Why we lie and the neuroscience behind it

I’m fine.  Of course I love you.   No, you don’t look heavy in those jeans.

Many of us lie . . . we call them “Little White Lies”. They do no harm . . . right?

We lie to:

  • save face
  • avoid hurting other people’s feelings
  • impress others
  • shirk responsibility
  • hide misdeeds
  • as a social lubricant
  • prevent conflict
  • get out of responsibility

When you think about it . . .  lies are based on fear . . . at the very least apprehension 
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., a psychologist  has confirmed that lying is a condition of life. In her research she found that over the course of a week we deceive about 30 percent of people we have interactions with.*

Liar liar

Women are more likely to tell altruistic lies to avoiding hurting other people’s feelings, and men are more likely to lie about themselves. De Paulo found that men lie more often to impress. A typical conversation between two guys contains about eight times as many self-oriented lies as it does lies about others.

Your Brain On Lies

Three key parts of our brain are stimulated when we lie.

  1. The frontal lobe (of the neocortex), which has the ability to suppress truth—yes, it’s capable of dishonesty due to its intellectual role.
  2. The limbic system due to the anxiety that comes with deception—and yes, when we’re lied to our “Spiderman sense” here can perk up, just as we can feel guilty/stressed when we’re doing the lying. 
  3. The temporal lobe is involved because it’s responsible for retrieving memories and creating mental imagery.
  4. Now add the anterior cingulate cortex because it helps in monitoring errors, and the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex because it is trying all the while to control our behavior. Our brain is extremely busy when we lie.

    Lies At Work

    The most prevalence of lies is at work, or more specifically, to get out of work.

    According to Zety’s recent 2020 research, of over 1,000 Americans, they found 96% confessed to lying to get out of work. 

    The most common lies include
  • feeling sick (84%),
  • family emergencies (65%),
  • doctor’s appointment (60%), or lying about
  • a family member’s death (31%)!

On average, one person has used 7 different excuses to get out of work on different occasions.
Only 27% of respondents who lied to get out of work regretted it, and 41% of respondents would lie again.
91% of people making up excuses to get out of the office were never caught!
More men than women were caught lying, and only 27% of respondents who lied to get out of work regretted it. For those caught, 70% regretted lying. But despite not feeling bad about themselves for lying, 59% of respondents said they wouldn’t do it again.

Lying Rx

It’s far more peaceful when we tell the truth, because our limbic system isn’t stressed about lying and our frontal lobe isn’t working to inhibit the truth.

Telling the truth just doesn’t take as much brain activity and you can notice not only how much better it feels, and  it makes your life simpler.
So why do we lie? Because it works for us . . .temporarily, at least. 

What do you lie about? Why?

*Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Virginia,


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