Understanding Deception – 9 Reasons why People Lie


Why do people lie? What pushes them into this behavior? We all lie occasionally, but there are different scales of lying, with vastly different outcomes for the liar and the parties they lie to. Lying isn’t new to us; many people can sniff out a liar when they try to act deceptively. It sets off a built-in radar in our psychology, and we can tell something they say doesn’t feel right.

Some people lie more than others, and some people have less of an ability to detect these lies. Some people are so good at lying that they can fool anyone with their deceit, while others are terrible at it and experience guilt racking their conscience to the point where they must admit their deceptive practices and tell the truth.

Lying is different for everyone, but why do they do it? This post investigates the nine reasons people lie, the types of liars, and how to identify their deceit.


What Is Lying?

Lying is the act of deceiving others. It’s a practice that’s as old as human civilization itself. Whether it’s something as simple as a child lying about eating the cake when they have remnants of it around their mouth or someone lying about their involvement in a murder, lies all boil down to the same thing – deception.

Being deceptive can prevent us from winding up in a situation we don’t want to be in. By lying, we keep our presentation to others intact and escape the consequences of our actions. It’s a “get out of jail free” card that we all pull from time to time, with varying results.


The 9 Reasons Why People Lie


#1 To Receive Unobtainable Rewards

We lie to obtain a reward we think is unattainable if we tell the truth. Both children and adults use this lying tactic in their interactions with others. An example of this would be doctoring your resume with fake work experience or qualifications to secure a job.


#2 To Protect Ourselves from Harm

We lie to protect ourselves from physical and non-physical harm. This reason for lying differs from the course of action we take to avoid punishment for our actions. The threat doesn’t come from doing something wrong but from another person’s perceived underlying intentions.

An example of this type of lying would be a young girl telling a stranger at the door that their mom is asleep and they should come back later to speak with them when they’re home alone.


#3 To Avoid Punishment

We lie to avoid being punished for our actions. This is the most pertinent reason for lying in children and adults. We lie to cover up our involvement in activities that could result in physical or non-physical punishment and when we make honest mistakes.

An example would be lying to avoid a spanking as a child or lying to avoid telling people about our involvement in a crime.


#4 To Protect Others

We lie to protect people we care about from being punished. Our motive for lying doesn’t change with our intent to do so. We’ve all done this, and an example would be telling someone’s mom your friend was with them instead of being elsewhere unaccounted for. Or it could be telling your boss your colleague arrived on time at work, despite being 30 minutes late.


#5 To avoid Being Embarrassed

We lie to avoid embarrassment. For instance, a teenage boy was lying to his friends about watching South Park while they were watching an episode of Gilmore Girls instead.


#6 To Remove Ourselves from Awkward Social Interactions

We lie to get out of awkward social situations. For instance, someone tells their friend they must stay home and take care of the neighbor’s dog instead of attending their dinner party.


#7 To Win Admiration

We lie to gain admiration from people around us. For instance, telling a friend that you did an ice bath this morning for ten minutes, but you couldn’t even muster the courage to get in the tub.


#8 To Maintain Our Privacy

We lie to keep our privacy without telling people about that intention to do so. For instance, a couple says they went to court to get married to avoid the costs involved with hosting a wedding. In reality, they chose to do so because they didn’t want to involve their families on the day.


#9 To Gain Power Over Others

We lie to others to control the information the other person receives from us. For instance, a government agency lies to the public about its involvement in a coup in a foreign country.


The 8 Types of Liars – Defining the Scale of Lying

The extent of the damage and deceit caused by lying varies, depending on the type of lie the person tells. Liars vary in the intent they have when telling a lie. Here are the eight types of liars you’ll encounter in life.


White Liars

This person tells lies with little consequence. For instance, you tell your partner they don’t look fat when they ask, but in your mind, you think they could lose a few pounds.


Natural Liars

These individuals lie, and you can’t discern if they’re lying or telling the truth. They exhibit no body language or behavior suggesting they’re lying. They don’t believe their lies; they just have a talent for the behavior.


Occasional Liars

These people occasionally lie to get what they want or make themselves look good in the eyes of others.


Habitual Liars

These liars find lying easier than telling the truth, so they make a habit out of it.


Compulsive Liars

These liars get a kick out of lying and find the rush of conning others somewhat addictive.


Prolific Liars

These liars lie frequently but don’t feel bad about it.


Pathological Liars

The pathological liar lies all the time and for no reason. They don’t experience any guilt from lying, even if it’s a lie that would make other people feel guilty and uncomfortable about doing so. A pathological liar will believe their lies as truths.


What Is Pathological Lying?

Pathological liars lie to cover up the actions they take and the thoughts they have. It’s a mental disorder, and science has proved that these individuals don’t have the same psychological makeup as others. They don’t have any regret for lying, and they don’t experience any guilt for it.

Scientific research shows the brain structure of a pathological liar looks different from other people’s brains in imaging studies. People who lie a lot are often referred to by others as pathological liars. However, despite their frequent acts of deception, this behavior doesn’t really fall into the category of pathological lying.

‌Psychiatry calls pathological lying behavior “mythomania” or “pseudologia fantastica.” It’s an official psychiatric diagnosis in the handbook, “DSM-V.” Pathological liars lie without any reason to do so. They often tell elaborate lies; in some cases, they believe what they lie about is a true version of events.

According to psychiatrists, pathological lying behavior starts when a person is in their teens, and they can continue this pattern of behavior for years or even throughout their entire life. They keep lying when people accuse them of being deceitful, and this behavior can impact their family life, relationships, and career.


Is there a Treatment for Pathological Liars?

There is no known treatment for pathological lying other than telling the truth. Psychotherapy offers the pathological liar a useful tool for breaking their behavior, but some liars might start telling their therapist lies to avoid embarrassment instead of addressing their problems.


How Do I Know if I’m Dealing with a Compulsive or Pathological Liar?

Pathological liars lie to get their way in a relationship, interaction, or discussion with others. They lie without awareness of its impact on the people around them, but compulsive liars lie because they form a habit around the behavior.


Characteristics of Pathological Liars

A pathological liar lies to manipulate others and the outcomes they experience in life. They do so intentionally but with little awareness of how it affects others around them. Psychiatrists think pathological lying evolves as a coping mechanism in people.

Liars develop this behavior when they’re young, usually in their adolescence, and carry it through into adulthood because of the success they see from lying. Some people may develop pathological lying behavior alongside other mental health conditions, such as antisocial personality disorder.

The condition might be genetic, or they might start lying to cover up trauma in their life, continuing the behavior into other areas of their social interactions. According to psychiatric testing, people with mental disorders like narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and antisocial personality disorder (APD) are most at risk of adopting pathological lying behavior.

Pathological liars are often goal-oriented in how they approach this behavior. They don’t have empathy for others, and they don’t care about the effects of their lies on the people around them or the wider community. People around them who know a person is a pathological liar view them as manipulative.

Pathological liars can tell small lies or weave extravagant tales that they adjust over time. These individuals often go as far as believing their own lies and have a weak grasp of reality. As opposed to compulsive lying behavior, it’s challenging to catch a pathological liar in the behavior.

Pathological liars lie all the time, so they have a good handle on how to lie without being detected by others. Pathological liars are confident when lying, using their lies as a defense mechanism to avoid persecution and get what they want from the other person.

Some common behaviors pathological liars exhibit are their ability to look you straight in the eyes and lie to you. However, if you pursue them on the lie a few weeks or months later, you might find their story changes because they don’t have any memory of the physical lies they lie about in their conversations with others.

Pathological liars don’t have any regard for the truth, and they act aggressively or defensively when you confront them about their behavior.


Characteristics of Compulsive Liars

These people develop a habit of lying. They’ll bend the truth about anything in their life experience, big or small. For compulsive liars, telling the truth seems awkward, and they’re more comfortable lying to others than being honest with them.

Compulsive lying behavior usually starts in childhood and involves family members, such as their parents, lying to them frequently. Lying feels routine to them, and they don’t have a problem with it. It’s also common for compulsive liars to have mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and borderline personality disorder.

Compulsive liars are not manipulative; rather, they lie out of habit. It becomes an automatic response that’s challenging to break, requiring them to change their behavior. These individuals lie for several reasons but listen to them, and you’ll find discrepancies in their lies that don’t add up.

Unlike pathological liars, compulsive liars usually exhibit body language that they’re lying, such as breaking eye contact or tripping over their words when they speak. They may also lie for no reason, without any intent behind it. Unlike pathological liars, compulsive liars know they’re lying and will usually admit to it when caught.


Can a Polygraph Exam Detect Compulsive or Pathological Liars?

A polygraph exam relies on the examinee activating their “fight-or-flight” (FoF) response when lying during the lie detector test. For most of us, over 97% of the population, this process is part of the autonomic nervous system.

That means that we can’t escape the activation of the FoF response when telling a lie. It’s an automatic response, and we can’t control it. However, pathological liars don’t experience the activation of the FoF when they tell a lie. The reason for this is that they have a different pathways of activation for the FoF response.

Pathological liars often believe what they say is the truth, so they don’t experience guilt or shame when they lie. So, without activation of the FoF response, or indicative body language showing deceptive behavior, they have a good chance of escaping the lie detector test undetected.