LYING

Lying may take either a normal or pathological form, and will therefore be discussed as (a) a feature of the moral development of the average child, (b) a major characteristic of the character disorder known as antisocial or psychopathic personality, and (c) a symptom of certain brain disorders. Two special forms of lying are treated under separate topics: malingering, or feigning illness; and confabulation, the pathological tendency to fill gaps in memory with false details. See these topics.Children’s lies have been classified into seven different types: (1) the playful or make-believe he: “There’s a dragon under my bed!”; (2) the lie of confusion: “The dog was as big as I am”; (3) the lie of vanity: “I got more compliments than anybody”; (4) the lie of revenge: “I saw Johnnie break the window”; (5) the excusive lie, motivated by fear of punishment: “I didn’t eat a single cookie”; (6) the selfish lie: “Mommie always lets me eat between meals”; and (7) the loyal lie: “Jimmie didn’t do anything wrong.” (Jones, 1954).Studies show that boys he somewhat more than girls, and peak periods for lying by both sexes occur between five and six and between eight and nine years of age (Macfarlane et al., 1954). Young children’s lies are frequently expressions of fantasy rather than attempts to deceive others, though some lies are basically due to misunderstanding or inability to report details accurately. Many children are encouraged to lie by the example of their parents: “Tell Mrs. Jones I’m not in,” or “Johnnie is only six—he travels halffare.”Most childhood lies, however, arise from fear of punishment, disapproval, or ridicule. Children are often frightened into lying because they do not have the inner strength to admit their guilt when stem adults put them “on the carpet.” Some children, mainly boys, lie about wrongdoing because the “gang” (and sometimes the parents) assure them that it is all right to break rules if you are clever enough to get away with it. Children under the age of eight think it is wrong to lie because it is forbidden by adults, and only feel guilty if they are punished; older children come to feel that lying is wrong because it violates mutual trust and conflicts with the standards of their parents and of society. This represents a shift from control by rules to control by conscience (Medinnus, 1962). Most psychologists believe the tendency to lie can be overcome more effectively by explaining the need for truthfulness than by applying harsh punishment or labeling the child a liar.Among adults (and occasionally adolescents), the proverbial “pathological liar” is classed as an antisocial, or psychopathic, personality. This category includes individuals characterized by extreme egocentrism, irresponsibility, impulsiveness, absence of moral standards, and inability to form deep emotional attachments. Typically, they are opportunists, “conmen,” impostors— and typically also, they are consummate and convincing liars who make promises with ease and confidence, deny misconduct with utter nonchalance, and even tell solemn lies when detection is virtually certain or when lying serves no purpose whatsoever. Cleckley (1959) gives this example: “A psychopathic husband, already divorced by his wife, wrote in the footnote of a letter to her matter-of-fact instructions about the insurance policies he was sending under separate cover to provide for her and their children. There were no insurance policies and he had never seriously considered providing for his family in this way or in any other. He was well aware that he would soon be found in falsehood about this, and he had nothing to gain materially by such a lie.” The lies of psychopaths—particularly the gratuitous lies—have a peculiar quality. These individuals not only have no qualms whatever, but often do not appear to be fully aware that they are lying, and cannot seem to feel or understand the nature of a falsehood: “Perhaps such people mean for the moment to do what they promise so convincingly, but the resolution passes almost as the words are spoken” (Cleckley).Lying is also a fairly common symptom in brain disorders resulting from severe head injury, alcoholism, congenital syphilis, and encephalitis. In these conditions it is associated with a general loss of intellectual capacity, and in post-encephalitic cases with an “acting-outsyndrome that may include impulsive behavior, stealing and destructiveness as well. See KORSAKOFF’S SYNDROME, HEAD INJURY (CHRONIC), LEAD POISONING, SYPHILIS, EPIDEMIC ENCEPHALITIS, LIE DETECTOR.Illustrative Case:Some inept social deviants seem to falsify statements so easily, so habitually, and so convincingly, that they have been classified as “pathological liars.” The observer who attempts to understand this deviant behavior is struck by the time and effort which a patient may invest in fabricating stories, and in subsequently defending his fabrications. Often the stories are complex rationalizations which elaborate a theme of selfvindication. Sometimes they are so patently wish-fulfilling that we can consider them to be private fantasies translated into communicative speech. Occasionally the fabrications seem to take no consistent direction; a patient misrepresents capriciously, and falsely accuses others or himself without apparent reason.When fabricating and misrepresenting become autonomous and self-perpetuating activities in aduxthood, we may speak of pathological lying. It is clear, however, that what we are then describing is the persistence, into the adult years, of behavior which is more appropriate to childhood. The relative immaturity of pathological lying in adult behavior is illustrated by the following case.The patient, an eighteen-year-old boy, was brought to the hospital by a solicitous friend. From the age of six, according to his teachers and friends, the boy had been habitually falsifying. As a child, he had lied to escape responsibility for ordinary childish misdeeds, and had told “tall stories” woven around the theme of personal accomplish ment and courage. As an adolescent he had impressed his friends with stories of his adventurous life, his social position, and his personal possessions. As a young adult, he was beginning to translate his extravagant tales into reality by stealing large sums of money and expensive cars, by borrowing airplanes and performing dangerous “stunts” in them, and by developing close, dependent relationships with older and more socially prominent persons. The boy was the only child of a widowed mother who told him that she wished he had never been born. She never undertook to make a permanent home for him. During her periodic alcoholic excesses, however, she characteristically appealed to her son for support, embarrassing and frightening him by her behavior. It was clear, from a study of the case, that the patient’s “pathological lying” began in the common fancies and rationalizations of childhood, and represented a translation into communicative speech of his compensatory, wish-fulfilling fantasies. The patient himself explained his habitual falsification as an attempt to “build himself up.” (Cameron and Magaret, 1951)

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "LYING," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/lying/ (accessed October 17, 2019).
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