Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

A Developmental-Behavioral Analysis of Lying

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

A Developmental-Behavioral Analysis of Lying

Article excerpt

Lying is a behavior that seems common throughout various cultures, ages, settings, and more. Lying also seems to be associated with several societal problems; it often disrupts social relationships, causes problems in the workplace, and corrupts politics, for examples. Most often, however, individuals who engage in lying behavior are considered to be liars, whereby the problem of lying is considered to reside within the individual. Following from this, the individual is to be held responsible for their lying behavior. In this sense, a consideration of environmental factors that lead to the development and persistence of lying is bypassed, as the problem of lying is assumed to reside within the individual.

A behavior-analytic alternative to this conceptualization is to consider lying not as something that develops and occurs within an individual, but rather, as a behavior-environment relationship that develops as a function of factors in the environmental context. The behavioral approach to lying is supported by operant research on the topic, which has shown that both non-human (Lanza, Starr, & Skinner, 1982) and human (Sato & Sugiyama, 1994) animals will lie when the context supports this behavior. On a practical level the behavior analytic alternative pennits an analysis of factors that might be manipulated to prevent the development of lying and reduce its persistence over time. Given the prevalence and importance of this behavior, this alternative approach seems well worth considering. Interestingly, however, relatively little behavior analytic work has been done in this area.

Skinner (1957) considered the topic of lying when he described distorted tacts. While distorted tacts pertain to some stretching of stimulus control, with respect to lying specifically Skinner (1957, p. 149) stated "In a still greater distortion a response is emitted under circumstances which normally control an incompatible response. We call the response a lie." Parsons (1989) elaborated on the behavior analytic approach to lying and considered the many circumstances in winch verbal behavior might be considered a lie. For example, Parsons considered the multiple functions that lies may have, including the extent to which lies may be distorted tacts (as described above) or mands, as when one emits a threatening lie to manipulate the listener's behavior. Moreover, Parsons distinguished between the sort of lying that involves deliberate falsification as well as that winch occurs unknowingly, as when the speaker makes a mistake. In addition, the difference between concealment (omitting something) and lying was also considered. Interestingly, Parsons also pointed to the ever-present role of lying in society, and how lies may even be necessary and not always harmful.

Given that lying can consist of a range of behaviors and situations (Parsons, 1989; Sato & Sugiyama, 1994, p. 165) it is important to be clear about the focus of the paper. The current paper focuses on the sort of lying that Parsons described as deliberate falsification, as when someone engages in a behavior that is not accurate, and does so knowingly (i.e., with some element of "intention"). Importantly, then, the current paper does not focus on lies that are considered appropriate or instances when someone lies accidently. The specific aims of the current paper are to build upon the existing behavior analytic literature in tins area by focusing on the unique features of lying as a target behavior, and to provide a more broad comprehensive consideration of lying across the lifespan. Moreover, the current paper will consider conceptual issues related to the behavior analysis of lying. As the paper considers contextual-behavioral factors that participate in lying during both childhood and adulthood, the analysis may be considered a developmental-behavioral analysis. Consistent with these developmental aims, lying during childhood will be considered first.

Lying in Childhood

It is perhaps not surprising that lying may develop very early in a child's life. …

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