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A significant amount of deception occurs between some romantic and relational partners. Deceit and dishonesty can also form grounds for civil litigation in tort , or contract law where it is known as misrepresentation or fraudulent misrepresentation if deliberate , or give rise to criminal prosecution for fraud. It also forms a vital part of psychological warfare in denial and deception. Deception includes several types of communications or omissions that serve to distort or omit the whole truth.

Examples of deception range from false statements to misleading claims in which relevant information is omitted, leading the receiver to infer false conclusions. For example, a claim that 'sunflower oil is beneficial to brain health due to the presence of omega-3 fatty acids' may be misleading, as it leads the receiver to believe sunflower oil will benefit brain health more so than other foods.

In fact, sunflower oil is relatively low in omega-3 fatty acids and is not particularly good for brain health, so while this claim is technically true, it leads the receiver to infer false information. Deception itself is intentionally managing verbal or nonverbal messages so that the message receiver will believe in a way that the message sender knows is false.

Intent is critical with regard to deception. Intent differentiates between deception and an honest mistake. The Interpersonal Deception Theory explores the interrelation between communicative context and sender and receiver cognitions and behaviors in deceptive exchanges. Many people believe that they are good at deception, though this confidence is often misplaced.

Buller and Burgoon have proposed three taxonomies to distinguish motivations for deception based on their Interpersonal Deception Theory:. Deception detection between relational partners is extremely difficult unless a partner tells a blatant or obvious lie or contradicts something the other partner knows to be true. While it is difficult to deceive a partner over a long period of time, deception often occurs in day-to-day conversations between relational partners.

Deception, however, places a significant cognitive load on the deceiver. He or she must recall previous statements so that his or her story remains consistent and believable.

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As a result, deceivers often leak important information both verbally and nonverbally. Deception and its detection is a complex, fluid, and cognitive process that is based on the context of the message exchange. The interpersonal deception theory posits that interpersonal deception is a dynamic, iterative process of mutual influence between a sender, who manipulates information to depart from the truth, and a receiver, who attempts to establish the validity of the message.

It is during this exchange that the deceiver will reveal verbal and nonverbal information about deceit. Noted deception scholar Aldert Vrij even states that there is no nonverbal behavior that is uniquely associated with deception. There are, however, some nonverbal behaviors that have been found to be correlated with deception. Vrij found that examining a "cluster" of these cues was a significantly more reliable indicator of deception than examining a single cue.

Mark Frank proposes that deception is detected at the cognitive level. If a response to a question has a lot disturbances, less talking time, repeated words, and poor logical structure, then the person may be lying. Vocal cues such as frequency height and variation may also provide meaningful clues to deceit. Fear specifically causes heightened arousal in liars, which manifests in more frequent blinking, pupil dilation, speech disturbances, and a higher pitched voice. Streeter, Krauss, Geller, Olson, and Apple have assessed that fear and anger, two emotions widely associated with deception, cause greater arousal than grief or indifference, and note that the amount of stress one feels is directly related to the frequency of the voice.

The camouflage of a physical object often works by breaking up the visual boundary of that object. This usually involves colouring the camouflaged object with the same colours as the background against which the object will be hidden. In the realm of deceptive half-truths , camouflage is realized by 'hiding' some of the truths.

Military camouflage as a form of visual deception is a part of military deception. A disguise is an appearance to create the impression of being somebody or something else; for a well-known person this is also called incognito. Passing involves more than mere dress and can include hiding one's real manner of speech.

In a more abstract sense, 'disguise' may refer to the act of disguising the nature of a particular proposal in order to hide an unpopular motivation or effect associated with that proposal. This is a form of political spin or propaganda. See also : rationalisation and transfer within the techniques of propaganda generation. The term "deception" as used by a government is typically frowned upon unless it's in reference to military operations. The terms for the means by which governments employ deception are:.

Simulation consists of exhibiting false information. There are three simulation techniques: mimicry copying another model or example, such as non-poisonous snakes which have the colours and markings of poisonous snakes , fabrication making up a new model , and distraction offering an alternative model. In the biological world, mimicry involves unconscious deception by similarity to another organism, or to a natural object.

Animals for example may deceive predators or prey by visual , auditory or other means. To make something that appears to be something that it is not, usually for the purpose of encouraging an adversary to reveal, endanger, or divert that adversary's own resources i. For example, in World War II , it was common for the Allies to use hollow tanks made out of wood to fool German reconnaissance planes into thinking a large armor unit was on the move in one area while the real tanks were well hidden and on the move in a location far from the fabricated "dummy" tanks.

Mock airplanes and fake airfields have also been created. To get someone's attention from the truth by offering bait or something else more tempting to divert attention away from the object being concealed. For example, a security company publicly announces that it will ship a large gold shipment down one route, while in reality take a different route. A military unit trying to maneuver out of a dangerous position may make a feint attack or fake retreat, to make the enemy think they are doing one thing, while in fact they have another goal.

Although other, less common, partner-focused motives such as using to deception to evoke jealous reactions from their partner may have damaging effects on a relationship. Deception impacts the perception of a relationship in a variety of ways, for both the deceiver and the deceived. The deceiver typically perceives less understanding and intimacy from the relationship, in that they see their partner as less empathetic and more distant. Once discovered, deception creates feelings of detachment and uneasiness surrounding the relationship for both partners; this can eventually lead to both partners becoming more removed from the relationship or deterioration of the relationship.

In general, deception tends to occur less often in relationships with higher satisfaction and commitment levels and in relationships where partners have known each other longer, such as long-term relationships and marriage. Unique to exclusive romantic relationships is the use of deception in the form of infidelity. When it comes to the occurrence of infidelity, there are many individual difference factors that can impact this behavior. Infidelity is impacted by attachment style , relationship satisfaction, executive function , sociosexual orientation , personality traits, and gender.

Attachment style impacts the probability of infidelity and research indicates that people with an insecure attachment style anxious or avoidant are more likely to cheat compared to individuals with a secure attachment style, [22] especially for avoidant men and anxious women. Women are more likely to commit infidelity when they are emotionally unsatisfied with their relationship whereas men are more likely to commit infidelity if they are sexually unsatisfied with their current relationship. Executive control is a part of executive functions that allows for individuals to monitor and control their behavior through thinking about and managing their actions.

The level of executive control that an individual possesses is impacted by development and experience and can be improved through training and practice. In their study, men and women were equally likely to accept a sexual proposal from an individual who was speculated to have a high level of sexual prowess.

Additionally, women were just as likely as men to accept a casual sexual proposal when they did not anticipate being subjected to the negative stigma of sexually permissible women as slutty. Research on the use of deception in online dating has shown that people are generally truthful about themselves with the exception of physical attributes to appear more attractive. Some methodologies in social research, especially in psychology , involve deception.

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The researchers purposely mislead or misinform the participants about the true nature of the experiment. In an experiment conducted by Stanley Milgram in the researchers told participants that they would be participating in a scientific study of memory and learning. In reality the study looked at the participants' willingness to obey commands, even when that involved inflicting pain upon another person.

After the study, the subjects were informed of the true nature of the study, and steps were taken in order to ensure that the subjects left in a state of well being. Psychological research often needs to deceive the subjects as to its actual purpose. The rationale for such deception is that humans are sensitive to how they appear to others and to themselves and this self-consciousness might interfere with or distort from how they actually behave outside of a research context where they would not feel they were being scrutinized.

For example, if a psychologist is interested in learning the conditions under which students cheat on tests, directly asking them, "how often do you cheat? In general, then, when it is unfeasible or naive to simply ask people directly why or how often they do what they do, researchers turn to the use of deception to distract their participants from the true behavior of interest. So, for example, in a study of cheating, the participants may be told that the study has to do with how intuitive they are. During the process they might be given the opportunity to look at secretly, they think another participant's [presumably highly intuitively correct] answers before handing in their own.

At the conclusion of this or any research involving deception, all participants must be told of the true nature of the study and why deception was necessary this is called debriefing. Moreover, it is customary to offer to provide a summary of the results to all participants at the conclusion of the research. Though commonly used and allowed by the ethical guidelines of the American Psychological Association, there has been debate about whether or not the use of deception should be permitted in psychological research experiments.

Those against deception object to the ethical and methodological issues involved in its use. Dresser notes that, ethically, researchers are only to use subjects in an experiment after the subject has given informed consent. However, because of its very nature, a researcher conducting a deception experiment cannot reveal its true purpose to the subject, thereby making any consent given by a subject misinformed p.

Baumrind , criticizing the use of deception in the Milgram obedience experiment , argues that deception experiments inappropriately take advantage of the implicit trust and obedience given by the subject when the subject volunteers to participate p. From a practical perspective, there are also methodological objections to deception. Ortmann and Hertwig note that "deception can strongly affect the reputation of individual labs and the profession, thus contaminating the participant pool" p.

If the subjects in the experiment are suspicious of the researcher, they are unlikely to behave as they normally would, and the researcher's control of the experiment is then compromised p. Those who do not object to the use of deception note that there is always a constant struggle in balancing "the need for conducting research that may solve social problems and the necessity for preserving the dignity and rights of the research participant" Christensen, , p.

They also note that, in some cases, using deception is the only way to obtain certain kinds of information, and that prohibiting all deception in research would "have the egregious consequence of preventing researchers from carrying out a wide range of important studies" Kimmel, , p. Additionally, findings suggest that deception is not harmful to subjects. Christensen's review of the literature found "that research participants do not perceive that they are harmed and do not seem to mind being misled" p. Furthermore, those participating in experiments involving deception "reported having enjoyed the experience more and perceived more educational benefit" than those who participated in non-deceptive experiments p.

Lastly, it has also been suggested that an unpleasant treatment used in a deception study or the unpleasant implications of the outcome of a deception study may be the underlying reason that a study using deception is perceived as unethical in nature, rather than the actual deception itself Broder, , p. Deception is a recurring theme in modern philosophy. In Descartes published his meditations , in which he introduced the notion of the Deus deceptor , a posited being capable of deceiving the thinking ego about reality.

The notion was used as part of his hyperbolic doubt , wherein one decides to doubt everything there is to doubt. The Deus deceptor is a mainstay of so-called skeptical arguments, which purport to put into question our knowledge of reality. The punch of the argument is that all we know might be wrong, since we might be deceived.

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Stanley Cavell has argued that all skepticism has its root in this fear of deception. Deception is a common topic in religious discussions. Some sources focus on how religious texts deal with deception. But, other sources focus on the deceptions created by the religions themselves. He stated that the organizations "goal is to reduce the amount of deception and untruths and unethical behaviors that exist in some facets of religion".

The results of our first study indicated that children as young as two and a half are capable of deception. Of those who peeked, 38 percent admitted to peeking, 38 percent denied it, and 24 percent gave no verbal response. Thus, 62 percent of our subjects between the ages of two and a half and three deceived in some way. Facial and bodily activity did not differentiate the deceivers from the truth-tellers, suggesting these youngsters had already learned to lie fairly successfully. In a similar study, we looked at more than children between three and six years of age. As expected from other studies, as children become older, they become better at resisting temptation.

By the age of six, 35 percent of the children were able to sit with nothing to do and resist the temptation to peek. At the same time the prevalence of lying increased, so that by at age six all the children who had peeked denied having done so. While 25 percent of children two to three years of age admit to peeking, this number drops to near zero when the children are five years or older. Thus, even by two to three years, most children have learned to lie when they violate a rule. Although girls are less likely to peek than boys, there are no sex differences in lying.

From the similar data on age-related changes in lying that have been found in Japanese, West African, and Chinese children, it appears that lying to avoid punishment may well be a universal phenomenon. Moreover, lying to avoid punishment becomes more common as the child grows older, a pattern that also has been repeatedly observed.

As an example, the speed with which a child gives in to the temptation to peek is inversely related to his or her IQ and emotional intelligence: Those who peek sooner tend to have lower scores on emotional knowledge as measured by tests such as being able to name emotional faces when shown to them, and lower scores on their knowledge about what emotions are likely to be seen in particular contexts. Children from risky family environments peek sooner, as do children with higher neonatal risk scores. Children with higher IQ are more likely to lie than those with lower IQ.

Moreover, children who score higher on measures of emotional knowledge are also more likely to lie than truth-tellers. The truth-tellers had lower IQ scores by more than 10 points. Other studies of children from three to eight years old have looked at lying and its possible relation to various aspects of mental development. In another study by Talwar and Lee, children were asked about the nature of the toy after they denied having seen it. Younger children were unable not to name the toy, thus revealing they had peeked, whereas older children had no difficulty concealing the fact.

In another study, children who lied and those who did not were compared on several tasks that assessed moral judgment, theory of mind, and executive functioning, which included the challenge of inhibiting certain responses. In all these assessments, children who had lied scored better than those who had told the truth—a result that strongly suggests the ability to lie is positively related to cognitive competencies! Such findings support the view that people who commit a transgression and confess are less capable in many capacities, a view that bears important personal as well as sociobiological implications.

Increases in cortisol have been shown to be inversely related to immunological competence. The notion that lying to protect oneself from punishment may be adaptive is consistent with the work of anthropologists such as Richard Byrne, who in found a positive relation between neocortex size and deception in primates. At the same time, the association of lying with prosocial behavior has been amply demonstrated. Moreover, psychologist Roy Baumeister and others have suggested that in some cases lying may be important for mental health, whereas Francesca Gino and others have shown lying to be related to creativity.

Any statement about the social benefits of lying would have to start from the premise that most individuals could easily master this skill at an early age. It may be better than we think. Psychologists like Carroll Izard and Paul Ekman, who study facial expressions, have argued that the face does not lie; careful measurement of facial and bodily expressions, they claim, can always reveal deception.


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When over 60 men and women watched video segments of 50 or more children saying they had not peeked—with some of the children telling the truth and others lying—adults did no better than chance, indicating they could not detect the liars. Videotape segments showing older children yielded similar results.

Studies of how children begin lying to protect themselves from punishment are more numerous than those of children lying in order to spare the feelings of others, and the findings are more robust. As discussed earlier, multiple studies indicate that lying crops up early in life, by two to three years of age, and that it increases as the child gets older. This interpretation seems reasonable enough: Surely the wish to avoid punishment or harm is an adaptive trait.

The third type of deception in our taxonomy has been the hardest to study, particularly in young children. Nevertheless it is common among both adults and children, and clearly it presents both advantages and disadvantages:. Benjamin, a shy young man, calls a woman for a date and is told that she cannot see him because she is busy for the next three weekends.

He now has a choice: He can conclude that she does not want to go out with him, and feel humiliated and shamed at the rejection. Alternatively, he can conclude he does not want to date such a busy woman. This spares him the shame and humiliation. In fact, both thoughts pass through his mind, but he remembers only that he does not want to date her.

If the individual persuades himself that the lump has always been there—a false memory—he is likely to take no action. Should the lump be recognized later as a first sign of cancer, the delay of treatment stemming from this self-deception could bring serious consequences. It is fair to say self-deception may be psychologically valuable but also sometimes self-defeating.

Self-deception in children has received scant scientific attention to date, but fortunately there are data available on the development of pretend play, with which it shares many features.


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Self-deception takes the form of knowing X , and not knowing X , at the same time. Pretend play also has this form, because the child must hold in her mind the two opposite thoughts that the object of play X is not X. In fact, the studies I have conducted with to month-olds demonstrate that pretend play is related to the use of personal pronouns such as me or mine, and to mirror self-recognition, which, like pretend play, is typically present in children by age two.

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Pretend play begins at about one year, when infants try to imitate the behavior of people around them. Psychologist Douglas Ramsay and I have suggested that in this type of pretense—for example, when an infant sees his mother talking into a phone and is encouraged to imitate her actions with his toy phone—the child is both the subject and the object.

By age two or three, this behavior is gradually replaced by a more complex form in which the object is another person—for instance, a child might pretend that her doll is talking on the phone, rather than simply that she herself is talking on the phone. This form involves the pretense of both the imaginary phone and the doll talking on it. Psychologist Carol Dweck gives an excellent account of this with older children.

This new ability also allows for the emergence of the self-conscious emotions of embarrassment, shame, guilt, and pride. In my book Shame: The Exposed Self, I show that by age three, children show shame when they fail a task and pride when they succeed. These powerful emotions provide the motivation for ways of thinking about themselves, which also allows them to self-deceive around their own success and failure. Moreover, as we and Trivers believe, self-deception may be needed for all forms of deception. The fourth category in our taxonomy is the type of lie designed to inflict suffering.

Far from being adaptive, such lies represent some form of psychopathology. For the most part, lying that injures another has not received much attention, although Richard Rogers has studied pathological lying. Of all of the four types of lies mentioned here, this is the least prosocial. Attempting to protect oneself from punishment by lying about another is likewise maladaptive, because such lies, although sparing oneself from punishment, simply transfer the punishment to another person. From the point of view of a young child who scribbles on the wall, blaming the mischief on a sibling makes sense as a way to try to escape punishment.

From a broader perspective, however, placing the blame on another is not an adaptive response, for it does not lead to social coherence. Some studies with children across the globe suggest that lying and deception may exist as a feature of the human condition. Our current national debate about federal or state agencies lying to us is just part of the larger discussion in which the morality of lying is pitted against its evolutionary function and its prosocial needs.

Lying to others is most often seen as an interpersonal failure because it damages trust, believed to be one of the hallmarks of a relationship. Yet, as we have already noted, lying to protect the feelings of another appears a necessary act similar to other prosocial behaviors such as helping and empathy. Whether any type of lying is justified remains an issue of conflict for most of us, even though there are times when it seems justified. This conflict over lying has become more pronounced over the last 50 years as the rules of etiquette, which in the past have been used to control much of social behavior, have been replaced by the idea that we should speak our minds—that is, not to lie by words or emotional behavior.

The change from fixed rules, independent of internal feeling, to frank expression of our feelings has intensified our ideas about lying and deception, making such behavior socially as well as morally unacceptable. Had her mother known that lying to protect oneself from punishment is likely a natural and adaptive response of our species, she might not have lost the opportunity to educate Margaret on the fundamental moral issue in this incident, namely that of stealing.

The research up to now suggests strongly that lying is a human behavior and that most forms of deception have adaptive significance. It is fair to say, however, that our conflicted feelings about lying and deception probably reflect an inherent conflict between two evolutionarily derived needs: the need for some form of trust and for social harmony. What we need to learn from the work carried out so far is that some forms of lying, for example, to protect ourselves from punishment, are necessary only because we have violated a social or moral sanction.

Future research on the relation between lying and deception as they relate to subsequent moral behavior will be important to explore. We will need to continue to study how lying and deception affect social-emotional behavior and the forming and maintaining of adult social relationships. In addition, the relation between self-deception and psychopathology needs careful study, because the role of self-deception in the maintenance of self-esteem has important implications for the treatment of psychological distress as a consequence of traumas related to conflict and war.

View the discussion thread. Skip to main content. Login Register. The Origins of Lying and Deception in Everyday Life By Michael Lewis How do children make sense of the complex social code that dictates when they should or should not lie? Page DOI: In many cases, an act of deception may meet more than one of these criteria: Lying to protect the feelings of another; Lying for self-protection to avoid punishment; Lying to the self, or self-deception; and Lying to hurt others.

Illustration by Tom Dunne. Photographs courtesy of Michael Lewis. Those who demonstrate greater emotional knowledge as measured by the ability to name or recognize emotions on faces or to say which emotions are likely in certain situations also show a greater ability to refrain from peeking below. Tom Dunne.

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The relation between emotional knowledge and lying is more complex below : With greater emotional knowledge, it seems, children grow more likely to lie, rather than become more truthful, to avoid punishment when they have broken a rule. Nevertheless it is common among both adults and children, and clearly it presents both advantages and disadvantages: Benjamin, a shy young man, calls a woman for a date and is told that she cannot see him because she is busy for the next three weekends.

Later their pretend play becomes more sophisticated below. For example, they pretend that one toy is carrying out some activity with another toy.