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What Psychologists Tell Us About Lying

According to renowned British Psychologist Prof. Richard Wiseman, everyone is born naturally with the ability to lie and every organism knows how to lie. Findings of Wiseman’s research showed that 40% of three-year old who have just learnt to speak lie. Therefore, lying is a very interesting topic in psychology.

The biopsychologist perspective is one of the five contemporary perspectives. They focus on how our genes, hormones, and nervous system interact with our environment to influence learning, personality, memory, motivation ,emotions and coping techniques.( Smith et al. , 2003). The biopsychologist would explain lying in terms of the bodily structures and biochemical process that causes the behavior of lying.

The biopsychologists would describe the behavior of lying using the relationship between biological process and behavior. They would say that we lie because our brain tells us that we need to lie. They would explain why we lie due to the command of our brain, and that the element of lying is coded in our genetic codes. Any organism that wants to survive in this world will need to lie, therefore the ability of lying is coded into our genetics and passed down in the gene pool to make sure homo-sapiens keep on surviving in this world. This school of psychologists would say that lying is a basic necessity to keep staying alive.

Even animals will lie, to get food or to search for mate, this is the basic and most fundamental use of lying. It is because our brain tells us that we have to survive, that we develop the ability to lie. Human being evolved through time, survived under natural selection ( Charles Darwin’s principle) through times and times of evolution, the ability of lying remains because it is an effective strategy for human survival. It is essential for any organism, including human-being to have this ability if they want to survive.

Some of psychologists would say that we inherit this trait from our ancestress, this is why we possess the ability of lying. And because of our biological make-up there is no total control over the trait of lying, the only way for us to conform to the social norm is to try our best not to lie. But, no matter how much of a dominant human-being are, we are human-beings and we will lie.

There is no-one that would be brave enough to claim his/herself as a person that never lies for the whole life. We lie when we are still a baby, when we are still young. Every bit of knowledge about lying is written in our DNA. It is the most primitive biological factor that every living organism has, and human-beings have no escape. Some ways to detect if a person is lying using biological methods are to measure an increase in heart-pumping rate and blood pressure.

The behaviorist perspective is a school of psychology was started by John B. Watson. These psychologists study how organisms learn new behavior or modify existing ones depending on whether events in their environments reward or punish their behavior. (Smith et al. , 2003) Basically the behaviorists study the stimuli and response conditioning of a person’s behavior. They would emphasize a scientific analysis of lying. They study why does a person lie as an effect of learning, as influence of external rewards and as a mechanistic view of lying as human nature.

These psychologists would describes and explain human lying as a process, which is stimulated by a reward. They would say that just as as an animal, we humans lie because we are expecting a reward. The habit of lying became part of our lives because when we lie, we get rewarded (we got something we want, desirable). This would explain why some people have got into the bad habit of compulsive lying and why some others don’t engage in this habit. The reason why some people lie is because they got rewarded before when they did so, and therefore they are conditioned to do so if they met with the situation again. Their choice between to lie and to tell the truth would be to lie because for them , telling the truth would not be beneficial to them whereas lying gives them a reward.

The behaviorists would control the behavior of lying by punishment, this way the person can be conditioned to tell the truth to avoid punishment rather than to lie . Another way for a behaviorist to control this behavior of lying in children is through omission training. If a child lies, something that the child wants to have will be withdraw, therefore due to the unwillingness to lose something desirable, the child would stop lying.

Besides reward and punishment, behaviorist also look at gestures and linguistics to detect lie. Some signals of people who are lying are an increase in the number of pauses they make, speech errors and decrease of emotional attachment. Some other signals are the general level of detail and spontaneous corrections. All these behaviors are cues for a behavioral psychologist to detect if a person is lying.

From the cognitive perspective, psychologists examines how we process, store and use information and how this information influences what we attend to perceive, learn, remember believe and feel.( Smith et al. , 2003) The cognitive psychologists focus on the thoughts and mental processes of a person when lying. They have the idea of human behavior (in this context, lying) cannot be fully understand without examination how people acquire, store and process information. These psychologists focus on what is the mind thinking of when a person is lying.

What are the mental processes of a person when the person is lying? They would see lying from the approach of what mental processes were going on in the person’s mind when the person is lying. What makes the person decided to lie? Is it because of the situational factor or someone forced the person to do so? They are more concerned about how the person perceives the whole matter, by knowing how the person perceives what he/she is seeing or experiencing.

The cognitive psychologists would be able to tell why the person chose to lie. The way to stop a person lying in the cognitive psychologist’s view it to manipulate their perception of what they see. They will try to change the perception of the person of the world. The people who lid would have a different view of the world and change their perception and the way they look at things. It is then possible they would not lie any more.

The psychoanalytical perspective is a field started by Sigmund Freud. This view is also known as the psychodynamic view. This viewpoint stresses the influence of unconsciousness fears, desires and motivations on thoughts, behaviors and the development of personality traits and problems later in lives.( Smith et al. , 2003)

The Freudian school of psychologists believe that the unconsciousness of a person determines the behavior of a person. And most of all, unconscious motives and experience in early childhood govern personality, which also governs the trait and possibility of a person engaging in the habit of lying. They believe that some childhood experiences that were not fulfilled will be sealed by the mind and become repressed memories and thoughts. These are parts of the unconscious that are going to determine if a person is going to lie.

Wesley Burwell

Thursday 27th of April 2017

I believe be a liar is genetic and learned behavior from the reward and punishment theory. I know generations of family members that lie for stupid reasons. Trying not to lie requires effort whereas lying is more instantaneous. Being a smart convincing liar requires efffort.


Tuesday 8th of March 2016

What I am compelled to say about the leading statement by Alex is that these oh so academic psychologists have missed the very essence of the basis of their academic conclusions! Their conclusions have evolved from direct observations of compulsive liars! - the very Last people likely to provide truthful answers!


Monday 6th of July 2015

It was somewhat informative, But,I've been with somebody for 10 years that LIES....A Lot!!! His Mother is a Known Liar...I'm leaning toward,"Genetics"....the things he lies about, No reason to be lying about them....(not infedelity)...dumb stuff.... ??.....No reward should be given about any of these lies, but I do understand, about,"the whole reward" theory....


Friday 21st of November 2014

I almost want to get s tshirt printed up that says " I'm a habitual lyar. Do not believe a word I say. "


Thursday 9th of June 2016

I wouldn't put that on a shirt. Considering that you spelled liar incorrectly, it would make you look more stupid than anything.


Friday 27th of June 2014

That was helpful thank you, Alex.