By: Chris Anderson Psy.D.

Iconic figures in our history such as honest Abe Lincoln, George Washington, and Gandhi serve to represent the value of truth and honesty among our family, friends, and community. The moral ideal of honesty has at the other spectrum deception, deceit, and lying. The reality is that all people lie and some research says it can occur up to several times a day. Most people aspire to be forthright and trustworthy and the lies that are told are generally small and driven by specific motives. Paul Ekman did some research on lying and came up with nine motives for why people lie.

Motivations for Lying

  1. Avoiding Punishment: Ekman’s research finds this is the number one motive people have for lying. It may be covering up an oversight or error at work, an excuse you tell the police officer for speeding, a child trying to not get in trouble, or a partner attempting to avoid a conflict with their mate about something. Most people don’t like accountability and they like consequences even less.
  2. To Obtain Rewards Otherwise Unavailable: This motive for lying comes in second place among the common reasons why people lie. People are often self-centered and desire what will benefit themselves or the ones they love, and sometimes lying can facilitate this end. For example, many people embellish (lie) on their resumes in hopes of improving their chances of being hired. Another example would be exaggerating a hardship or loss to garner sympathy or charity from others.
  3. Protect Others from Punishment: As much as we wish to avoid our own consequences, our empathy can extend to others we like or care about such as friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family. This could take the form of vouching for someone or covering for them so they can be viewed as innocent in a situation.
  4. To Gain the Admiration of Others: Bolstering our own self-esteem and image can be a full-time occupation for some. Minor embellishments to outright fabrications can occur to impress and win the admiration of others.
  5. Avoiding Embarrassment: Again, our self-esteem drives the need to save face. Many people lie or makeup excuses for mistakes, errors, or awkward situations such as stumbling or reacting with fear in a situation.
  6. To Protect Yourself from Threats: Threats come in many forms. A verbal threat to beat someone up could generate a retort (lie) that they know karate. A physical threat of a mugger could conjure the response that one’s partner will be back any second. Self-preservation is vital and sometimes the mother of invention.
  7. Avoiding Awkward Situations: The risk of embarrassment or conflict shows up in a variety of situations. For instance, it could be seeing an ex across the room and telling your date that you aren’t feeling well and would like to go.
  8. Maintaining Privacy: This motive could involve fear of embarrassment, dislike for attention and focus, or covering up. An example might be telling an acquaintance that they must be mistaken about seeing you at a particular social gathering or setting.
  9. Exercising Power Over Others by Controlling Information: This sort of deception and deceit often has a nefarious motive of turning people against others for one’s own gain or pleasure. Fabricating a lie about one member of a group in an effort to get the group on your side would be an example of this.

Although everyone lies sometimes, for some it can create problems in their life and relationships. If this is the case for you, feel free to contact IPC so you can schedule a consultation with one of our psychologists or psychiatrists so we can help discuss treatment options. Please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete a thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.

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