Psychology Today 8/6/19
Lying is such a common feature of human behavior that you may occasionally expect deception even from those who are closest to you. Has your partner ever “rounded down” the cost of a new pair of shoes or falsely claimed that someone else in the family spilled the vinegar in the cabinet?
Did you ever catch a co-worker taking home an extra ream of paper? What about the people you don’t know who lie and cheat? Over the course of the 24-hour news cycle, how many times have you heard journalists report the many instances in which a politician’s words failed the fact check test?
When you stop and think about it, what do you believe makes people liars in these situations? Is it a streak of psychopathy? Is your partner just trying to avoid your getting mad over a budget-busting expense? Or does your paper-snitching coworker typically try to get away with snitching office supplies?
Next, ask yourself whether these liars and cheaters know they’re being dishonest or if they believe their behavior is justified? According to a new study by University of Michigan’s Julia Lee and colleagues (2019), the key to understanding why people lie is to explore an individual’s so-called “lay” theory about honesty.
People will engage in deceitful and dishonest behavior if they believe that behaving ethically is just too much effort. After the fact, they will make “self-serving justifications” (p. 660) to rationalize their unethical behavior. Adding to this is the question of whether it’s even possible to get away with a fib. They figure if other people aren’t going to call them out, then it’s an “other person problem,” not their own.
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