Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Lola. Lola Wonders, “How do you know if someone is lying or not?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Lola!
Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? That's a phrase you've probably heard often in movies and on television shows. It's often part of the oath a witness must give before in court.
Are you an honest person? Do you try to tell the truth at all times? Or are there times when you lie? Everyone tells a little white lie or a fib to protect someone's feelings from time to time, right?
In reality, nearly everyone lies from time to time. Some scientists even believe that to lie is human. In other words, lying is a part of our human nature. Research several decades ago showed that just about everyone lies once or twice a day.
Not every lie is a whopper, of course. Many of our lies occur in situations where we aren't honest with people in order to avoid hurting their feelings. At other times, we may lie to improve our own self-image. How big was that fish you caught? Well…maybe you added a couple of inches to its length to impress your friends.
There's seemingly no end to the reasons humans will lie. We lie to try to hide our mistakes or bad behavior. We stretch the truth to improve our image and impress others. We may weave tangled webs of deceit in order to gain power or unjust rewards.
Scientists believe that lying probably got its start shortly after the development of language. As ancient man competed for food, mates, and other resources, lying became a way to manipulate others without resorting to physical force.
Today, children begin to learn to lie between the ages of two and five. Experts often see lying as a developmental milestone that shows cognitive development is on track. Lying develops alongside theory of mind, which is the ability we develop to understand the beliefs and intentions of others by putting ourselves in their shoes.
As we get older, we get better at lying. By the time we're adults, most of us are quite good at lying. Ironically, humans also have a fundamental need to trust other people. This fact makes most of us quite awful at detecting lies told by others.
The combination of lying easily and being terrible at detecting lies has caused quite a conundrum in our modern age. With the prevalence of media growing year after year, we find ourselves lying more while failing frequently to recognize when we're being deceived.
Scientists who have studied lying have noticed an interesting phenomenon. Despite learning to lie at an early age, being very good at it, and lying on a daily basis, most of us lie only a little.
We tend to impose limits on how much we're willing to lie. Why? Most of us learn honesty as a value taught by society. Since we want to see ourselves as honest people, we tend to set limits on the types and frequency of the lies we'll tell.
Researchers who have studies the brain believe there may be some physical explanations of lying. For example, frequent liars had at least 20 percent more neural fibers by volume in their prefrontal cortices. Scientists believe this may give their brains greater connectivity, thereby increasing the speed with which they can think up lies.
Other studies showed that the amygdala's response to lies gets progressively weaker with each lie told. This helps to explain why one lie might often lead to more lies and even greater attempts at deception.