The Truth About Lying

It’s 6:43am and I’ve already lied twice. Once to my boyfriend about what time it is — we have to be out the door by 7 or we’ll miss our flight — and once to the sweet and innocent social media intern whose texts I’ve been ignoring for the past two days. (“Sorry, Averee! I didn’t see your texts!”) Do these little lies make me terribly selfish? A highly functioning sociopath? Or do they make me a strong, adept, independently willed woman who holds punctuality in high esteem? I prefer the latter.

In honor of National Tell A Lie Day (today in case you don’t have every eccentric holiday marked on your calendar like I do), we’re jumping headfirst into the great big world of big little lies.

Each day we’re lied to almost 200 times by other people, even sometimes lying to ourselves. According to science, there’s a biological reason lying comes so easy. It’s woven into our human DNA. Experts like Kang Lee, a psychologist at the University of Toronto whose been studying how kids learn to lie for over two decades, argues that lying is a normal part of the developmental process and is a reassuring sign that cognitive growth is on track. It indicates that our brains are working, synapses are firing, and that we have, to some extent, learned self-control. It’s a good thing then, that by the time we’re eight years old, most of us lie without even batting an eyelash.

There are, of course, varying degrees of lies — some worse than others. There’s sarcasm, exaggeration, denial, and lying by omission. Marketing and advertising campaigns are constantly making false claims to the general public. And then, of course, there’s my grandmother’s favorite, the harmless “little white lie,” which according to her and most of the population, technically doesn’t count.

We lie to protect ourselves, to cover our mistakes, to impress other people, to make people laugh, to get people to like us, to gain personal advantage, to affirm our opinions, etc. But where do we draw the line? Which lies qualify as innocent and which lies are compulsive or malicious? How do we make the distinction between the two?

It comes down to intention. Dan Ariely, a Duke University psychologist and one of the world’s leading experts on lying, claims that unless we’re sociopathic, most of us place limits on how much we are willing to lie based on unspoken societal norms. We want to see ourselves as honest, trustworthy people, and we want to uphold others to that same standard.

In a recent interview for Allure, journalist Yudhijit Bhattacharjee stated, “We wouldn’t have evolved as a social species if we always had to stop, think, [and] verify the things people are telling us.” Which, ironically makes us really terrible at discerning the truth. This phenomenon often referred to as “the truth default theory,” is especially harmful in today’s social media obsessed digital age. We don’t expect people to lie to us but social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have made it incredibly easy for people to do so. No wonder comparison is at an all-time high.

Jealousy, envy, and unhealthy competition all spawn from some degree of being lied to or from believing partial truths.

So instead of telling a lie today, let’s make a pact to commit to telling the truth. The whole truth. And nothing but the truth. Even those little white lies need to go… (sorry grandma!).

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