Small lies matter

A new study shows that even small lies can weaken our self control, causing us to tell bigger lies and more of them.

Lead author of the study, Neil Garrett, says of it:

“It is likely the brain’s blunted response to repeated acts of dishonesty reflects a reduced emotional response to these acts. This is in line with suggestions that our signals aversion to acts that we consider wrong or immoral. We only tested dishonesty in this experiment, but the same principle may also apply to escalations in other actions such as risk taking or violent behaviour.” [emphasis added] (How lying takes our brains down a ‘slippery slope’)

The study itself can be found here: The brain adapts to dishonesty.

Here is the abstract:

Dishonesty is an integral part of our social world, influencing domains ranging from finance and politics to personal relationships. Anecdotally, digressions from a moral code are often described as a series of small breaches that grow over time. Here we provide empirical evidence for a gradual escalation of self-serving dishonesty and reveal a neural mechanism supporting it. Behaviorally, 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. Critically, the extent of reduced amygdala sensitivity to dishonesty on a present decision relative to the previous one predicts the magnitude of escalation of self-serving dishonesty on the next decision. The findings uncover a biological mechanism that supports a ‘slippery slope’: what begins as small acts of dishonesty can escalate into larger transgressions. [emphasis added]

Though this is only one study based on results from only 80 people, I find it very credible.

In Buddhism we learn that even the smallest of thoughts can have enormous consequences.

An important aspect of Buddhist mindfulness is watching how our thoughts develop and how they affect us and others. FIML practice is based on sharing the fruits of real-time mindfulness with a partner.

Done correctly, FIML allows us to observe small transitions in our minds and correct them in real-time if they are wrong.

FIML does not deal all that much with lies per se because partners are expected to be beyond that and FIML won’t work if partners lie.

Nonetheless, FIML does deal with small misunderstandings that can lead to slippery slopes similar to what is described in the study.

For example, if you think your partner’s tone is dismissive and it isn’t and you don’t do a FIML query, the next time you hear that tone you will experience confirmation bias and be on your way down the slope. It’s very hard to trace that sort of thing back to its origin after a few occasions. Your misunderstanding of your partner’s tone could be construed as an unconscious lie that you are telling yourself.

This is why FIML is so important and why it is very helpful to start doing it early in your relationship when all is well and there are no misunderstandings.

FIML can be described as detailed, shared, real-time moral and existential awareness. It demands integrity and mindfulness from both partners and rewards them with greatly enhance shared integrity and mindfulness.

A major purpose of FIML is to prevent the sort of thing that happened in the study. To prevent partners from sliding down a slippery slope that sometimes cannot be regained.

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