The origin of the lie can be traced back to ancient times. The noun form of the word, "leye" or "lighe," originated in Middle English and Old English as "lyge" or "lige." It is also cognate with the German word "Lüge," the Old Norse word "lygi," and the Gothic word "liugn." On the other hand, the verb form of the word, "lien," "ligen," or "leie," originated in Middle English and Old English as "lēogan." It is cognate with the German word "lügen," the Old Norse word "ljūga," and the Gothic word "liugan."
Tough to tell
Psychologists have long known how hard it is to spot a liar. In 2003, psychologist Bella DePaulo, now affiliated with the University of California, Santa Barbara, and her colleagues combed through the scientific literature, gathering 116 experiments that compared people’s behavior when lying and when telling the truth. The studies assessed 102 possible nonverbal cues, including averted gaze, blinking, talking louder (a nonverbal cue because it does not depend on the words used), shrugging, shifting posture and movements of the head, hands, arms or legs. None proved reliable indicators of a liar, though a few were weakly correlated, such as dilated pupils and a tiny increase — undetectable to the human ear — in the pitch of the voice.
Three years later, DePaulo and psychologist Charles Bond of Texas Christian University reviewed 206 studies involving 24,483 observers judging the veracity of 6,651 communications by 4,435 individuals. Neither law enforcement experts nor student volunteers were able to pick true from false statements better than 54 percent of the time — just slightly above chance. In individual experiments, accuracy ranged from 31 to 73 percent, with the smaller studies varying more widely. “The impact of luck is apparent in small studies,” Bond says. “In studies of sufficient size, luck evens out.”
Why people lie
According to meta-analytic research, the success of detecting deception is more dependent on the liar's performance than on the lie detector's. However, little is known about the characteristics and strategies of deception that allow skilled liars to avoid detection. To address this gap, we conducted a survey of 194 individuals to investigate the relationship between self-reported deception ability and lying behavior in daily life. Our findings suggest that those who rate themselves as better liars tend to tell more lies per day, particularly inconsequential lies to colleagues and friends, and prefer face-to-face communication for their lies. Additionally, we found that skilled liars rely heavily on verbal strategies, such as embedding lies into truthful information, keeping statements simple, and providing plausible explanations. This study provides a foundation for future research on the cognitive processes and patterns of skilled liars who are most likely to evade detection.
According to a 2010 study on the prevalence of dishonesty in the United States, it was discovered that the majority of adults reported not engaging in any form of deception within a 24-hour period. Interestingly, nearly half of the lies documented in the study were attributed to a mere 5 percent of the participants. Furthermore, it was observed that individuals generally refrained from lying unless they were faced with a situation where telling the truth would prove troublesome.
Renowned cognitive neuroscientist from Harvard, Joshua Greene, has shed light on the fact that lying requires effort for most individuals. Through various studies, he presented participants with opportunities to deceive for monetary gain while monitoring their brain activity using functional MRI machines, which map blood flow to active regions of the brain.
During these experiments, some individuals displayed an immediate and instinctive inclination towards telling the truth. However, others chose to lie and exhibited heightened activity in their frontal parietal control network, which is associated with complex and challenging cognitive processes. This suggests that they were actively deliberating between honesty and dishonesty, ultimately opting for the latter.