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Have you ever noticed that small lies sometimes lead to bigger lies? What happens in our brain that contributes to this phenomenon? Actually, a recent study done at University College London found that telling small lies desensitizes our brains to the associated negative emotions possibly leading the way to bigger lies. This study was published in Nature Neuroscience and is the first empirical evidence to support that self-serving lies escalate. The researchers scanned the brains of 80 volunteers while they took part in tasks where they could lie for personal gain. The subject’s brain’s response to lying declined with every lie while at the same time the magnitude of lies escalated. The researchers concluded that small acts of dishonesty escalate into more significant lies which they connect to the brain’s blunted response to repeated acts of dishonesty and a reduced emotional response.
We all lie on occasion, but the frequency and seriousness of our lies may predict the consequences both physiologically and emotionally. Based on the above mentioned study, lying takes our brains down a slippery slope and can lead to bigger problems. This study mirrors the same principle for risk taking or violent behavior which is that repeated exposure can lead to desensitization and a blunted emotional response. Over time, the brain adapts to the repeated behaviors and responds with less emotion. We could correlate this conclusion with the formation or intensification of many other addictive or destructive behaviors. In other words, we need increased stimulation or arousal in order to achieve the original high. With lying it may not be achieving a high, but instead numbing our emotional reaction which can intensify the behaviors.
For couples, trust is a huge issue and without trust it is impossible to have a healthy marriage. When the trust is broken due to lying or destructive behaviors it takes time, effort, and an ability to confront the emotional pain in order for healing to occur. Time alone doesn’t heal all wounds. Couples need to acknowledge the pain, understand the root cause, commit to behavioral changes, and ultimately forgive. Trust is reestablished through transparency, consistency in words and actions, and maintenance of healthy boundaries. Taking ownership of mistakes without defensiveness or justification and being remorseful with an action plan for change can help with the healing. Couples need to increase their self-disclosure, be vulnerable with each other, and confront conflict constructively. Being connected, sharing feelings openly, and making the marriage the highest priority will build trust. Lying grows mistrust, while being honest and forthcoming keeps relationships strong.