Lying is a complicated dimension of one’s personality, a human nature characterized by a habitual form of behavior. Many people would say that lying is morally wrong because it destroys a person’s dignity and integrity. Lying represents fear of what others may think and fear of facing the reality which grows stronger for every lie that a person tells.
As one lie leads to another, people are deceiving themselves by making excuses for their lies. While society has regarded lying as an ethical misdemeanor, there are cases when lying instinctively becomes the only perfect option. Why do people lie? People lie for a number of reasons such as to avoid dispute, to safeguard themselves from harm, rejection or loss as well as to protect one’s privacy and credibility. Some people lie for the benefit of their own interest and some may lie for a justifiable reason or cause or when one is unable to deal with the repercussions of telling the truth.
How People Lie
Everybody lies and even people who value honesty can’t get away with lying. Our standard of living creates circumstances that allows us to make lying necessary to be able to cope up socially where a culture of hiding the truth and declaring false social desires existed (Karpman 1949)
Oscar Wilde, in his essay on “The Decay of Lying”, regarded lying as an art or an expression of fantasized power where the liar’s goal is to charm and delight. People use various types of lying which usually begins right from childhood. Children lie to their parents to avoid punishment, to get out of trouble or to get attention and sometimes with no apparent reason. To acknowledge respect and kindness, people are sometimes required to hide the naked truth like telling a friend that she looks good on her little black dress when she actually look like a pumpkin just to avoid hurting her feelings. There are instances when people need to lie for the benefit of others or for the purpose of helping them such as doctors lie to their dying patients to comfort and lift up their spirits and lying to a criminal about the whereabouts of the victim seems a justifiable response. Some would lie to impress or gain other’s respect, such as a nursing aide tells friends that she’s a surgical nurse. Telling the truth can sometimes lead people to rejection, ridicule or punishment. On the other hand, concealing information to protect one’s interest is a harmful lie such as Patty telling her friend Beth that she saw Beth’s ex-boyfriend at the party last night but didn’t reveal that she spent the night with him leaving Beth at a disadvantage. These little white lies are generally acceptable in most cases but when it becomes frequent as a strategy of getting through life, it can be very destructive to one’s personality. Innocent or harmless lying is favorable because it caters some personal needs or interest without inflicting any harm to anyone and can even benefit another person but should not be used as a social stimulant because habitual use of it may lead to evil schemes (Karpman 1949). Bold-faced or malicious lies relates to obtaining some personal benefits at the expense of another which ruins the credibility and character of a person. The Clinton Adultery scandal in 1998 was one of the most controversial issues in American politics maneuvered by political opponents in which such malicious allegations were destructive to the Clinton Administration. These lies are either minor or to the extent of putting another person’s life in danger and should not be rationalized because it harms the safety and character of a person (Karpman 1949). There are instances when lying is morally permissible such as when government officials have to resort to lying in order to protect their personal privacy, credibility and public trust. Lying to protect one’s privacy is not generally acceptable in view of the ethics of truth, however, it is not morally wrong even if the liar is a high-ranking public official and any credible justification of lying is eligible (Allen 1999). Protecting one’s privacy is a complicated issue due to various characteristic aspects of privacy such as physical, informational, decisional and proprietary in which a person may lie to obtain them. A high-ranking official who is allegedly engaged in adultery may lie to hide his affair, to maintain his independence on sex and romance and to preserve his reputation and diplomatic interests. However, justification of lying no matter how credible is still morally unethical. Western moral ethics generally promote honesty over untruthfulness where moralists and religious denominations have expressed their ideals on the ethics of lying (Allen 1999). Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, supports the principles of speaking the truth regardless of the consequences believing that a lie would eventually constitute an adverse outcome. Though lying is sometimes reasonable, modern philosophers conclude that we should strive to adhere to the moral principle of honesty in dealing with our friends, families, fellow citizens as well as in our public and private lives. Above all, we should be honest with ourselves. Lying is instinctively widespread for the simple reason that it works but not all the time. Lying sometimes fail due to outright discovery, self confession and detection through facial and bodily expressions
How to Detect Lies
Detecting lies can be a tough job even to the most experienced police officers, judges and other forensic professionals. Polygraph tests or lie detectors which are based on detecting nervous system activities are regarded as unreliable. In addressing this issue, psychologists have developed new methods in detecting lies through facial expression and body language analysis. The standard basis for detecting lies is commonly signs of nervousness, stress, anxiety, tension and discomfort. Research reveals that facial expressions and bodily gestures that indicate stress and tension are associated with lying (Adelson 2004). However, people feel tensed and stressed for various reasons, therefore, these emotions should not always be the basis for detecting lies. Precise and proper knowledge of body language is a vital factor, however, our analysis of them is mostly based on instinct which is usually wrong due to their beliefs and the truth behind them (Morgan 2002). The following are the basic body language gestures that were associated with lying:
Avoiding eye contact
When a person is lying, he or she cannot look straight in the eye. Shifty eyes sometimes indicate nervousness which can be caused by various reasons other than lying. Eye contact that lasts for a few seconds is normal but longer than that can cause nervousness and may indicate flirtatious behavior.
Unnatural excessive gestures are subconscious signs of lying. Touching their face, throat or chin could mean someone is thinking or concentrating. Studies reveal that stroking the chin while thinking is an intellectual gesture while a deliberate waving of hands could mean searching for words. Hiding or putting the hands back behind where others are unable to see what the hands are doing could trigger suspicion. However, there is a belief that putting hands behind the back is a power gesture, thus, it should not be the basis for concluding lies.
Shaking, sweating and lips licking
These gestures are considered symptoms of lies but may sometimes indicate nervousness or fear that could show lack of self-assurance.
High Pitched Voice
Liars are more likely to raise their voices. However, a rising voice also indicates anger, excitement, nervousness or hysteria caused by various reasons.
Speech errors and pauses
Frequent or too long pauses and speech errors such as “aaah” or repetitions such as “I,I, fo-forgot” can arouse suspicion but all these can also occur when a person is not expecting a particular question.
When someone is lying, putting on a genuine smile is a struggle especially when the smile does not reflect on the eyes. However, people smile for a number of reasons regardless of the kind of smiles they project.
A combination of verbal and body language can indicate signs of lying but all of the above gestures can also occur in other circumstances, therefore, it is difficult to prove that a lie is being manifested. Appearances are sometimes deceiving due to mixed evidence (Adelson 2004).
Liars are usually not very good in concealing their feelings because emotions will regularly surface yet people are not very good in reading and analyzing them. Body language provides essential clues but is usually unreliable (Morgan 2002). In many ways, it is still essential to learn the standard art of body language and take advantage of their uses whenever necessary and however unreliable they may seem to be.
Adelson, R., (July, 2004). Detecting Deception. American Psychological Association. 35(7), 70. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug04/detecting.aspx
Allen, A., (1999). Lying to Protect Privacy. Villanova Law Review. 161(44). Retrieved from https://www.law.upenn.edu/cf/faculty/aallen/workingpapers/Lyingtoprotectprivacy.pdf
Karpman, B. (1949}. Lying: A Minor Inquiry Into the Ethics of Neurotic and Psychopathic Behavior. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. 40(12), 135-145. Retrieved from http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3670&context=jclc
Morgan, N., (September 30, 2002). The Truth Behind the Smile and Other Myths - When Body Language Lies. Harvard Management Communication Letter. 5(8). Retrieved from http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/3123.html