We all do it, tell lies. On average of two a day. But why is that anyway?
Believing or not, almost everyone knows the Biblical commandment, “Thou shalt not lie.” Yet few people adhere to it. On average, we tell a lie twice a day. But what exactly is lying and why do we do it?
“Lying is making sure that someone else has the wrong image, while you secretly know that it is not right,” says Sophie van der Zee, lie researcher at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. With the BBC she made the documentary “A week of living truthfully” in which test subjects had to be honest for a week. The participants had difficulty with it.
Lies for goodness’ sake
Lies come in different shapes and sizes. We tell stories that are entirely made up: the fabrication lies. We also like to exaggerate events or situations: the exaggeration lies. And then there are the white groins, lies for goodness’ sake.
You can also lie by not saying anything. This way you can consciously withhold information, the so-called concealment lie. “You don’t tell something on purpose, and you know that this gives the other a distorted view of reality. That is also lying,” says Van der Zee.
Men vs. women
But why do we do it? According to Van der Zee, men and women lie for different reasons. “Men often tell selfish lies. They lie to pretend to be better than they really are or to get out of something. Women tell more social lies. They lie more often for someone else than for themselves, for example, not to hurt someone or to be liked. Also, the lies are often about immaterial matters.”
Adolescents lie most of all, says Van der Zee. “The highlight is around college. That is a time when it is important to impress others. After that, it gets less and less. Older people don’t lie that much anymore.”
One of the most told lies is ‘I am on my way’ or ‘I am coming’. According to Van der Zee, little is usually right. “It actually means: I’m just doing something else.”
Recognize a liar
As good as we are at lying, so bad are we at recognizing lies. It is often said that when telling a lie liars look away or scratch their chin nervously. According to Van der Zee, that is nonsense. She is investigating how to identify a lair. She does this with the help of language analysis and a technique that records the movements of someone who is lying.
Is lying bad? Van der Zee: “Not entirely. Research shows that a little lying has its advantages. A lie on your dating profile or resume can make you score a more excellent partner or better job. But if you fall through the basket, you often have a problem.”