope’ where small acts of dishonesty escalate into more significant lies.”
Kaiser concurs, adding that frequent fibbing “becomes a type of habit, where the lies roll right out without much thought. One of the problems with this issue developing is that the person begins to lie when it is not at all necessary, and often becomes a person that other people view as dishonest.”
Perhaps the late Maya Angelou said it best: “There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth.”