Do you believe your own lies?


By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

cookie jar thief
If you steal cookies from the cookie jar and tell someone you didn’t, it’s a false denial lie. The girl in this photo was caught red-handed!

Whether we like to admit it or not, we all lie. Sometimes, it’s an itsy bitsy one to spare another person’s feelings. Other times we are caught in a situation we don’t want to be in, so we become dishonest to wriggle out of it! It’s amazing how many times the truth is concealed, when you really think about it. Do we even remember what is true after all the lies we speak? Well, according to Louisiana State University (LSU) psychologists, the memory of a lie depends on how you tell it.

For their study, the LSU psychologists focused on two types of lies. The first type is called a “false description,” which involves someone telling grand, detailed events that never actually took place. The second type is called a “false denial,” which is where a person denies an event that actually did occur. Can you guess which one of the two was easier to remember? I’d guess false denials. After all, there’s not a bunch of tiny details to remember, like there’d be in a false description. It’s just pretending like nothing actually happened. Makes sense right? Well, I’m absolutely wrong!

According to the researchers, test subjects were able to remember a false description because of all the details involved! “If I’m going to lie to you about something that didn’t happen, I’m going to have to keep a lot of different constraints in mind,” said LSU Associate Professor Sean Lane, who was involved in the study. “As the [thought] process lays down records of our details and descriptions, it also lays down information about the process of construction.” In other words, all the nitty-gritty details about the lie use a lot of brain power, and it’s harder to forget!

The opposite is true for the false denials. They require so little brain effort that they are practically forgotten as soon as the lie comes out of a person’s lips! As Lane likes to describe it: “I’m not constructing details. But I’m also not going to remember the act because there’s not much [thought] involved in the denial.”

What’s interesting is that false denials can lead to fake memories! “They’re telling the truth, they’re denying, but later this thing seems familiar,” said Lane. “They’re confusing the familiarity of the repetition [with the truth], not realizing that those repeated denials are what makes it seem familiar 48 hours later.” They become so familiar, they begin to feel like it’s the truth!

With all that said, I’ll ask you again: do we remember what is actually true after all the lies we tell?

Featured image courtesy of Jens Rost on Flickr. Image of cookie thief courtesy of Alisha Funkhouser on Flickr.