The scientific truth about dishonesty

For many years scientists believed that lying was part of life. It shocks, to find that toddlers portray lying traits. Although, the experimental evidence is limited regarding whether toddlers tell lies naturally or spontaneously, the ability of toddlers to lie shows that lying is pervasive.  The attitude that lying was an inevitable human trait dissuaded away earliest psychologists to think about studying dishonesty. Not until the 1980s, dishonesty in general was left in the hands of theologians.  

Evidence demonstrates that both genders equally lie given the same opportunities; and that people lie in different spheres of life. I cannot forget a lie my uncle J did to his elder brother S when l was in secondary school. Uncle J visited our home and because he wanted to get maximum care from my mum, he lied that he had come to pick my uncle S for job opportunity in Kampala. The brother had been jobless for sometime and his lie made everyone excited. Uncle S didn’t have clothes for the trip, and remember how mum struggled to see that her jobless brother does not miss this opportunity and at the same time entertained the God sent uncle with all nice thongs she could lay hands on. The guy had good time because even my father was forced to buy meat to celebrate the goods.  With all the excitement and hard work, we were amazed that at around 6 pm the time for the duo to leave, Uncle J opened up that he was not very sure about the job opportunity and needed time to consult. This meant that Uncle S had to stay. We were extremely disappointed about Uncle J but to our amusement he was just smiling; feeling untouched. This implies that some people lie for fun.

In society, people seem to accommodate lying. For example, if you have arrived late for an office meeting because you over slept, your boss will be more accommodative if you say l was delayed by traffic. Even theologians have not been spared when it comes to condoning lying. Despite the many verses in Bible that condemns lying, Christians do not have trouble lying. In Proverbs 12: 22, it is written that “The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.”

Notwithstanding these warning, l was surprised one day while listening to a radio programme from one of the prominent pastors, supporting telling lies provided they are meant for good. He cited examples from his experience. In one example, he mentioned his famous visit to a South American country to preach. In this country, when people receive an important guest, they slaughter a dog as the best meal. While seated in his room, he had the opportunity to see that host family were slaughtering a dog for dinner. During dinner time, when they served dog meat, he cooked a white lie that when he eats meat, he develops skin rash that would affect him badly. 

Research has demonstrated that people lie for their own good. The earliest evidence painted a picture that people find pleasure in lying. However, recent studies have shown that most liars feel bad about their behaviour. It is not surprising that most people will feel easy to tell a lie on phone than in a face-face conversion. 

However, the recent truth about lying was revealed by a scientific study published in Journal of Nature of Neuroscience (2016) “The brain adapts to dishonesty.” The experimental design was that the researchers had people look at pictures of jars full of pennies, and asked them to tell a partner how much money was in the jar. In some manipulations, they adjusted the incentives such that people would be rewarded for lying about how much money was in the jar for example, they would get to keep the difference between what they said and what their partner said. During the experiment, the researchers also scanned the brains of about half the participants using FMRI machine and monitored their brain activity in the amygdala region. Amygdala is a part of the limbic system within the brain, which is responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory. It revealed that, when people first started lying — deceiving their partners for personal benefit — the amygdala showed more activity. The results revealed that the more the participant lied, the less active it got. The research finding is considered the first empirical evidence to show that lying actually gets easier with repetition because the amygdala gradually becomes insensitive to deception. The same logic applies to most behaviour associated with emotions such as corruption and cheating in different spheres of life.