Nov 17, 2006

Why People Lie

As a general rule, lying is driven by a conflict of interest.

All close relationships are marked by both collaboration and competition. Collaboration, in the sense that two people share the same values, goals and interests.

And of course, competition, or conflict, is present in every relationship as well. No two people are always in complete agreement with each other.

During collaborative moments, telling the truth is easy and it also happens to be the wise thing to do. There is very little reason to hide things from a partner when two people are working toward the same goal.

In fact, being honest actually makes collaboration easier to achieve. For instance, when trying to cook dinner with a spouse, there is little incentive to lie about what’s going on (i.e., like saying “Ok, I’ll peel the tomatoes” when in fact, you won’t). Again, lying in such situations only works against one’s own self-interest (i.e., dinner takes much longer to prepare).

On the other hand, in situations where there is an actual conflict of interest, a situation where two people want different things, then deception is much more likely to occur.

For instance, imagine that your partner wants you to help around the house on the weekend, but you have a chance to do something much more appealing.

Of course, you can always tell the truth in such situations. But when telling the truth is likely to result in the loss of freedom, or increased conflict, or disapproval or even punishment, then people are more likely to lie.

Simply put, people lie in order to avoid negative outcomes when pursuing goals which run counter to their partner’s wishes.

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