Why we lie

By John DiTraglia - PDT Contributor



Last week, we talked about how political affiliation can affect your opinion about the causes of obesity and public policies to address it. How somebody decides to belong to a political party is like love, unfathomable to science. It may be even stronger than love since I think divorce is much more common than changing party.

In the face of uncertainty about issues you tend to adopt the party line or use underlying political party principals to make you opinions. This seems to be a powerful thing.

Demonstrating that power is a study mentioned in the cover story of this month’s issue of National Geographic. The cover story is titled “Why we lie: The science behind our complicated relationship with the truth.” It turns out that deception and dishonesty are a normal part of being human, in fact, learning to lie is an important developmental milestone for children. Of course there are lies and then there are LIES. Everybody lies but some people, like our president, are prone to whoppers.

Everyone also generally wants to believe things they are told. Otherwise, society could no longer function.

One of the studies cited in this article about lying is from 2015 by a doctoral student in cognitive psychology, Briony Swire-Thompson. Swire-Thompson and her colleagues presented about 2000 adult Americans with one of two statements: “Vaccines cause autism” or “Donald Trump said that vaccines cause autism.” (Trump has repeatedly suggested there’s a link, despite the lack of scientific evidence for it.) Not surprisingly, participants who were Trump supporters showed a decidedly stronger belief in the misinformation when it had Trump’s name on it.

Afterward, the participants were given a short explanation — citing a large scale study for why the vaccine-autism link was false. Then the participants were asked to reevaluate their beliefs. Across the political spectrum, everyone now accepted that the statements about the link were untrue. However, when tested again one week later, their beliefs had lapsed back to nearly the initial levels.

This is discouraging. We have a long way to go, especially when we see what Trump thinks about obesity, especially in women.


By John DiTraglia

PDT Contributor

John DiTraglia, M.D., is a Pediatrician in Portsmouth. He can be reached by e-mail at jditrag@zoomnet.net or by phone at (740) 354-6605.

John DiTraglia, M.D., is a Pediatrician in Portsmouth. He can be reached by e-mail at jditrag@zoomnet.net or by phone at (740) 354-6605.