Whether cheating on taxes or one’s lover, the little lies we tell can quickly escalate into big ones, according to a study released on Monday that describes dishonesty as a “slippery slope.”
Serial untruths, moreover, register a diminishing emotional response in the brain, researchers reported in Nature Neuroscience .
Indeed, the biochemical link is so strong that scientists could accurately predict in experiments how big a lie someone was about to tell just by looking at the brain scan of their previous prevarications.
“This study is the first empirical evidence that dishonest behaviour escalates when it is repeated,” said lead author Neil Garret, a researcher in the Department of Experimental Psychology at University College London.
Understanding how people graduate from white lies to whoppers despite the social norms or morals that discourage mendacity is of more than academic interest, the authors argue.
Snowballing over time
Whether it is “infidelity, doping in sports, making up data in science, or financial fraud, the deceivers often recall that small acts of dishonesty snowballed over time,” noted co-author Tali Sharot, also of University College London. “They suddenly found themselves committing quite large crimes.”
In the experiments, some 80 volunteers were asked to individually assess high-resolution photos of glass jars filled with different amounts of pennies.
Then, via a computer, they were instructed to advise a remote partner looking at a poor-quality image of the same jar as to how much money it contained.
These partners were in fact actors working with the scientists, but the volunteers did not know that. — AFP
Serial untruths registered a diminishing emotional response in the brain, researchers reported