Lying requires enormous mental effort: We make the same decision hundreds of times every day: to lie or to tell the truth. It occurs with almost no thought and we are all guilty of ignoring the potential impact of these “seemingly” inconsequential lies.
Even the smallest of lies will impact your life by jeopardizing relationships, costing you money, generating health problems and affecting your credibility. Being honest on the other hand, offers numerous benefits. Here’s how truth and lies affect your brain.
1. Brain Overload
Lying entails a lot of work as opposed to telling the truth. When you tell the truth, you simply have to remember what really happened. When you lie, however, you must reflect on what you’re trying to hide, calculate a plausible alternative, articulate a convincing performance, and then remember it from now until eternity.
Even if it’s a simple matter of pretending to love your wife’s cooking, that’s enormous and constant pressure since the lie builds each time you sit down for a meal. According to deception expert Pamela Meyer, the average person lies three times within the first minute of meeting a stranger, and between 10-200 times per day. We are mostly able to maintain this constant daily lying, until we realize the long-term effects and the ramifications it can have on our lives.
2. Increased of Stress
Most of us already know that stress harms your brain and your body in numerous and unpleasant ways. When the human body is under stress muscles tense up. Muscle tension is virtually always a knee-jerk reaction to stress – it is your body’s way of protecting you against pain and or injury. Since lying contributes to your stress, and you do it so frequently throughout the day, you need to consider the long-term impact of your constant lying on your overall health. The day-to-day harm isn’t generally obvious, but it readily exists in the numerous health issues you will encounter throughout your life.
With stress, your muscles tense up and release their (physical and chemical) tension when the stress subsides. Chronic Stress causes the muscles in your body to be in a more or less constant state of preparedness. When muscles are taut for extremely long periods of time, it can activate other reactions in the body and even activate stress-related disorders. As an example, both tension headaches and migraines are connected to prolonged muscle tension in the area of the shoulders, neck and head.
As lying contributes to your stress level, and you consciously or unconsciously, do it many times throughout the day, you should sincerely consider the impact of your lies and secrets. The harm as stated above, is obvious, but it readily exists in the numerous health issues you potentially will encounter throughout your daily life.
Cost to your health
Most people can easily recall when they told a lie, or when the lie just needed to be kept secret. You may recall feeling stressed, as if you had to second-guess yourself on the subject every time it is brought up. Even more stressful, what was supposed to have been forgotten may now overwhelm your thoughts despite your best efforts to forget “it”.
Psychology researchers at the University of Notre Dame did a 10-week study on a group of 110 individuals, half of which were asked not to lie, and the other half simply told to keep track of how many times they lied.
The researchers tracked each participant’s mental and physical health with questionnaires, using a lie detector test to verify truthfulness. They also observed changes in the quality of each participant’s relationship.
Surprisingly, not only did both groups reduce their occurrence of lying, with the “no-lie” group showing the most drastic reduction, but also each group had mental and physical health improvement of a similar degree.
It is theorized that much of the health benefits were derived from the belief that “telling the truth” has on relationships, but lying and concealing secrets conversely proliferates stress.David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas has found that secrets lead to cognitive dissonance, a mental incongruence that requires an unhealthy amount of negative mental energy to maintain.
When we lie, our secrets “consume” us, just like any thoughts we try to suppress. Try this quick test: whatever you do, do not think of a white bear.
What came to your mind? If you thought of a white bear, you have had the same reaction as most study participants, when exposed to the cognitive mechanism behind suppressed thoughts. It was found that secrets occupy a person’s mind far more often than any other thoughts, and that it can require intense effort and focus to hide them.
According to research increased stress causes:
1. Cardiovascular: increased heart rate and high blood pressure
2. Endocrine: compromised immunity and diseases
3. Skeletal: lower-back pain and headaches
4. Gastrointestinal: stomach and bowel problems
5. Reproductive System: Menstrual and infertility problems
6. Social Impact: Deterioration of relationships and depression
ON THE OTHER HAND
Life sometimes has no paradigms. We know lying can cause stress as well as many other detrimental complications, but it might be useful, and may even be necessary under certain conditions. When a lie can assure your safety, or honesty places you in danger you shouldn’t select truth as a matter of self-preservation. There are always exceptions, and irrespective of our best intention, none of us are going to become 100% truthful no matter how comfortable we are.
Mostly, honesty offers far more mental, physical and health benefits than dishonesty. Nevertheless, humans are complicated. We make complex decisions every hour of every day. We’ll find reasons to lie that we think are necessary. Watch for instances when you lie out of politeness and to preserve your own self-esteem as these little white lies also have their long-term effects. You won’t and can’t always tell the truth, but the more often you do, the happier your brain and body will be.