To lie is human. People lie in one out of three to five interactions on an average (1). Bella De Paulo, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, conducted a research titled, “The Many Faces of Lies.” According to the study, people mostly lied about their feelings and opinions to either hide their inadequacies or not hurt somebody’s feelings (2).
Over the years, there have been many theories and perception to identify a liar. Some of the signs include averting gaze, blinking, nervousness, fake smiles, incoherence in speech, inconsistency in statements, and emphatic language (3).
If you are dealing with compulsive or pathological liars, it becomes important to understand why they lie. Listed below are seven reasons people lie. Take a look.
Why Do People Lie?
1. To Manipulate People
The biggest liars are manipulators. This particular personality is known as a Machiavellian personality. Machievellianists are people who lie for selfish reasons. They resort to compulsive lying by using unethical and socially offensive tactics. This is mainly done with the purpose of achieving higher status or power in the society.
It does not really come as a surprise that the more of this trait you have, the higher is your probability of being a compulsive liar. Also, these people end up using self-oriented beneficial lies a lot more often than they would for protecting others.
People who are generally manipulative are a lot more inclined towards using a situation to their advantage. This is done to achieve precise goals, such as sex, status, love, money, or power, even if they are short-lived. Hence, with this type of lie, there is no other beneficiary – apart from themselves.
2. To Be Socially Desirable
Now, this one is a tricky way to lie in terms of understanding the beneficiary. A socially desirable person is one who wishes to gain more and more acceptance in society. They are continually thinking and wondering if the others would approve of them or their actions.
People who lie for a particular benefit are constantly risking their reputation. Their need for desirability is at a much higher risk here as well. It may be interesting to note that people who want social desirability have never lied enough to reaching any sort of significance in statistics.
3. To Protect Someone
Not all lies are selfish. Sometimes, people lie to protect their loved ones – spouse, sibling, friend, or colleague – from harm or grief. For instance, it might be a friend who compliments her best friend’s outfit, even though it isn’t great, to not hurt her feelings. The cost of veering from honesty is not undesirable here, and it may be far more acceptable in general.
These lies are aimed at making someone look or feel better, prevent hurting or embarrassing them, or protecting them from punishment.
4. For Better Self-Esteem
Good self-esteem is an integral part of recognizing one’s self-worth. People who lack self-esteem or have a low self-esteem tend to lie a lot more as compared to people with the right level of self-esteem. This means that the lesser the sense of self-esteem, the higher the incidence of lies.
According to Robert Feldman, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts, people lie when their self-esteem is threatened. Such people think that lying will help boost other’s perception of them. They lie to chalk out a better identity for themselves and gain social acceptance.
5. To Cover Up Anxiety And Personality Disorders
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental illnesses, and they affect around 40 million people in the US (4). People who lie due to anxiety do it so that they receive a little boost of self-confidence.
Anxiety-prone people are often found telling lies that are beneficial to them.
People with narcissitic personality disorders and psychopathic or sociopathic traits lie to deceive or manipulate people for their benefit. Some even lie as it gives them sadistic pleasure and a feeling of being superior to others.
6. To Feel In Control Of Situations
Some people resort to lying to control a situation and influence its outcome such that they get the reactions or decisions they want. Often, such people feel that the truth is inconvenient as it is not aligned to their version of things.
A few people also lie for the sheer thrill of it to see to what extent they can get away with their lies. They do this to test their power and radius of influence. Controlling a response by altering the truth creates a false sense of reality between the liar and the receiver. This may lead to bias and wrong judgments as the decision is based on misinformation.
7. To Not Hurt Others And Avoid Confrontation
Another reason people avoid telling the truth is to prevent escalating a negative situation. They feel that they can protect feelings, and a few white lies can save the situation.
One common example of this is when your friend is trying to get out of a plan and keeps lying about his location. Another example is ending an awkward conversation on the phone by saying that there’s someone at the door or you are getting another call.
The person lies because, according to them, lying can have more benefits than negative consequences. In such situations, people end up lying, fearing punishment or the other party’s unpleasant reaction to the truth. For instance, a student may lie about his grades to avoid a possible confrontation with his parents.
You need to understand one thing here – lying isn’t ideal in most cases. However, it does not mean that it is done with harmful intentions every time.
The main aim of our article is to make you more aware and develop more understanding of a situation and the motive behind somebody lying. Now that you know why people lie, think twice before judging someone the next time for telling a lie.
We hope this article was informative. Post your feedback and suggestions in the comments box below.
- Everybody Else Is Doing It: Exploring Social Transmission of Lying Behavior, Plos One, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- The Many Faces of Lies, Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA.
- A WORLD OF LIES, Journal of Cross-cultural Psychology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Facts & Statistics, Anxiety and Depression Association of America.