Is it Lying that Makes Us Truly Human?

Lying is deception. It’s also human: 60 percent of us can’t go for longer than 10 minutes without doing it.


Lying is deception. It’s also human: 60 percent of us can’t go for longer than 10 minutes without doing it. The other 40 percent? Well, they must be lying.

That was a lie. Well, you be the judge — after all, a summarized study of statistics on lying (or perhaps lying statistics) determined that we have about the same capacity for distinguishing a lie as we do the truth.

Popular culture is filled with lies and liars. George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and proclaimed, “I cannot tell a lie” — a nice story; except it’s not true. Bill Clinton insisted that he “did not have sexual relations with that woman” — except he did. Shakespeare’s entire body of work was based on plot-driving lies. In popular novels, Mr. Wickham, Jay Gatsby, and Holden Caulfield are all notorious liars. In movies, Jack Nicholson's Col. Jessup screams, "You can't handle the truth!" and Ferris Bueller gets the day off because he’s so damn good at handling lies. 

Shakespeare’s entire body of work was based on plot-driving lies. 

Maybe they all had to pee. New research indicates that a full bladder makes you a more convincing liar. The study, conducted by California State University, determined that the same mental mechanism the keeps you from losing control of your bladder also aids in preventing you from losing control of your mouth. There is a WikiHow page on how to beat the polygraph test, but, given this new research, it seems that all a person would need to do is drink a 7-Eleven Big Gulp.

We not only have a propensity for lying, but also have built-in barriers that prevent us from detecting others when they do. 

When we have to use the bathroom, we can't do the cognitively demanding work to invent wild stories. Ironically then, lying is more natural than we think. It is, in fact, what makes us humanPeople are social beings who require constant interaction and communication in order to survive. If we were constantly suspicious that everyone was lying, we’d probably all be holed up in a cabin like the Unabomber.

We not only have a propensity for lying, but also have built-in barriers that prevent us from detecting others when they do. Even the Greek God Zeus couldn’t tell Prometheus was deceiving him. Maybe Zeus was more man than god. That, or Prometheus was really good at holding it.

If you do want to catch a liar, try psychologist Paul Ekman's advice:

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Daphne Muller is a New York City-based writer who has written for Salon, Ms. Magazine, The Huffington Post, and reviewed books for ELLE and Publishers Weekly. Most recently, she completed a novel and screenplay. You can follow her on Instagram @daphonay and on Twitter @DaphneEMuller.

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