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January 10, 2022 — 12:19 PM
Have you ever told yourself a lie because accepting the truth would be too much to bear? According to new research published in the journal Philosophical Psychology, you wouldn’t be the only one. In fact, it appears to be quite common, and quite predictable, with researchers identifying four principles of self-deception.
Here are the four stages that we go through when telling ourselves lies, according to this research:
1. Reorganizing your beliefs.
The first self-deception strategy described by the researchers is the reorganization of beliefs, which is essentially convincing yourself of something by willing something else to be true. For example, as philosophy professor and study co-author Albert Newen explains in a news release, “If a father is convinced that his son is a good student and then the son brings home bad grades, he may first say that the subject isn’t that important or that the teacher didn’t explain the material well.”
2. Selecting facts through purposeful action.
The next strategy described in the paper is something Newen and his co-author, Francesco Marchi, Ph.D., call “selecting facts through purposeful action.” This involves avoiding people, places, and/or things that could cause cognitive dissonance by presenting facts that go against your beliefs. In the aforementioned father-son example, this strategy could look like the father skipping a parent-teacher conference.
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It’s easy to doubt someone or something when you undermine their credibility, which is why it’s the third strategy identified in this research. After all, “Seeing is believing,” and without visual (or otherwise tangible) proof of something, it’s that much easier for someone to deny problematic truths.
4. Generating facts from an ambiguity.
And lastly, we have what the researchers refer to as “generating facts from an ambiguous state of affairs.” This involves misinterpreting a situation in a way that ever-so-conveniently works with the story you’ve already ascribed in your head.
“For instance,” Marchi says, “if the kind mathematics teacher gently suggests that the son is not coping, and the father would have expected a clear statement in case of difficulties, he may interpret the considerable kindness and the gentle description as a positive assessment of his son’s abilities.”
Along with wanting to understand the methods we use to lie to ourselves, Marchi and Newen also wanted to discover why we do it in the first place. Their theory? It preserves our self-image, or ego, and helps us stay motivated.
“These are not malicious ways of doing things, but part of the basic cognitive equipment of humans to preserve their established view of themselves and the world,” Newen explains, adding, “This cognitive tendency is catastrophic in times of radically new challenges that require rapid changes in behavior.”
Most of us probably like to think we’re honest with ourselves, and don’t keep up lies with ourselves out of denial or convenience. But according to this research, not only is it common, but we all do it in the same ways. So the next time you feel like you might be keeping the truth from your conscious mind, watch out for those four telltale signs.
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