FICTION => A Believable Lie -> Taking a small bit of truth or fact and evolving that into a web of deceit, dishonesty or lethal acts (at least in my novels).
That’s what we do as fiction writers. We lie for a living. I often joke with my friends by telling them, “Remember, I lie for 100,000 words when writing a novel.” They laugh and I laugh with them because I’m sure they know me as a very honest person and one who “tells it like it is.”
But in fiction writing we, as authors, get to embellish and escalate the truth or at least spiral away from facts by making our characters do things that most humans would not have the courage to do in the real world.
I suppose that’s why I was so interested in a recent article that I saw online. It discussed the act of lying and the fact that it actually becomes easier to lie over time.
The article stated that dishonesty is an integral part of our social world. People lie all the time—those bits of untruths we call white lies—to be more socially correct or to make themselves or those around them feel less uncomfortable about a harsh truth.
I hate to think of anyone lying to me, or me to them, but I believe most of us will agree that we’ve done that at some point in our lives.
The article indicated, however, that those little innocent lies can actually degrade a person’s moral code by allowing those small breaches of honesty to grow over time. A recent study that was published in the Journal Nature Neuroscience suggested that telling self-serving lies may snowball into bigger, more significant lies—that lying gets easier over time. The study indicated that there is definitive science to prove it.
Researchers performed “functional MRI scans” on subjects that measured blood flow in their brains when they were asked to lie for personal gain. The results indicated that the amygdala, that part of the brain associated with emotion, received greater blood flow when people initially lied for some personal gain. However, the response of heightened blood flow (more brain activity) decreased with each new lie—even though the magnitude of the lies increased.
These researchers also showed that additional drops in synaptic activity of the amygdala region could be predicted with some accuracy when subjects lied about more important issues at a future time.
This interesting first look into how the brain can be desensitized to increasing acts of dishonesty suggested to these scientists that this physiological effect could be predictive of a blunted emotional response to other escalations of sinister behavior—such as theft, other criminal acts and possibly even murder.
Researchers suggest that any particular task one practices—as in the ability to tell small social lies effectively—gets hardwired into one’s brain circuitry while those areas of the brain that control morality might become inhibited.
As a clinical pharmacist, I’ve read about studies where students were given a mild sympatholytic agent (those types of drugs used for anxiety, panic disorders or for PTSD) and the results showed that the students were twice as likely to cheat on an exam as compared to those who took a placebo. The drugs altered the brain’s chemistry enough to weaken their moral judgment without a corresponding physiological response (the usual nervousness, sweating, elevated blood pressure, etc) one can experience when doing something that is known to be wrong.
This current study, however, suggests that the physiological and psychological responses to an emotional-producing sinister act can be blunted over time with repeated exposure, even without chemical substances becoming part of the mix. By repeating the unacceptable act time and again, a person could lose the ability to feel guilty about an unacceptable act.
These studies provide interesting information for authors of thrillers, mysteries and other genre works in which the characters are habitually acting in socially unacceptable ways. The science behind those actions might prove that these villains are acting normally according to their brains.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!
Jim I sent you a piece that I received today—it reminded me of your piece “lying for a living” “Silly but true” Hope you guys are doing well. jb
Sent from my iPhone
Thanks, Jim, for sharing this interesting piece. Life is good!
There is much to be learned from what you say, my friend, but I suggest those with a strong moral code will be far more resiliant to the ethical deterioration suggested by the research. As for writing, one of my favorite books on the subject is “Telling Lies For Fun & Profit” by Lawrence Block.
Thanks for your comments, Jim. Yes, I also agree that a strong moral code could be contradictory to the results of this research. Unfortunately, a strong moral code is more dominant in some and not so much in others, as we see in the news every single day. I’ll search out your suggestion on Lawrence Block’s book.
All the best!