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Why People Are Inclined To Believe Lies Philosophy Essay


Why is that people believe what is not true. Why is it that when a false statement is given out we rarely question as to whether or not its a genuine fact. Based on previous treatises and an interview conducted with a psychologist I found that the two main reasons which play a role in why people are inclined to believe? Are people's desire to believe, creating a film preventing them from seeing it's false, and the amount of truth in a lie that stops one from doubting as to the integrity of the statement. There were some surprising findings such as hormones leading to increase of trust; hence, causing one to believe others more than is natural. Or that as a human civilization we abide by certain rules creating a social obligation to not doubt others when certain notions are presented.



Since as early as human civilization if not earlier, humans have lied. The only reason lies have persisted to exist for so long is that it works. The lies are being believed, which is why they continue to exist. And as long as untruthful statements go on believed our society will keep on producing fibbers.


The aim is to identify the various elements and factors that play a role in causing people to believe the various statements that aren't true.


Only by identifying the reasons that we as humans continue to be gullible and believe these falsities we will be able to at least decrease the amount of untruthful people in our community. Solving the inherent problem of distrust and scamming that exists in our society.

Research Question:

Why are humans inclined to believe lies?

Literary Review:

Angus Ross on his thesis "Why do we believe what we are told?" Discusses how we subconsciously convince ourselves to believe the others statements. In his opinion its social obligation that causes this self-convincing. When he mentions social obligation in speech he says this

"I can see them as constrained by my circumstances and by my limited abilities. I can also see my choice of words as constrained, in a different sense, by my obligation to be truthful, helpful or discrete,"(Ross, 1986)

He then goes to explain how it would be difficult for us to break these apparent social rules

"It is to make 'difficult' for them to dissent, even inwardly, for to do so will be to challenge ones authority as a judge of the matter in question."(Ross, 1986)

Thereby Angus Ross shows that one of the main factors that play a role in our tendency to believe others is the social rules, which when thought about makes complete sense. When you see a man with a wedding ring, do you have any doubt that this man is married? R.M. Chisholm had proposed the same notion before.

"there are circumstances in which a man may be said to have a duty to rely upon certain propositions about his friends, or that his friends have assured him are true, even though he does not know these propositions to be true." (Chisholm, 1966)

Another factor, studied by J. Forgas and his colleague R. East ones, that plays a role in truth perception is one temporary mood. After conducting a social experiment the results were as follows.

"Based on past research on interpersonal communication and recent work on affect and social cognition, we predicted and found that negative mood increased and positive mood decreased people's scepticism and their ability to detect deception, consistent with the more externally focused, accommodative processing style promoted by negative affect."(Forgas & East, 2008)

The study pinpoints the notion that it's harder to fool a bitter man than one who is elated. Surprisingly when one looks at conspiracy theorists (commonly known as sceptics) you find that they are commonly criticised for their negative attitude.

It's a common stereotype that women are more trusting than men. This conception is now backed by a recent study of how the hormone oxytocin (found in increased quantities in women due to maternal characteristics) increases ones trust of others, the experiment, "Oxytocin makes people trusting, not gullible" was conducted as follows

"Each participant assumed the role of investor and could transfer money to a "trustee," in whose hands the funds would triple. The trustee would then transfer all the money, part of it, or none of it back to the investor. If the investor entrusted the trustee with all of his money, he could maximize his profits if the trustee was reliable and fair. Conversely, he could lose everything if the trustee was not fair."(Mikolajczak et al., 2010)

This scenario depended completely on the level that the 'investor' trusts the 'trustee'. The results were as follows

(Mikolajczak et al., 2010)

It's clearly shown that oxytocin plays a large role in how much we trust the opposing individual. Yet the results also reflect that oxytocin doesn't affect cognition when it comes to known circumstances of unreliability.

Bella M. DePaul touched the point of whether a person who had been forewarned about the possibility of a lie. She found that being mentally prepared for such a circumstance better aided one in truth perception.

"Subjects played the role of interviewers and either was or was not forewarned that the applicants might lie to them. The forewarned interviewers did indeed become less trusting: They thought the applicants were generally more deceptive than did the interviewers whose suspicions had not been aroused. But the suspicious interviewer's did not become any more accurate at distinguishing liars from truth tellers."(Depaulo, 1994)

In a radio interview Gregory Kouki discussed how with little to no evidence one may believe something due to the desire of wanting to believe that very thing.

"Sometimes the evidence people are initially faced with seems compelling. We were talking this morning about the Mars rock. As far as I've been able to tell, I think the Mars rock is much ado about nothing. NASA wants to send a probe to Mars and they don't have the money for it. All of a sudden this rock makes it into the news. They see a couple of forms one-hundredth the width of a human hair through an electron microscope. Scattered around it are some chemicals that are sometimes, but not necessarily, associated with life. As one person pointed out, if this had been found on earth, no one would have ever drawn the conclusion that this was life."(Kouki, 1996).

Conclusion of literature review:

After reviewing the available literary items it was made clear that 'why are people inclined to believe lies?' lies mainly due to one's mental state, although physiology does play a role. Yet believing, lies more in general mind set rather than preparation. People believe due to self-interest (unsurprisingly). Whether it is a desire to believe or to follow social customs in order to prevent "inward dissent". The apparent physiological reasons (oxytocin) that lie behind increase in truth affects women more than men. Which may be the reason behind females being taken advantage of statistically more than men?



Data collection tool: Semi structured audio recording

For this particular topic I decided to interview an expert due to the fact that the possibility of peoples tendency to be biased in their self-opinion. Thereby an expert would be the best choice. My chosen expert was a psychologist as my area of inquiry falls under social psychology.


When I first proposed my research question to the psychologist she pointed out an interesting thing. People mainly believe lies due to them following refusing to change past beliefs and past habits. She explained this when she said

"…because they are accepting the lie from their childhood "

This is interesting because when you look at parent's raising their children you see how the child is constantly lied to, whether it is about the tooth fairy or as to how certain things operate. So in fact we are raising kids to naturally believe in lies, creating a will to believe simply because they always have.

Interestingly relationship compatibility also plays a role according to the psychologist when she answered the following.

"So you go to whoever is more like you" "…it really like gives us -you know- a faith"

This made me wonder as to whether that may be behind us believing our friends usually no matter what they said. Turns out there were another reason behind that. She explained how it's difficult to lie to someone who is close to you since they know your tells when you lie and you personally find it difficult since subconsciously you realize that this is breaking the trust that's between you. Although when you do manage to lie to partner or friend it's all the more believable as they trust you more than anyone else.

Unfortunately she confirmed that we still believe organizations like the major news stations despite the ever growing trend of incorrect broadcasting as we saw happen recently in the United States after the unfortunate Boston bombing.

"Someone who represents an organization will be more acceptable"

When I went on to understand as to why this is, the psychologist explained how its human nature to trust academics, In other words people tend to follow authorities who they believe are also academics.

When the matter of emotional state was discussed, it referred back to the recognition of someone who is lying. When one is in a high or low emotional state it affects their ability to identify whether he/she is lying to them.

Then we talked about the factor of truth in a lies. How when a statement has historical backing people tend to believe it more as it complies with what they already know.

"…when they believe the lie it depends on something, it depends on a history, a doubt, from where is this doubt? From my own heritage, my family…"

This is interesting as when this is related to current on goings you see this psychological effect taking place quite often. For example when someone tells you that person A is married, after you see that person walking with a female, you instantly believe that person A is married because it historically backed up.

The last topic we discussed in the interview was rumors. It's known that they spread like wildfire and are believed. Just look at whatsapp and the BBM service. Apparently this is due to the rumors being based on desire to believe. People want to believe certain things so when a statement that supports their own belief they relish it and use it to basically lie to themselves. Also rumors are effective as it's not all fabricated, its similar to what we already know (mentioned earlier when historical background was brought up).

Conclusion of interview analysis:

By analysing the various topics discussed it's clear that people give the past much weight when it comes to recognising as to whether a statement is true or not. Yet when it comes in comparison to apparent authorities in a subject matter, the past is forgotten. The irony is quite interesting and it reflects how unpredictable humanity is in certain issues. The bright side when it comes to looking at deceit in relationships, the reason we believe the lies told to us by our peers is because we trust them. So in conclusion it's safe to say people are inclined to believe lies because of their desire to, their trust of the source and historical backing.


Bringing all the material together and the two conclusions made we find the answer to our research question -Why are people inclined to believe lies?- the answers are as the following:

Historical backing

Desire to believe

Trust of peers

Recognition of authority

Hormone imbalance

Failure to recognise change in attitude or speech

Social Obligation

Overall Review:

It's interesting to see how the lie itself plays a huge role in a person believing it, whether it has historical backing or is told by a respected authority. While at the same time a person's own mind set plays an even larger role in belief. When a person goes into a conversation with the will to believe regardless of how Implausible . Only one answer isn't under voluntary control and that is the oxytocin levels. For men it's not that relevant, on the other hand for women it may play a larger role.(Especially as the levels flux between pregnancy, suckling and so on.).

Critical Reflection

(Developing Research Competence):


Before starting the research itself, I had to be introduced to research in general. It looked like a piece of cake, how hard could answering a question be? The steps looked simple enough so I began with the process.

Step 1-

Starting the first step of DRC (brainstorming to decide upon a research topic) I was surprised to see the brainstorming questions. Why would I care about feasibility? a study at this level makes no difference as to the question. What does' access' have to do with anything there's Google. I ended up with deciding to go into the field of lies

Step 2-

At this step it was required to create a suitable research question. This is where I realised the fundamental importance of the research question. It was while discussing this step with my father that he pointed out how with a good research question you're half way to a good research. As a result I ended up with "What factors make lies believable?"

Step 3-

Now came the rephrasing. At first I thought mine was good enough. Then my teacher pointed out a couple of items that lead to a long discussion as to what direction my study should head in. This resulted in a shift from the lie itself to the believers, creating a new question "Why are people inclined to believe lies?"

Step 4-

Selecting a research method, here comes the real difficulty. I was torn between whether to conduct an interview or a questionnaire. As I did some background reading I found that when it comes to studies in the psychology, experiments are the usual method of inquiry due to our biased self-criticism. So I went for an interview. But then who do I interview, where can I find a psychologist or expert liar? Thankfully my mother had a colleague who is a psychologist. So that solved that problem. It was interesting to see how its sometimes difficult to find a proper source or decide upon a proper method.

Step 5, 6-

This was all about reflecting about the decisions made as to how to conduct my research. The data gathering instrument the research plan and so on. This step really helped clarify as to what my game plan was and what my angle on the topic was going to be. After completing this step I was finally set on to conduct the research itself.

Step 7-

Here came the preparation for my methodology section, mainly preparing the questions. But the transcribing part came up. This was new for me. Initially I though you only note down the minute and that was it, turns out you only note down the statement number. It was quite confusing for me as to my knowledge it's called 'keeping minutes;. This step pointed out how I still had much to learn about research showing the fundamental importance of DRC.

Final Reflection-

As my research came to an end it really hit me as to how important the DRC was and I was truly glad I did this before university. A lot of different things were learnt during the process the most important of which for me was the importance of a suitable research question. Another matter which arose indirectly from the DRC process was time management. If I hadn't managed to properly organise myself I don't believe I would be anywhere near completing the study .All in all this was a fruitful experience and I feel I know have the required tools and knowledge to go on with a complete study not just a pilot.


Chisholm, R. M. (1966). Theory of Knowledge, 14.

Depaulo, B. M. (1994). Spotting Lies: Can Humans Learn to Do Better? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 3(3), 83-86. doi:10.1111/1467-8721.ep10770433

Forgas, J. P., & East, R. (2008). On being happy and gullible: Mood effects on skepticism and the detection of deception. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(5), 1362-1367. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2008.04.010

Kouki, G. (1996). People believe what they want.

Mikolajczak, M., Gross, J. J., Lane, A., Corneille, O., De Timary, P., & Luminet, O. Oxytocin makes people trusting, not gullible. , 21 Psychological science 1072-4 (2010). doi:10.1177/0956797610377343

Ross, A. (1986). Why do we believe what we are told? Ratio, 69-88. Retrieved from http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=12065747

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