Is it wrong to cheat
Why Do People Cheat? 8 Reasons for Infidelity, Explained by Experts
When my former boyfriend discovered that I had cheated on him, I felt physically sick with guilt, despair, and grief. But I also had plenty of excuses as to why I did it.
After I moved thousands of miles away for a job, we struggled to adjust to a long-distance relationship. I felt neglected, lonely, and unable to communicate what I needed via Skype. When I met someone new and exciting, I told myself we were just friends. And then we weren’t.
During our first visit in nearly a year, I forgot to log out of my Facebook on my partner’s laptop. He read my messages, and the life we’d built together exploded. Of course, it was all my fault—I’d planted the bomb and somehow hoped he’d never find it. Many painful, hours-long conversations followed, as did an attempt at an open relationship. But we couldn’t recover.
A few years later, I got a taste of my own medicine when a new partner cheated on me. I completely lost it, and despite my need to ask how he could hurt me like that over and over again, none of his explanations mattered. In my mind, he was bad, cheating was bad, and it was that simple. Pretty hypocritical, right? Unfortunately, I’m not alone.
Cheating can destroy a marriage, shatter your ability to trust future partners, hurt your kids, and even lead to depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The vast majority of adults agree that it’s wrong, but anywhere from 39 to 52% of us may experience infidelity at some point in our lives.
Why do people cheat?
“There’s a multitude of reasons why people cheat,” says Kenneth Paul Rosenberg, M.D., a psychiatrist and author of Infidelity: Why Men and Women Cheat. According to a 2017 article published in the Journal of Sex Research, explanations for infidelity often dip into three main categories: personal problems, beliefs, or characteristics; issues with your partner or the relationship as a whole; and situational factors like easy access to dating websites, long business trips, or liquid courage.
To further complicate things, sometimes what “counts” as cheating to you may be radically different from what your partner sees as okay versus definitely not okay. Research shows our definitions of infidelity can range vastly from having a celebrity crush or watching porn on the conservative side to only in-person sex acts on the more liberal side.
Although sexual relationships are often considered the worst of betrayals, Dr. Rosenberg says it’s important not to underrate emotional affairs, which can be just as devastating.
If you’re here, you’re probably trying to understand why you, your partner, or someone you care about cheated. There may be no single reason why, and it’s often difficult to get a satisfying answer out of someone who has mastered the habit of lying to you or feels deeply ashamed and confused.
But to give you some insight, we asked real people to explain why they cheated—and asked relationship experts to weigh in on the reasoning, plus how you can begin to sort out what comes next after infidelity.1. The relationship wasn’t fulfilling anymore.
I cheated because I was really dissatisfied with our relationship and didn’t feel seen or understood by my partner. I confessed immediately afterwards, and today, my ex remains one of my oldest friends. Looking back, I wish I’d had the emotional intelligence at the time to tell him how I felt or break up with him. —Taylor C., 23*
One common reason for cheating is that the partnership isn’t satisfying, says Ashley E. Thompson, Ph.D., an associate psychology professor who researches infidelity at the University of Minnesota in Duluth. If you’ve grown distant, don’t have anything to talk about, or can’t remember the last time you had sex, you or your partner may end up looking for connections outside of the relationship rather than trying to fix problems at home.2. They didn’t think through the consequences.
I cheated out of stupidity. I was just on autopilot. I was hanging out with someone, they seemed receptive, and I went for it. I wasn’t really letting the potential consequences of my actions rise to consciousness. I was simply doing what felt good in the moment. Many years later, I feel like I’ve grown out of it. Falling in love with the right person certainly helped. —Jackson P., 45*
The saying, “Once a cheater, always a cheater,” by no means applies to infidels across the board, but it might have a grain of truth, says Thompson. “There are certain personality characteristics that are indicative of folks who commit infidelity,” she says. In particular, people who are not so self-disciplined may be more apt to say they were “swept away by the moment” due to factors like mood lighting at the bar or too much to drink when, in fact, their own impulsiveness and penchant for risk-taking could be to blame.
3. They got a rush out of it.
I cheated on my first wife because I got off on the intrigue—the planning, excitement, my so-called brilliance at not getting caught. My second wife is a real partner in every sense of the word, and I haven’t thought about straying in 15 years. When you cheat on someone, whether you get away with it or not, you create a wound in your partnership that doesn’t entirely heal. Enough of those wounds or a big enough one, and you kill your relationship. That’s what keeps me honest today—the sense that you can “win” and still wind up the loser. —Ian G., 45
“A fair number of people cheat just because they can,” says Dr. Rosenberg. Contrary to the stories you often hear about discontent spouses, a partner who cheats might be relatively happy with their primary relationship but their partner isn’t open to a non-monogamous arrangement, they want the best of both worlds, or they get a thrill from secretly pursuing new hookups.
On a biological level, people who are more prone to infidelity may be driven by an upsurge in pleasure chemicals like dopamine, vasopressin, and oxytocin. Those who are more extroverted may be more likely to cheat because they thrive on new social connections.
I cheated because I wanted validation. I was very insecure and had to be the center of my partner’s attention all the time. I didn’t feel happy or worthy if I wasn’t constantly being fawned over by him. The night it happened, I was at a party, someone else started flirting with me, and it went downhill from there. Since then, I’ve vowed to never hurt someone like that again and I’ve learned not to look for an external source to solve an internal problem. I still struggle with low self-esteem, but that’s my problem, not my partner’s, and I know that cheating won’t “fix” it in any way. —Alyssa G., 29
Often, there are conscious reasons for cheating (like: “You don’t give me enough attention!”) as well as more unconscious reasons (such as problems dealing with difficult emotions or trauma), says Gilza Fort Martínez, a Miami-based licensed family and marriage therapist specializing in life transitions and conflict resolution. Over half of people who cheat say self-esteem has something to do with it.
If a partner isn’t feeling good about themselves and isn’t addressing that in a healthy, productive way, such as therapy, they’re more likely to end up in a relationship wracked with negativity and fighting. As a result, they might seek out someone else to boost their shaky ego or establish a sense of control over their lives—even if it’s ultimately self-destructive.
I knew cheating wasn’t right, but I couldn’t find the willpower to stop myself. While I think I’d be capable of monogamy now, I choose to be polyamorous because it allows for more boundary-setting, communication, and the ability to talk about desires and sex without worrying about jealousy. This way, I can keep myself relatively independent while still enjoying people’s company. —Ami M., 23
It’s normal to find other people attractive, have sexual fantasies, or want multiple sexual and/or romantic partners in your life. But when you act on those desires without your partner’s knowledge and enthusiastic consent, you get into tricky territory.
Some people tend to be more open to sex outside of their primary relationship and could end up cheating if they don’t communicate their needs to their partner. A better alternative? Just be honest with yourself and your partner about what you want, says Dr. Rosenberg. These days, you do have options like ethical non-monogamy, polyamory, or an open relationship.
In college, I was dating this terrible guy and planned to break up with him. However, I decided to be spiteful and ended up sleeping with a friend of mine who I ran into randomly while running errands. When we reconnected, I began to think about all the horrible things my boyfriend had said to me, the put-downs, lack of appreciation, drama. I just didn’t care anymore. I know it was immature, wanting revenge like that. I’m not proud of it. But I also don’t feel like it was that big of a deal compared to what he put me through. —Vanessa R., 38
If you’ve ever been betrayed by a partner, you know that fury often comes along with anguish and confusion. The desire for revenge is another common motive for infidelity, says Thompson. While many cheaters will do everything they can to avoid getting caught, others might want their partner to find out in order to “get back at them” for having an affair or treating them poorly. Case in point: Nearly half of people who cheat say anger factored into their reasoning, according to one study.
I was in a bad marriage with an abusive man, and one of the few things he allowed me to do was go to karaoke with friends. One night, I met a guy who was funny and so unlike my husband. Hanging out with him—and eventually cheating with him—gave me confidence and made me realize how I actually deserved to be treated. I know there’s no excuse for infidelity, but to me, the real story is I found someone who really cares about me and gave me the guts to get a divorce. Over four years later, we’re still together. —Liz K., 29
While there’s little research on this, some study participants’ stories suggest infidelity could actually serve as “an adaptive mechanism by which to escape” for someone in a toxic or abusive relationship, says Thompson.
If you’re unable to end a bad relationship or want to but can’t quite take that step yet, having an affair with someone else who treats you well could serve as a reminder that you’re entitled to a healthy, happy, and fulfilling relationship—and give you the courage to get out, confirms Tammy Nelson, Ph.D., a sexologist, licensed relationship therapist, and author of When You’re the One Who Cheats.
If you’ve been walking on eggshells or feel unsafe with your partner, you can figure out next steps with the help of a therapist or a resource like the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.
Many years ago, I was married to someone I got along with great, but our sex life was never passionate. I had this friend who I’d always genuinely enjoyed being around, and felt this sexual tension with. One night, we finally opened up about how we felt and had this incredibly passionate kiss. I felt like I’d finally woken up after years of just going through the motions. I was ashamed that I’d let my life go so far and felt guilty for wasting my wife’s time, too. I told her everything and we got divorced. Today, I’ve been married to this new person for over 20 years, and my ex is happily single. Cheating is wrong and it destroys people and marriages, but living a life without passion is just as wrong and also destroys people. —Chris B., 47
Of all the reasons for cheating, the most painful and common one is simply a lack of love. At the beginning of a relationship, just grazing your partner’s hand can get your heart thumping, let alone seeing their clothes come off. “But that kind of romantic love lasts a couple of years—if you’re lucky,” says Dr. Rosenberg. Because we’re “passion-bound creatures,” fidelity isn’t always easy when that initial spark fades, he says.
“Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you’re immune to falling in love with another person,” adds Nelson. Sometimes, as heartbreaking as it can be, relationships have expiration dates. While it’s best to end a partnership with integrity before moving on, when someone begins to feel the heat with another person, they may cheat before they can admit that their initial partnership has truly fizzled out.
Whether you cheated or your partner betrayed you, the first step is to find a trusted loved one, mentor, or therapist to talk it out with individually, says Dr. Rosenberg.
The next stage is to ask yourself some hard questions: Are you staying or are you going? What are the pros and cons of each option in terms of the effect on your family, financial entanglements, the history you share? What was your relationship like before the betrayal and how might you rebuild trust? Both partners have to answer these questions on their own, says Fort-Martínez.
“Cheating is a painful, often very devastating situation, but it could also be a gift.”
After that, if you choose to stay together, a couples’ therapist can help you navigate the grieving process, work on your communication skills, regain intimacy, and move forward. To make it work, Fort-Martínez says she looks out for three key things in the person who cheated: the willingness to be open and transparent, the ability to take emotional hits from a distraught partner, and expressions of true remorse.
If you decide to break up or get a divorce, know that there’s no foolproof way to prevent infidelity in the future, but you can do your best to lower your risk. To avoid misunderstandings, all of the experts we spoke with recommend that you have an honest conversation about what exclusivity means to you and make compromises on boundaries and expectations so you’re on the same page from the very beginning.
“Cheating is a painful, often very devastating situation, but it could also be a gift,” says Fort-Martínez. You may finally realize your relationship has been broken for a long time, you’re free at last, or you haven’t been valuing your connection—and it’s time to pay more attention to yourself or your partner.
*Name has been changed
Lauren Krouse is a freelance writer who covers health, domestic violence, and self-advocacy. Her work appears in _Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Prevention, Self, HuffPost, and elsewhere. When she’s not writing, you can find her trying to meditate more, weightlifting, or walking in the woods with her partner and black lab.
Why People Cheat Even When They Know It's Wrong, According To Psychologists
by Carolyn Steber
If you were to walk up to a random stranger and ask how they feel about cheating, chances are they'd say it's not OK. In fact, 90 percent of people believe infidelity is unacceptable, and acknowledge the negative impact it can have on a relationship. And yet up to 40 percent of folks do it anyway.
Clearly, the math doesn't add up. Why might someone go behind their partner's back, even though they agree it's wrong? "For some people, they appreciate the extra attention," Dr. Christopher Ryan Jones, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and sex therapist, tells Bustle. "This doesn’t mean that their partner at home is not giving them attention, though that is sometimes the case. But for some people they need validation from others."
They might seek out another person's time or attention — or even look for a hookup — as a way of feeling connected and seen. "This could be due to an improper view of self, low self-esteem, or self worth, etc.," Jones says. "By cheating, they receive the validation they need and feel better about themselves."
Other folks don't set out with the goal of cheating, but instead see it happening little by little, especially if their needs aren't being met. "Perhaps they’ve tried to communicate these needs with their partner but don’t feel heard or understood and, over time, and over multiple seemingly insignificant events, they start to fantasize about [meeting] certain needs (sexual and/or emotional) outside of the relationship," Jaclyn Lopez Witmer, a licensed clinical psychologist at Therapy Group of NYC, tells Bustle.
This might mean flirting with a friend or being way too open with a coworker, and building an affair from there. "Perhaps an opportunity presents itself for a connection with someone else and, as the expression goes, one thing leads to another," Lopez Witmer says. "This might start with ‘emotional cheating,’ [or] sharing intimate moments or vulnerable feelings with someone who is not their partner."
Because it isn't happening all in one fell swoop, it's easier to get used to what's going on, and later justify it to themselves. "There’s the moral piece to that, and also factors at play like length of time in relationship with [their] primary partner, quality of relationship, how one defines 'cheating' (e. g., emotional, physical, only involving sexual contact, etc.), among others," Lopez Witmer says.
If they view their relationship as somehow flimsy or flawed, emotional cheating might not feel like a big deal — or it might even feel like it's somehow OK due to the circumstances. "Usually, before cheating occurs there’s a shift in how the cheating partner feels about their partner and the relationship, and they (consciously or unconsciously) choose to step away from their partner," Lopez Witmer says. "This usually happens first in their mind before any other person is involved."
Cheating in all its forms can also be used as a way to end relationships. So while someone might not endorse cheating, they might be OK with using it as a way to break things off with their partner. "For them, its easier to just find someone else," Jones says. "In this situation their partner breaks up with them, so they don’t have to do it, and they already have another relationship so they don’t have to be single. " In such a win-win situation, cheating can be tempting.
While someone might agree that cheating is wrong, they could find themselves doing it anyway for all these reasons and more. But it's far less likely to happen if a couple is willing to talk it out. "This means expressing emotional needs and difficult emotions to your partner and also being open to hearing what your partner feels and needs in return that you may not be adequately providing," Lopez Witmer says.
And this is true even if it feels tough or uncomfortable. "Often we choose not to share how we are really feeling out of fear that we will hurt the other person or that it will become a big, intense argument," Lopez Witmer says. But the more often couples share these types of things, and support each other, the easier it becomes.
It can also help to chat about what constitutes cheating, "both emotional and physical," Anita A. Chlipala, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "It's a lot easier to cross a boundary when the boundary is blurred," she says. But if a couple agrees on what's OK and what isn't, and is willing to talk about how they're feeling and what they want on a regular basis, they'll both be way less likely to resort to cheating.
Dr. Christopher Ryan Jones, PsyD, clinical psychologist and sex therapist
Jaclyn Lopez Witmer, licensed clinical psychologist at Therapy Group of NYC
Anita A. Chlipala, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
A world in which it is impossible to lie - is it good or bad?
- Rachel Nouver
- BBC Future
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From childhood, we hear that it's wrong to lie - and yet this is not always the case.
In one of the episodes of the television series "In a Better World", a highly moral professor of philosophy is tormented by a dilemma: whether to honestly tell his colleague what he thinks about his new shoes (and they are terrible!), or pretend that he likes them and does not hurt other people's feelings. nine0011
At first, the professor decides to say that he really likes the shoes. He does just that, but then another kind of torment comes: how could he compromise his high moral principles and tell a lie!
And although the professor's girlfriend tells him "sometimes we have to lie in order not to look impolite", the professor does not calm down and finally tells his colleague everything. The colleague is terribly offended and upset.
So, for the professor and many other philosophers, the obligation not to lie under any circumstances wins over all other moral principles - including the requirement not to hurt other people's feelings. nine0011
However, few adhere to such strict rules and are crystal clear in all situations without exception.
Lying is accepted in society, it happens to us almost daily, from automatically answering the question "how are you" and ending with the assessment of a friend's or friend's new hairstyle.
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And yet, despite the ubiquity of lies in our lives, most of us do not always recognize when we are told a lie. nine0011
But what would happen to the world, to our society, if we always clearly understood when we were being lied to?
Let's not now think about what technology or psychological contrivances would help achieve this. What is more important is that we then become aware of the often overlooked and greatly underestimated role that lies play in everyday life.
Many researchers believe that people began to lie to each other almost immediately, as soon as they started talking - with the advent of language. For them, it was clearly a way to achieve something. nine0011
"Lying is easily compared to other ways to gain power," Sissela Bock, an ethicist at Harvard University, told National Geographic magazine.
"After all, it is much easier to lie in order to take someone else's money or property than to hit someone on the head or rob a bank."
In addition, according to Michael Lewis, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at Rutgers University (USA), throughout human history, lying has served as an "evolutionary necessity to protect oneself from danger. " nine0011
Including for protection from punishment - for which it is still used by many in various countries.
If all of us suddenly had the ability to accurately detect lies, then life in some states would become extremely risky (in those, for example, where infidelity, homosexuality or certain religious beliefs are considered illegal).
Image copyright, Getty ImagesImage caption,
Lying is an essential part of human communication, even when it comes to your hair
It is also profitable for us to lie when the stakes are not so high - for example, at work.
If we tell our boss to his face what we think about him, or honestly admit what exactly prevented us from completing the work on time, then we will be demoted, or even fired.
We lie even when we want to look better in the eyes of our colleagues. For example, saying that we were late because of the poor work of the subway, although in fact the reason is our own sluggishness.
On the other hand, there are times at work when we'd better know when we're being lied to, says Clark Freshman, professor of law at the University of California, Hastings. nine0011
For example, by asking the right questions in a negotiation with superiors and getting answers that are unquestionably sincere, workers belonging to, say, ethnic or other minorities can negotiate a fair salary or position.
"For me, a world where people always know the truth that matters to them personally would be a wonderful world," says Freshman. "There would be less discrimination and more equality."
But at the same time we would have a world in which many things would hurt our feelings. nine0011
For most of us, a world without lies would mean a blow to our image, says Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University.
"Living in a world of truth means that you will have to be more honest about everything, that at work you will be told the truth to your face, that friends and acquaintances, and just random people you meet will be honest with you in how you look in their eyes - and your way of dressing, and the way you kiss, for example," he says.
"You will realize that people do not pay much attention to you, you are not so important to them, and your professional qualifications in their eyes are not that high," notes Ariely.
On the other hand, an absolutely honest opinion of others can help you become better, motivate you to educate yourself. But whether it's worth it, Ariely isn't sure.
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Lying can save people living in countries where their lifestyle or religious beliefs are illegal and lead to harsh punishment
All these attacks on self-esteem will begin almost immediately after the child learns to speak - and it is very difficult to say which way the child's development will go.
Imagine such a scene. The child runs to his parents: "Dad, mom, look what I drew!" - and gets an honest answer: "It's terrible!"
It is easy to imagine how this will affect the child. The innocent joy of children's games, pranks, the serenity of this important period of life for every person will be lost. Neither you Santa Claus, nor wizards ... After all, they do not exist - you have to tell the truth. nine0011
Children's innate curiosity will very quickly lead them to understand the cruelty of the world - and this is not necessarily a positive thing.
Children themselves at a fairly early age learn the social value of lies.
"Mom might warn you: 'Grandma is going to give you a birthday present and you have to tell her you like it or she'll be offended,'" explains Lewis. are already learning the art of lying out of politeness.0011
Scientists have also found that the ability to lie gives children certain advantages in understanding the world.
By the time we become adults, lying becomes an integral part of our lives. We tell lies all the time.
In a 1996 study, Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that students lie in one out of every three social encounters, and older adults do so in one out of every five. nine0011
"In many cases of lying in everyday life, people pretend to be more positive than they really are," writes DePaulo in PsychCentral.
"If they don't like you, they try to hide it. If they're bored with what you say, they try to make an interested face."
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During the 2016 presidential campaign, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was dishonest in 32% of her statements (Trump's was 70%)
Indeed, it would be a real disaster for interpersonal relationships if it were visible when we are told a lie, Lewis emphasizes. “Lying is an absolute necessity in the culture of a society in which it is believed that you should not hurt anyone's feelings.”
And in this the parties play along. deceive us. company and food
Of course, this may end up with us being invited to visit again, says Lewis, but this is the cost of sparing other people's feelings.
In a world without such polite lies, many friendships would fall apart, professional relationships would become extremely strained, and some family gatherings would turn into a nightmare.
Even our most romantic relationship is bound to lie.
In a now classic 1989 study by Sandra Metts of the University of Illinois, only 33 out of 390 people could not remember a situation in which they were "not quite truthful" with a loved one.
Similarly (in a 2013 study), Jennifer Guthrie and Adrianne Kunkel of the University of Kansas found that only two out of 67 participants did not cheat on their romantic partners for just one week.
In both studies, most people said they were dishonest only to avoid hurting their loved one and damaging relationships.
It is unlikely that many relationships would have remained the same if we knew the whole truth about our partner - at least what he really thinks, looking at us in the morning.
Image copyright, Getty ImagesImage caption,
Vote Leave, who campaigned for Britain's exit from the EU, is accused of misrepresenting official statistics.
Imagine: it would be very easy for us to identify all the pathological liars and those who constantly lie, while having no merit to society, Lewis points out. nine0011
Pathological liars are often narcissists whose need for self-deception is fueled by an absolute rejection of shame.
Sometimes they themselves believe in their own lies - even if it contradicts all known facts or their own statements made earlier.
According to Lewis, the classic example is Donald Trump. "His tendency to self-deception is so great that he simply does not realize that he is lying," says the scientist.
Of course, politicians cheating is nothing new, says Vian Bakir, professor of journalism and political communications at Bangor University, Wales. nine0011
Even Plato recognized the virtues of "noble lies," she notes, and in Machiavelli's classic The Prince, deceit plays an important role in political leadership.
All this is true, however, as Bakir emphasizes, "in recent years, lies have overwhelmed politics."
"What's especially bad about today is that in some prominent politicians like Trump, Vladimir Putin and others like them, who think that the people like a "strong hand", shameless lying has become a habit and ingrained, and they don't care at all about being exposed." nine0011
According to the non-governmental website PolitiFact, which verifies politicians' statements (owned by the non-profit Poynter Institute, which investigates the work of the media), 70% of Donald Trump's statements during the campaign were mostly lies - compared to 32% of Hillary Clinton).
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We often blame our tardiness on poor public transport because it's more convenient for us. ..
Public organizations can lie outright, too, she adds. Thus, Vote Leave, which campaigned for Britain's exit from the EU, has repeatedly argued that EU membership costs the United Kingdom more than 350 million pounds a week. The British Office of Statistics later called it "an outright misrepresentation of official statistics." nine0011
"Given that this statement is not only untrue, but also a serious and well-thought-out part of the campaign, it is fair to say that there was a deliberate deceit behind it," says Bakir.
Despite ample evidence of the dishonesty of this or that politician, this or that political group, their support by a certain part of the spectrum of voters does not weaken.
Bakir points out that, according to research, those who are deeply convinced of the veracity of disinformation are extremely difficult to convince. She adds that a person is generally inclined to believe in those things that confirm his view of the world. nine0011
But in a world where people could automatically recognize a lie - themselves, without extraneous arguments, support for dishonest politicians fell, they would be on the sidelines.
"Many Trump supporters think he's being slandered, that he's not really lying," says Freshman.
"But if people had the ability to see for themselves that they are being lied to, then I think many of them would stop looking for excuses for their idol."
A world without lies would plunge international relations and diplomacy into chaos. But in the end, citizens would benefit from the fact that this would lead to more honest politics and power. nine0011
Image copyright, Getty ImagesImage caption,
Sometimes we lie to avoid offending the people who have been welcoming and hospitable to us
The same is true in law enforcement and criminal justice.
Police violence and bias would be reduced - suspects would simply be asked direct questions, and a similar simple guilt procedure would replace lawsuits.
It is impossible to foresee all the benefits and all the negative consequences of a lie suddenly becoming visible to the naked eye. But this new world will certainly not be like the one we now live in. nine0011
However, people get used to everything. "Over time," says Bakir, "we will develop new social norms and a code of conduct acceptable to all in society."
At the same time, she continues, we are likely to do our best to come up with new ways to deceive each other - either through technology or through drugs, special behaviors or psychological preparation, since deception is a life need.
Read the original English version of this article at BBC Future .
Telling the truth lies - where it leads the world
- Melissa Hogenboom
- BBC Future
Copyright © iStock
The line between truth and lies is becoming increasingly blurred in our world. Even a special word has become widespread, denoting a particularly sophisticated form of lying, notes the BBC Future columnist. But what makes us lie? nine0018
It's no secret that politicians often lie. But think about it: they can do it just by telling the truth. I'll explain now.
The essence of my statement will become clearer to you when you understand that we all, in essence, do this.
A classic example. The mother asks her son if he has prepared the lessons, and he replies: "I wrote an essay for the literature lesson."
This may be true, but it is not an answer to the mother's question about completed (or not completed) homework. nine0011
The essay could have been written a long time ago, and this seemingly truthful answer only misleads the mother. The son, perhaps, has not sat down for lessons yet.
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This art of lying by telling the truth is so widespread in our daily life that a special word has recently been assigned to it in the English language - paltering (tricky, cunning). nine0011
The prevalence of cheating in all walks of life gives us an opportunity to look into the gray area between truth and lies and try to understand why we cheat at all.
Image copyright, iStockImage caption,
Most of us lie at least once a day
We lie all the time, despite the fact that it requires a lot more mental effort from us than just telling the truth (U.S. President Abraham Lincoln once remarked that no one simply has the memory to successfully lie.) nine0011
In 1996, researcher Bella DePaulo even came up with an average. She claimed that each of us lies at least once or twice a day.
DePaulo discovered this by asking her study participants for a week to mark themselves every time they were telling a lie, even if it was for the best of reasons.
Of the 147 participants, only seven said they never lied - and we can only wonder if they told the scientist the truth.
In many cases the deception was innocent. Sometimes a person was cunning, guided by the best feelings, for example: "I told her that she looked great - although she looked like an airship." nine0011
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Sometimes lies were told to hide confusion or embarrassment. DePaulo, a psychologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, notes that the participants in her experiment did not realize how often they lie, because it is so common that we usually do not notice it. nine0011
Much more disturbing are cases where people lie in order to manipulate others or deliberately mislead someone. And this happens much more often than you think.
When Todd Rogers and his colleagues tried to count how often politicians evade an honest question during an election debate, they found something interesting.
Politicians simply started talking about something else, and at the same time spoke the truth - but by doing so they avoided answering the question put to them. And thus the impression was formed that the truth is that which in fact is not so. nine0011
Politicians do this all the time, points out Rogers, a behavioral scientist at the Harvard School of Management. John F. Kennedy.
The scientist decided to look into this in more detail and found out that slyness is an incredibly common tactic in negotiations. More than half of the 184 business executives surveyed admitted to using it.
Image copyright, iStockImage caption,
The truth is not always what it seems
Rogers' research also showed that the person who resorts to cheating finds it more ethically acceptable than simple deception. nine0011
However, those who were misled did not see any difference between deceit and deceit. "People believe that even if their cheating is revealed, it will look more decent than deceit - but for those who are intended to sly words, it does not matter at all, for them it is exactly the same lie," Rogers emphasizes.
In addition, it is often difficult to immediately understand that the given "fact" is actually only misleading, although it is true in itself.
In Britain, for example, the Labor Party used a video calling for a lower voting age in their election campaign. The video, in part, said: "You are 16. Now you can get married, work full time, enlist in the army." nine0011
The BBC department, which checks all kinds of statements by politicians, immediately noted that this is not entirely true. In Britain, if you are 16 or 17 years old, you can only join the military with your parents' permission.
Similarly, at this age you need parental permission to marry (unless you live in Scotland).
As of 2013, 16- and 17-year-olds cannot work full-time in England, but they can in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (with some restrictions). nine0011
Image copyright, Getty ImagesImage caption,
Politicians constantly manipulate the truth
Another example. Donald Trump, then the Republican presidential candidate, clearly cheated during the pre-election debate. He was asked about a lawsuit filed in the past against his construction company in connection with cases of racial discrimination. To which Trump replied: his company has never admitted its guilt.
She may not have admitted it, but a New York Times investigation uncovered such cases. nine0011
But even if we manage to catch the hand of someone who speaks a misleading truth, social norms are such that it is not always convenient for us to point it out directly.
Take, for example, the well-known interview of Jeremy Paxman with the prominent British politician Michael Howard, in which the journalist, with absurd, defiant persistence, repeated the same question, to which Howard did not answer directly, but instead tried to talk about something - then another.
Paxman, seeing how the politician wriggles and gets out, asked his question again and again - far from each of us is ready to go all the way in such a situation. nine0011 Image caption,
Paxman's famous interview with politician Howard (pictured right): a question asked many times in a row remains unanswered
Just like in politics, this tactic is common in everyday life. A real estate agent will tell a potential buyer of an apartment that is not for sale in any way that a lot of people have already viewed it, while saying nothing about why no one liked it.
The used car dealer will tell you how easy this car is to start on a cold morning, but not a word about the fact that just a week ago it broke down and needed repair. nine0011
Both in the first and in the second case they tell the truth, but only to mask the real state of affairs.
Perhaps cheating is so widespread because it is an effective tool.
We try to solve too many problems in our life at once, explains Rogers. "We need to sell a car or an apartment by all means, but at the same time we want to look honest in the eyes of people."
It is rather difficult for many people to combine both, and in order not to lie openly, a person resorts to trickery, believing that it looks better in the eyes of others. nine0011
"We're demonstrating that this is a mistake," Rogers stresses. "We're seeing the problems that this approach creates for our society. It's clear that people are tired of being lied to all the time, and trust in politicians is drastically reduced."
One of the public opinion polls conducted in 2016 showed that the British trust politicians less than realtors, bankers and journalists.
However, even despite the habit of those in power lying to us, we do not always manage to catch them in time in a lie - because they use trickery tactics. nine0011
Psychologist Robert Feldman, author of The Liar in Your Life, finds this trend disturbing, both at the level of private life and at the level of the functioning of society as a whole.
"When people in power lie to us, it destroys our trust in political institutions and breeds cynicism in society about [politicians'] real motives."
The lie fulfills its crafty social function. It helps to paint a more attractive (than the truth) picture of reality or avoid answering an uncomfortable question. nine0011
"It's unethical and it's destroying our democracy," Rogers says.
Unfortunately, the prevalence of the habit of lying may also have roots in the way we are brought up. Petty deceit plays a part in our social experience from an early age.