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We Are All Liars: Why Are We Lying?

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There are about 7.5 billion liars in the world, that is, the entire world population! This disconcerting statement puts a rather uncomfortable truth before us: we are all liars.

An example? We leave the house and meet an acquaintance who asks us, “How are you?” we answer, “Well!” But no, we fought with our best friend; we’re angry and bitter but don’t want to discuss it. That’s when we lied.

Why are we lying?

We lie for different reasons and with different intentions. Not to hurt others, for example. To a friend who shows us her new dress, we will probably say “Beautiful!” even if we find it horrible. We lie to gain an advantage, avoid a punishment or a negative judgement, get something, and avoid an unwelcome task…

We lie to knowingly and deliberately harm others. The lies used for this purpose can have the effect of thin blades that we throw towards the next.

In any case, more or less noble are our motivations; we all lie. Every day, several times a day and indistinctly with everyone around us. Acquaintances, friends, colleagues, family.

Is it possible to recognise a lie?

Knowing that we are all liars, and we can also get over it, let’s try to see these considerations from another perspective: how we lie to others in the same way others lie to us. In a different way and with different ends, but they make up lies about lies that we often fail to grasp. We are lied to by colleagues, friends, parents, children, husbands and wives!

From this point of view, everything takes on a much more sinister light. How do we defend ourselves against these liars? How do we unmask them?

According to some research, without any preparation, the chances of success would be around 50%; that is, we would be able to recognise half of the lies told to us. Following some indications, as we will explain later, and doing some practice, we could reach 70%.

Only if we can add to this with the help of great intuition will we reach a remarkable 90%, which does not completely protect us from every liar but greatly increases our chances of not falling into the traps that stretch us.

Lying involves an effort 

Lying implies a greater effort for our brain than not telling the truth. When we lie, we put our brain in the position of having to make in an instant a response that contains an “alternative truth” that is credible. So it probably takes a fraction of a second longer than when we’re telling the truth. Still, if we’re used to lying, even our brains will be faster at making a lie, and we will have learned to deal with those feelings of fear and guilt accompanying the occasional liar.

Attention to the body

What most betrays liars is the body

As we said, some methods are not infallible but can give us some chance of success. First, we assume that if we can lie with words, it will be much more difficult to do it with the body. Body position, tone of voice, pause and closeness of those who talk to us, facial expressions, and linguistic choices are all indicators that can hardly be manipulated. 

Let’s take some examples, starting from gestures. Let’s consider illustrative gestures and indicators.

Illustrative gestures are those gestures that accompany and reinforce the content of what we are saying. They involve the whole body, especially the hands, eyes, and eyebrows. Those who lie (especially if they do so taken aback and not in a premeditated way) concentrate their cognitive and mental energies on making up the lie and, therefore, tend to move little so that their effort can concentrate elsewhere.

The gestures indicators are those movements of face and body associated with the seven primary emotions (anger, fear, sadness, joy, surprise, contempt, disgust). These are very useful indicators because they are difficult to manipulate and can contradict what is affirmed in words.

Let us now examine the facial expressions.

We recognise, for example, when happiness is sincere not from the area of the mouth but from the eyes. This is because the orbicular muscle of the eye is activated involuntarily and does not allow us to modify its reaction to adapt it to our possible intentions liar.

Surprise is the emotion that disappears more quickly from our face; if it lasts more than a second, it is not authentic.

Interesting and surprising what the eyes can reveal: if the speaker looks up to the right (to his right), is accessing the right hemisphere of his brain, that of creativity, and is probably looking for not a piece of information but something to create with fantasy (a lie?). On the contrary, if you look up to the left, you draw on the sphere of memories, then something real.

We can maliciously suggest how mastering this knowledge not only serves to find out who is leading us but can also make us perfect liars, impossible to unmask!

Annalisa Balestrieri holds a master’s degree in modern literature, with a psycho-pedagogical specialisation, from the State University of Milan.

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