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10 Things to Know About the Psychology of Lying

Lying occurs when someone makes a statement that is false but they want someone to believe it to be true. It is in our human nature to lie when a situation seems fit. Some lies are relatively innocent, some are life changing, some are easier to believe than others. We have all likely spoken a lie. 

While there are many different motives behind speaking a lie, lies are typically created for one of two reasons. Someone creating a lie may believe that they will receive personal gains and satisfaction from a lie. If they told the truth, they may not see any benefits. Another reason that someone may lie is because they simply cannot speak the truth. This may be temporary or because of something far more serious. People of all ages, all genders, and all backgrounds may lie for a long list of reasons, but regardless, lying is always a psychological act. Here are 10 things to know about the psychology of lying.


Lying is a form of communication.

Perhaps the first connection to lying and psychology is seeing that lying is a form of communication. We communicate verbally, through writing, through the mouths and ears of others, and so on. Lying, while being a more complicated form of communication, is communication none the less.

Lying involves two parties communicating. On one end is the deceiver (the liar) and on the other end is the deceived. The deceiver is attempting to communicate information to the other party that is not true. The communication takes place when both parties are involved, regardless of why the lie is being told in the first place. 

People may lie for personal benefits.

An antisocial lie is when someone lies for personal gain. Regardless of the magnitude of the lie, the intention is to reap the benefits that come from not telling the truth. In this situation, someone may be weighing the pros and cons of telling the truth or straying away from it. Ultimately, telling a lie may bring them the outcome that they think will benefit them personally. This can include avoiding punishment, receiving some type of reward, gaining adoration from others, having power or control over another party, and more. An antisocial lie is typically rooted in selfishness.

People may lie for emotional reasons.

A prosocial lie is when a party lies because they think it will benefit others. Same as an antisocial lie, the intensity of the lie doesn’t matter. The intention of giving false information to another party is the same regardless. Emotional lies like these can be told for a number of reasons. These can include:

  • not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings
  • avoiding physical or mental harm
  • not having enough confidence to speak the truth
  • getting out of an uncomfortable or unsafe situation
  • creating a privacy boundary
  • avoiding an embarrassing situation

Some people may view lying differently depending on their environment.

Deep down, we all know and understand that lying is wrong. However, some of us see lying as a bigger deal than others. This can be a result of the environments we find ourselves in, especially when it comes to the work force. 

For example, there are some careers where lying is normal. A care sales-person or a real estate agent, for example, may lie about the value of a car or a home to see how much money they can make on the sale. This would personally benefit them for a number of reasons. Sales commission would likely being the leading factor here. In careers like this, lying is just a day to day activity. It’s what they do. 

When do we learn to lie?

Children learn to tell lies from a relatively young age. As children start to understand that their parents and guardians do not know exactly what is going on in their heads, their minds wander. This realizaiton may lead to children testing the boundaries. They are starting to figure out what they can get away with. While this begins around three or so years old, children typically start telling real lies between the ages of 4 and 6. This may be because their communication skills are stronger. 

Pathological lying is a mental disorder.

A pathological liar is someone who compulsively lies. It is a chronic behavior that is diagnosable mental condition. Someone who struggles with this doesn’t just tell white lies every once in awhile. Unlike antisocial or prosocial lies, these lies actually don’t seem to have any benefit to the deceiver. They habitually lie and for seemingly no reason at all. Their lies are typically a grandiose tale that paints them as a main character – either the victim or the hero. The intensity of the lies and the details they can paint can make it seem as though they actually believe the lies themselves. Someone suffering from being a pathological liar may find themselves to be lonely and isolated. It may be hard to keep a pathological liar in your life as they can be very difficult to be around. 

Being gullible can make us more likely to fall for a lie.

When it comes to lying, gullibility is the perfect fuel to the fire. Gullibility is someone’s tendency to easily believe something to be true when it is actually false. Someone who is gullible may be easily manipulated. They believe false claims without seeking further evidence. There may be an allure to being gullible to an extent. In an innocent way, being gullible lets us be hopeful and see the best in a situation. In a more dangerous way, being gullible can lead to someone believe a harmful lie and ultimately getting into a tricky situation. 

Lies carry different weights.

Lying happens. It’s a part of human communication and experimentation. However, lies carry different weights. Some are more intense than others. Some are cruel, selfish, and harmful. Some lies can ruin relationships, get someone into illegal trouble, cause pain and harm, get someone fired, and so on. And then there are white lies! White lies are small fibs that don’t carry a lot of weight. They are typically told without any sort of malicious intent. They may be told to shield someone else’s feelings or to slip away from possible trouble. 

There are signs of someone lying.

While lying is a psychological activity that people do, it has physical signs. Knowing if someone is lying and reading the signs may be complicated. The signs may vary depending on the person communicating, the intention, and the intensity of the lie. However, there are some basic signs to look when attempting to detect a lie. These may include…

  • Moving head positions quickly 
  • Changes in breathing
  • Standing still, almost frozen
  • Nervous communication (repeating words and phrases)
  • Oversharing, rambling
  • Hiding their face, covering their mouth, looking away
  • Standing or sitting nervously (hiding hands, crossings legs, slouching)
  • Staring with wide eyes

Sometimes clients even lie to their therapists.

Sometimes people in therapy lie to their therapists. But why would they do this? A therapist is meant to help someone talk through things, get through a hard time, work on healing and coping mechanisms, etc. While therapy sessions will likely only be beneficial if the person seeking treatment is being truthful, unfortunately they do not always do this. Sometimes people lie because they are ashamed of their behavior. They may lie about the truth of their actions and thoughts. They may paint themselves to be the person they wish they were. This is likely the biggest thing any therapist would want to work through. 

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