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The Psychology of Lies: What Is the Reality of It All?

When I think about a lie or catching someone in one, it takes me back to my childhood. You remember the saying, liar, liar, pants on fire. Interestingly enough, this phrase originated from a poem written in 1841. Originally, the saying went “Deceiver, dissembler, your trousers are alight“. Not as fun to say when you read it like that. But, the poem is concluded by a lesson that is learnt. Pretty relatable, as every lie comes with a lesson. The article ahead sums up the consequences of lies, the psychology, types of liars as well as why we lie.


Honestly, it can be a little tricky to understand why people lie, especially if it is something they do all the time. But, there are a few things that we can settle on.

For starters, lies are told for one of two reasons. The first reason being that the liar believes that they have more to gain by lying, than they do if they were to tell the truth. Secondly, the ‘lair’ is not able to actually identify their reality from the truth. Perhaps it had gotten to the point where their lies had clouded their judgement and they began to believe them too. This would either result in a temporary issue that can be fixed over some time, or the lie would turn into some permanent mental defect. Lies generally come into play as one of the following constructs of dishonesty: manipulation, half-truths, exaggerations, or it would simply be leaving something out.

Lies may be divided into two distinct motivational categories. These are prosocial lies, that are constructed to benefit others; and antisocial lies, that are selfish. Lying allows a person to establish perceived control over a situation by manipulating it.

Apart from this, lies can be a form of a defense mechanism that (seemingly) prevents the individual from being vulnerable. This is all to prevent themselves from opening up and revealing their true self to another person. Initially, avoiding the truth of the matter as well as, the truth they would have to deal with within.

reassuring lie que
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Why do we lie?

Some lies may even regard rejection and this would correlate with self-esteem. If an individual is insecure, rejection may affect them so deeply that it can become unbearable. Alternatively, lying can be a result of unconscious behavior that derives from past experiences. It often means that some may not be able to relate to people differently.

Interestingly enough, I have seen that people have the ability to create scenarios in their mind that serve as a distraction from reality, which is often a traumatic response, seeking comfort in this imaginary world when things get tough. The term that is commonly used to describe this type of daydreaming is called Maladaptive daydreaming. Maladaptive daydreaming is a behavior in which a person spends an incredible amount of time daydreaming, often becoming completely immersed in their imagination. This behavior is typically used as a coping mechanism in people suffering from mental illnesses such as anxiety, ADHD and OCD. This is yet another coping mechanism, to avoid or take responsibility. 

Furthermore, the most common reason for a person to lie is because of fear. This could be the fear of disappointment in oneself or disappointing someone else that they care for. For example, children often lie in fear of disappointing their parents. Or another common reason is pain. Fear of hurting their loved ones, so they lie.

Four types of liars:


First, duplicitous liars are those who lie to others about their values. “Duplicitous” is derived from the Latin word for “twofold” or “double,” which is why this type of liar is referred to as “two-faced.” Lying about values can be just as damaging to relationships as lying about facts. Lying about our values erodes this fundamental trust.

People’s ability to make informed decisions is jeopardized when they lie about their values because it limits their view of what the future has to offer. If people trust the values you have said you have and would be more, they will invest more in the relationship. Without this trust, it places a barrier between the two of you and often times it will end soon after.

2. Demoralized:

Demoralized liars are those who lie to themselves about their values.The dangers of lying about values are similar to those of lying about facts, but there is an additional hazard. That is, lying to ourselves about values jeopardizes our integrity.The term “integrity” derives from the Latin word “integritas,” which means “intact.” It refers to a whole that has not been weakened or compromised.

When the integrity of a whole is compromised, parts of it become separated from one another, making the whole weaker—a building is more likely to collapse, a ship to sink. When we deceive ourselves about our values, we create a schism within ourselves. Failure to follow through on our stated commitments disrupts the continuity of our current values and our future lives.

Our integrity (or lack thereof) affects not only our own lives, but also the lives of others. It’s difficult to respect someone who doesn’t respect themselves, and as we’ve seen, failing to live with integrity is a form of disrespect. It’s also difficult to trust the word of someone who doesn’t take their own word seriously, or to entrust responsibility to someone who doesn’t value themselves.

Fake crying
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3. Delusional:

Firstly, delusional liars regard those who lie to themselves about the truth. We are constantly deceiving ourselves, and there is reason to believe that healthy psychological functioning includes some level of deception. However, not all self-deception is the same. There is a dividing line between common place lying and the kind of self-deception that characterizes mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or manic depression. There is also a distinction to be made between certain types of self-deception and lies that undermine our integrity.

Dostoevsky wrote in his novel The Brothers Karamazov, “Above all, don’t lie to yourself.” The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie reaches a point where he is unable to distinguish between the truth within him and the truth around him, and thus loses all respect for himself and others.

Self-deception can be motivated by a variety of factors. They include shielding ourselves from unpleasant realities and convincing ourselves of pleasant ones. It is quoted that the difference between a prophet and a false prophet is not necessarily who is telling the truth, but who is more effective at convincing themselves and others to work toward making their vision a self-fulfilling prophecy.

4. Deceitful

Deceitful liars are those who lie to others about facts. Facts, meaning as they are, lying about things that are straightforward. Lying to others about facts is an example of typical lying. It’s something we’ve all done. Children begin to lie around the age of three, and researchers believe it is a normal part of human brain development. 

Lying necessitates the development of what psychologists refer to as the “theory of mind,” or the ability to see things from the perspective of others. Learning to tell an effective lie entails getting into the mind of the other person and telling them what they want to hear.

Being a skilled liar can help you win at games like poker. Knowing when and how to lie can be advantageous in politics. Aside from white lies, lying to others about facts for personal gain is damaging to relationships. And if repeated, can keep us out of people’s lives (and sometimes society in general). Habitual liars are labeled as untrustworthy and gain a negative reputation that often follows them.


In theory, there was a set of researchers that had come up with a deception model.  This model was called the “ADCAT”, which stands for the Activation-Decision-Construction-Action Theory. The model then led to 4 components of deception.

  • Activation- the idea of activation is to think up a story. This could be one that is all true and a small part not, or something completely made up. This would lead you to take time to actually account for what you say rather than saying everything automatically.
  • Decision- According to ADCAT, if the cost of honesty is higher than the reward, the more likely you are to lie. Potential lies deemed implausible to targets will be strongly discouraged.
  • Construction- referring to the plausibility principle, it is seen that many people, if they chose to lie, would change their story to something they think would be more believable for the other person. This also comes with the risk that one single question would have you revealed really quickly.
  • Action- once a lie is decided upon, it is often followed by what demeanour to put on to make it more believable and for them to get the outcome they are looking for. Most people believe that liars appear stiff, shifty, and uncomfortable, so they will try to appear relaxed when fabricating lies. The downfall here is if the think too far into the act, they can come off as suspicious. 
Manipulation on a string
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Neuroscience of lies

The turning point of science behind lies had come about soon after the discovery that was covered by Daniel Langleben. His interest came about when he first worked with children that had ADD. Langleben said that it was more difficult for these children to lie than tell the truth. His reasoning was the lack of impulse control that had them blurting out facts. This then led to him making use of an fMRI machine, skipping the use of the ordinary lie detector. fMRI stands for functional magnetic resonance imaging machine. The fMRI allowed him to look directly at the brain. The fMRI machine is primarily a regular MRI machine that has been enhanced with a computer program and mathematical formulas that manipulate the images taken by the MRI.

Lies do not appear out of nowhere. Instead, your brain must consider the truth and then make a decision to do the opposite. For example, if you are told “the sky is green”, you will first think of its true colour before considering the lie. The fMRI scan reveals this process.

However, the fMRI is not without flaws. For starters, the machine is costly. It can also be complicated. A single swallow or tightening of the neck muscles can throw off the entire test.As this test becomes more widely known, ethical concerns arise. So, what happens if a medical problem occurs?

Science behind lies

The science behind lies, in essence, summarises the entire article to one single point. That being, the more you lie, the easier it gets. This would mean that lying would be able to affect your brain in such a way that it would begin to become less sensitive to lies. Ultimately, making lies easier to act on, the more frequent they become.

Research studies have revealed that there is a few  gender differences in lying behavior patterns. Although men and women lie at the same rate, men are more likely to lie to appease themselves, whereas women are more likely to lie to satisfy others.

A study done in 2016 by Nature Neuroscience proved this theory. They found that lying physically altered the brain when someone lies. This is seen in the burst of activity that is displayed in the amygdala. The amygdala is a critical part of the brain that tends to produce fear, anxiety, and emotional reactions, including the submerged, guilty feeling that comes with lying. Moreso, they found that once people faced no consequences for lying, their lies became even more dramatic. Apart from all the lies, Nature Neuroscience discovered that honesty is found to be more rewarding than lies. That being, honesty has a greater impact on one’s life than not.

According to another recent study, formulating a lie takes longer than telling the truth. i would guess this could be a telltale in many situations.


Truly, lies create more work than the truth does. All the effort to control your tongue and not slip up. I do find it interesting that the brain reacts the way it does to a lie. The reasons behind a lie make sense and is thoughtful. With the types of liars, I can imagine myself trying to fit them into a category. It also helps when there are consequences of lying. People who have never been held accountable for their lies are more likely to lie. People tend to lie less when they know they will be called out on it. I can conclude that people reveal important facts about themselves. Those are sometimes the most difficult truths to tell.

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