Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Slippery Slope: Little Lies Lead to Bigger Ones, Study Finds

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Slippery Slope: Little Lies Lead to Bigger Ones, Study Finds

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON * Telling little fibs leads down a slippery slope to bigger lies and our brains adapt to escalating dishonesty, which makes deceit easier, a new study shows.

Neuroscientists at the University College London's Affective Brain Lab put 80 people in scenarios where they could repeatedly lie and get paid more based on the magnitude of their lies. They said they were the first to demonstrate empirically that people's lies grow bolder the more they fib.

The researchers then used brain scans to show that our mind's emotional hot spot the amygdala becomes desensitized or used to the growing dishonesty, according to a study published online in late October in the journal Nature Neuroscience .

"You can think of this as a slippery slope with what begins as small acts of dishonesty escalating to much larger ones," said study lead author Neil Garrett, now a neuroscience researcher at Princeton University. "It highlights the potential dangers of engaging in small acts of dishonesty on a regular basis because these can escalate to much larger ones further down the line."

And during this lying, brain scans show blood supply and activity at the amygdala decrease with increasing lies, said study co-author and lab director Tali Sharot.

"The more we lie, the less likely we are to have an emotional response" say, shame or guilt "that accompanies it," Sharot said.

Garrett said he suspected that similar escalation factors happened in the "real world," which would include politics, infidelity and cheating, but he cautioned that this study was done in a controlled lab setting so more research would be needed to apply it to other situations.

University of Massachusetts psychology and brain sciences professor Robert Feldman wasn't part of the study but praised it: "The results provide clues as to how people may become more convincing liars with practice, and it clearly suggests the danger of tolerating small, white lies, which can escalate into greater and greater levels of deception. …

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