Lying On The Brain

Anyone looking for a great way to decrease their stress levels can take one step towards achieving their goal: quit lying.


Research shows that lying increases the production of stress hormones, leading to an increased heart rate, tension headaches and a weaker immune system.

“It takes a lot of negative physical and mental energy to maintain a lie,” said Linda Stroh a professor at Loyola University in Chicago in an interview with U.S. news. “We have to think before we answer and we have to plan what we say and do, rather than saying and doing what comes more naturally. We waste a lot of precious time covering our tracks rather than spending that time in positive ways, doing good things.”

People who reduce the number of lies they tell report fewer mental health problems and lodged fewer physical health complaints, according to 2012 study at the University of Notre Dame. The study divided participants into two groups; one which was instructed to lie less, the other was not given any instructions about lying. After 10-weeks, the group that lied less reported better health and stronger personal relationships, when compared to the control group.

A 2011 study tested how lying affects corporate relationships by asking participants to rate fictional bosses who either told the truth, lied for personal benefit or lied for the good of the company. Results showed that people were less likely to trust the boss who lied – even less likely when the boss lied for personal gain.

Despite the stress and broken trust caused by lying, people continue to do it at a surprisingly high-rate. Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, estimates that we are lied to 10 to 200 times every day, in her 2011 Ted Talk.

So why do we lie when it feels bad for us and hurts our relationships with those around us?

“It’s tied in with self-esteem,” says University of Massachusetts psychologist Robert Feldman in a 2009 interview with LiveScience. “We find that as soon as people feel that their self-esteem is threatened, they immediately begin to lie at higher levels.”

Sometimes lying stretches well past a mundane white lie, and becomes an involuntary compulsion. Pathological liars consistently fabricate stories and facts, and may not be able to explain their motives for doing do. The condition is not fully understood and is not listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders.

But not all lying is bad for your health. Some white lies encourage people to achieve the high goals that they have set for themselves. Richard Gramzow, a psychologist at the University of Southampton in England, conducted a study which showed that college students who lied about their GPAs in interviews were more likely to improve their grades than those who told the truth.

“Exaggerators tend to be more confident and have higher goals for achievement,” Gramzow said in a 2009 interview with U.S. News. “Positive biases about the self can be beneficial.”

Does this mean it’s okay to lie if it’s about something you’d like to be true? Not neccessarily. The more often you lie, no matter what about, the more you put yourself at risk for damaging your physical and mental health.

In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”

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