Rita Watson MPH

With Love and Gratitude

Lies, The Election, And A Grandmother's Intuition

New research confirms that lying escalates.

Posted Oct 25, 2016

wiki images
Source: wiki images

If my grandmother had learned to read and write in English instead of Italian, she would be applauding the article in Nature Neurosciencewhich points out that little lies lead to more lies.  In her world there was no such thing as a little white lie.  “A lie, is a lie, is a lie. Little lies lead to big ones,” she often said.  Nature Neuroscience notes, “The extent to which participants engage in self-serving dishonesty increases with repetition.”

Long before research studies, Grandma was suspicious of people who shaded the truth, and most especially politicians.

According to a study headed by Neil Garrett, PhD, Affective Brain Lab, Department of Experimental Psychology, University College London: “Dishonesty is an integral part of our social world, influencing domains ranging from finance and politics to personal relationships.”

In today's highly charged political climate, accusations of lying are highlighted daily, from news reports to television ads.  In my grandmother's world, personal contact was key to winning an election.

Grandmother and political honesty:  Grandmother believed that candidates who sat at your dining room table were less likely to tell a lie than those whom you met at a campaign town hall. In her day, the 1950s, she was considered an intuitive authority. Politicians frequently stopped by for her Friday night dinners. 

On Saturday, the neighborhood women would gather on the porch or in the parlor to ask her opinion. Little gestures from Grandma could set people thinking, even though she relied more on “the feelings I get" rather than facts. 

Neighbors would ask, “Annunziata, what do you think of him?”

If she did not answer in words, it was never a good sign when she tilted her head, shrugged her shoulders, and threw her hands into the air.

During one close race, neighbors pushed her for an answer as to her favorite candidate. She smiled and said, “You know I don’t take sides. They are both good men. They both came to my home and sat at my table. But only one brought his wife and even his mother.”

“Ahh, that tells us everything,” they nodded. "No one would lie in front of his own mother."

Research findings:  While we might sense intuitively that little lies can turn to whoppers, researchers found, based on empirical evidence, that there is “a gradual escalation of self-serving dishonesty.” Their research “uncovers a biological mechanism that supports a ‘slippery slope.’”  Additionally they noted:

"We show that the extent to which participants engage in self-serving dishonesty increases with repetition. Using functional MRI, we show that signal reduction in the amygdala is sensitive to the history of dishonest behavior, consistent with adaptation.”

In today’s challenging political battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, it may be the truth and lies factor that signals the election outcome. However, for those whose heads are spinning from fact checkers, there is another important aspect – integrity. If we were to trust Grandma's intuition about mothers, then for the first time in history, we might well be addressing the next United States leader as “Madam President.”

Reference: Nature Neuroscience: October, 2016

Copyright 2016 Rita Watson