The 7 Main Reasons People Lie, According To Psychologists
Odds are, you've told a lie in your life—and have probably been lied to, as well. But why do we do it? According to both research and psychology experts, people aren't honest for a lot of reasons, but there are a handful of reasons that tend to be the most common. Here's what to know.
The 7 main reasons people lie:
For altruistic reasons
Surprising as it may seem, research out of Canada from 20221 suggests one of the most common motivations for lying is actually lying for altruistic or pro-social reasons. These are the lies we tell to make others and ourselves happier, such as telling children that Santa is real (pro-social) or omitting truths from people that may hurt them to hear (altruistic).
Out of secrecy
Another one of the most common reasons for lying, according to the aforementioned research, is out of secrecy or privacy. After all, sometimes we just don't want people to know certain things about us, and this can lead to fibs to keep those things hidden. An example of this would be lying to your friend that you haven't been texting your crappy on-and-off situationship again when she asks if you've heard from him.
(Here's how to tell if someone's lying, by the way.)
To preserve their image
According to the study, avoiding negative evaluation is another one of the more common reasons for lying. As therapist Megan Bruneau, M.A., tells mindbodygreen, some people will lie to avoid feeling vulnerable or exposed, and the subsequent shame that comes with that exposure. Lying about something you deem shameful, or even embellishing your own accomplishments, would count as a lie to avoid negative evaluation.
To avoid punishment or retaliation
Tying back to No. 3 but with some slight nuance, sometimes people lie to avoid retaliation. According to psychologist and relationship counselor Margaret Paul, Ph.D., people often lie "because they're afraid the person will be angry or judgmental or leave them." This could look like telling your mom you did something she asked, even though you didn't—or telling your partner you've never cheated, even if you have, for example.
Out of compulsion or carelessness
Sometimes people who lie don't have a real reason. While the study notes this isn't as common as the previous reasons, there are indeed compulsive liars. According to Bruneau, compulsive liars tend to lie because they fear the truth would cause them to be judged or rejected. "People who lie for this reason usually hold a belief that they are unlovable or unworthy in their imperfection and thus try to manage their image (and ultimately, feelings of vulnerability) through lying," she explains.
Beyond lying compulsively for no reason, there are people who may actually get a sort of pleasure or joy out of lying and manipulating people. "They're habitual liars. They're addicted to it," Paul says, adding, "It's part of winning to them—sociopaths lie all the time." In cases like this, Paul explains that these people get a thrill out of manipulating people with lies. But she qualifies this also isn't usually the norm: "In a normal everyday relationship between partners or parents and kids, people mostly lie to avoid judgment and anger."
To get something out of it
And last but not least, sometimes people may lie in order to achieve a goal. This could look like lying on your résumé in the hopes of getting a new job or lying about your hobbies to attract a crush. Whatever the goal is, according to Bruneau, "Healthy people will exhibit goal-oriented lying from time to time," adding, "Who hasn't said yes when asked if they're eligible for the student discount?"
What are the signs that someone is lying?
Some clues that people are lying include certain speech patterns and body language, avoiding questions, continuity errors, and over-embellishing.
How do you handle when someone lies to you?
When someone lies to you, you can try to open up a dialogue and figure out why they didn't want to tell the truth. If the lying is a pervasive issue in a relationship, it can be helpful to get support from a therapist to work on building more trust and rapport.
No one wants to be lied to, but according to experts and research, people often have real reasons for lying, and sometimes those reasons are even altruistic. If you've been lied to, remember that oftentimes, people do so to avoid rejection or anger. While you may not be able to stop someone from lying, you can work on cultivating more trust and honesty.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.