contr. J.J. Busak:
Why People Lie

  A reputable psychiater explains why
most people have good reasons to lie


by: John J. Busak

2 Pages - Page 1

Dr. Busak is Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Neuropsychiatry Center at the University of New Delhi. Dr. Busak is the author or co-author of more than 100 articles and invited book chapters, as well as five books, including 'Lies! Dirty Lies! - The Analysis of Compulsive Lying', published in 1982 by the Freud Information Presse.

Everybody Lies
Why do people lie? At first, the answer seems obvious. College men tell lies of love to achieve sexual gratification, salesmen lie about their products to get commissions, children lie to avoid punishment, politicians lie to get reelected, job applicants lie on their résumés in an effort to be hired, insurance companies lie about coverage in order to sell policies, and doctors lie to health insurance companies about diagnoses to get reimbursed for their services. The list is endless.
However, some people lie when the truth would serve them better, and others, such as impostors and con men, even make deceit a way of life. Surely there must be some underlying physiological motives for such disreputable behavior.
Biological Factors
The phrase "congenital liar" is often used, and it may be troubling to learn that indeed, some people appear to be genetically predisposed toward practicing deceit. Investigations of identical twins raised apart have demonstrated similarities in their propensity to lie. Other studies of extended families have similarly suggested a genetic component underlying deceitful behaviors. Further, learning disabilities, or forms of nonspecific cerebral dysfunction, are also frequently seen in pathological liars.
Individuals with certain personality disorders (antisocial, borderline, narcissistic, and histrionic) are generally identified as those who are the most likely to lie. When studied as a group, these people are statistically characterized by subtle cognitive impairment. In general, the observation is that any brain disorganization that increases impulsiveness or reduces "internal logic" will increase lying behaviors.
Environmental Factors in Childhood
People who come from chaotic dysfunctional families are more prone to lie. Lying may be employed by an unhappy child to change or modify reality in order to make life more tolerable. Thus, lying also can be seen as a coping strategy.
  Some families lie more than others. These families often are characterized by alcoholism or other substance abuse and include members who engage in considerable concealment, attempting to present a false face of normality to the world. Thus, a child may be overtly or subtly encouraged to dissemble.
A family's cultural values or moral standards may permit or discourage lying. Families that severely punish misbehavior inadvertently and paradoxically promote lying, because they are increasing the child's need to avoid punishment. Conversely, a family may encourage lying behaviors by either ignoring them or providing inconsistent punishment for them. In such environments, lying is a learned behavior.


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