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,


The Truth Is . . . Lying Makes You Sick

Given the “climate” in the United States . . . and parts of the world . . . this study on lying is fascinating.

Most people lie because they are trying to:

  • sidestep something uncomfortable 
  • feel better about themselves
  • impress someone
  • escape punishment or other negative consequences
  • or, so no one will be mad at them

Pinocchio Knows by Peggy

New research

Avoidance of the truth can be hazardous to our health. “When people lie, they are more prone to feeling anxious or blue, and to experiencing frequent headaches, runny noses, bouts of diarrhea and back pain. When people change their ways and start telling the truth more often, however, they can improve both their mental and physical health, says University of Notre Dame psychology professor Anita Kelly, lead author of a new study on the effects of lying.”

The Study:

“The Notre Dame study looked at 110 people, ranging in age from 18 to 71, over a period of 10 weeks. Half the participants agreed to try to stop telling lies (both major and minor) for the duration of the test. The other half received no special instructions. Subjects took weekly polygraph tests to assess the number and type of lies they had told in the previous week. “Those who were instructed to dramatically reduce lies experienced significantly better health than those in the group that continued to lie,” Kelly says.”

“Her team found that participants who began telling the truth more often experienced 54 percent fewer mental health complaints (such as anxiety or feeling blue) over the course of the study, and 56 percent fewer physical health complaints (such as nausea or headaches). Subjects who began telling the truth more often also reported happier relationships and improved social interactions.”

Surprisingly, the “size” of a lie doesn’t appear to have much impact on its health effects, Kelly says. Both minor lies, like telling a friend you can’t meet for coffee because you “have to work,” and big lies, such as claiming false credentials in a job interview, can negatively affect your health.

“Both white and major lies can be problematic,” she says,”because they can both cause the person to be seen as a liar. Both can violate expectations of honesty in a relationship.” And all of that leads to feelings of anxiety and guilt.

Why Lying Makes You Sick

“Because you know it’s wrong to lie, doing so “goes against what you deem as ‘right,’ and builds anxiety,” Walfish says. The anxiety just increases as you try to keep from being caught. “A person who lies doesn’t want to be found out. They want the whole thing to go away,” she says.

“As a result of all that guilt, or related anxiety and stress, you begin to physically feel the effects of the lies,” says Reef Karim, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience. “There’s definitely a connection.” Your immune system could become compromised because your body is stressed, making it harder to fight off colds and flus. “For some, it’s an immediate effect.  For others it’s a slow build of physical problems, like headaches.”


The level of guilt you feel about your lies is a crucial factor in how much they’ll affect your body. “The more guilt or anxiety you feel,” Karim says, “the more physical and mental symptoms you’re going to experience.”

The Power of Telling the Truth 

“Just as you try to eat well and get regular exercise to maintain your overall health, experts say, you need to develop the healthy habit of telling the truth. “People need to experience the feeling of freedom and strength derived from telling the truth in difficult situations,” Walfish says. “Taking the leap of faith and telling the truth — regardless of the outcome — is a wonderful feeling of power. You feel you can handle anything.”‘

And that’s the truth!

This was originally posted on Curious to the Max. To see more from Curious to the Max, click here.