Study finds lit­tle lies lead to big­ger ones

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Telling lit­tle fibs leads down a slip­pery slope to big­ger lies - and our brains adapt to es­ca­lat­ing dis­hon­esty, which makes de­ceit eas­ier, a new study shows. Neu­ro­sci­en­tists at the Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don’s Af­fec­tive Brain Lab put 80 peo­ple in sce­nar­ios where they could re­peat­edly lie and get paid more based on the mag­ni­tude of their lies. They said they were the first to demon­strate em­pir­i­cally that peo­ple’s lies grow bolder the more they fib.

The re­searchers then used brain scans to show that our mind’s emo­tional hot spot the amyg­dala - be­comes de­sen­si­tized or used to the growing dis­hon­esty, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished on­line Mon­day in the jour­nal Na­ture Neu­ro­science . “You can think of this as a slip­pery slope with what be­gins as small acts of dis­hon­esty es­ca­lat­ing to much larger ones,” said study lead au­thor Neil Gar­rett , now a neu­ro­science re­searcher at Prince­ton Univer­sity. “It high­lights the po­ten­tial dan­gers of en­gag­ing in small acts of dis­hon­esty on a reg­u­lar ba­sis be­cause these can es­ca­late to much larger ones fur­ther down the line.”

And dur­ing this ly­ing, brain scans that show blood sup­ply and ac­tiv­ity at the amyg­dala de­crease with in­creas­ing lies, said study co-au­thor and lab di­rec­tor Tali Sharot. “The more we lie, the less likely we are to have an emo­tional re­sponse” - say, shame or guilt - “that ac­com­pa­nies it,” Sharot said. Gar­rett said he sus­pects sim­i­lar es­ca­la­tion fac­tors hap­pen in the “real world,” which would in­clude pol­i­tics, in­fi­delity and cheat­ing, but he cau­tioned that this study was done in a con­trolled lab set­ting so more re­search would be needed to ap­ply it to other sit­u­a­tions.

Univer­sity of Mas­sachusetts psy­chol­ogy and brain sciences pro­fes­sor Robert Feld­man wasn’t part of the study but praised it: “The re­sults pro­vide clues as to how peo­ple may be­come more con­vinc­ing liars with prac­tice, and it clearly sug­gests the dan­ger of tol­er­at­ing small, white lies, which can es­ca­late into greater and greater lev­els of de­cep­tion.” Gar­rett, Sharot and col­leagues ar­ranged for 80 peo­ple to go through an ex­per­i­ment where they would see a photo of a jar full of pen­nies. The sub­ject would ad­vise a part­ner in another room - some­one who was look­ing at a photo that was less clear how much money they should guess was in the jar. But the more the part­ner over­es­ti­mated the bonus, based on the sub­ject’s ad­vice, the higher the re­ward. The re­searchers did a cou­ple vari­a­tions of the ex­per­i­ment. In one ver­sion the test sub­ject was told he and the part­ner would share in over­es­ti­mat­ing re­wards; in that case, the sub­ject’s lies were even big­ger. But in another sce­nario, the test sub­ject would ben­e­fit more from over­es­ti­mat­ing and the part­ner would ben­e­fit less.

That sec­ond sce­nario showed the in­crease in the mag­ni­tude in ly­ing. The peo­ple went from ly­ing on aver­age worth 4 Bri­tish pounds (about $5) at the be­gin­ning to about 8 pounds ($10) near the end of about 80 rep­e­ti­tions - thus go­ing from “lit­tle lies to big­ger and big­ger lies,” Sharot said. And of those 80 test sub­jects, 25 of them, cho­sen ran­domly, did their es­ti­mates while an MRI ma­chine scanned their brain. It showed how we get used to the ly­ing, much like some­one no longer notic­ing the smell of their own per­fume over time and thus us­ing more, Sharot said.

It shows peo­ple’s brains adapt­ing to their own wrong­do­ing. It was so no­tice­able that the re­searchers were able to pre­dict growing dis­hon­esty based on the drop­ping ac­tiv­ity in the amyg­dala. Shaul Shavi, who runs the Be­hav­ioral Ethics Lab at the Univer­sity of Am­s­ter­dam, said sci­en­tists had long sus­pected this slip­pery slope in ly­ing ex­isted, but there was lim­ited proof un­til this “el­e­gant” and “im­por­tant” study. And the brain scan show­ing a neu­ro­log­i­cal link with in­creased ly­ing is novel, added Mau­rice Sch­weitzer, who stud­ies de­cep­tion at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia’s Whar­ton School of Busi­ness.

The study found that there is a seg­ment of peo­ple who don’t lie and don’t es­ca­late lies, but Sharot and Gar­rett weren’t able to determine how rare those hon­est peo­ple are. It also found that peo­ple lie more when it ben­e­fits both them and some­one else than when they just profit alone “That’s sort of a good thing,” Sharot said. — AP

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