As children we are taught that we must avoid telling lies because it is dishonest, but nevertheless we keep lying. Why do we lie? Can a lie be justified? What are the functions of lies in society? 


Although we hate to admit it, we all lie. In fact, studies argue that we lie between four and two hundred times per day. According to the Foundation of Body Language, everything starts at the age of three when we want something that we cannot have and we realize that the only way to get it is by changing the other person´s perception of reality. In other words, the only way to get it is by lying.


As we grow up, our lies become more sophisticated and the reasons why we lie diversify. The most common reasons are to please someone else or to give a better image of yourself.


Different types of lies 

An evolutionary psychologist of Oxford University called Robin Dunbar classified lies into two groups:  anti-social lies and pro-social lies. Anti-social lies are the ones that we tell for our own profit. Whereas pro-social lies are the ones that are told in order to «help another person or to protect someone’s feelings». These lies are commonly known as white lies.


Dunbar and his team of researchers collaborating with the Aalto University School of Science – in Finland – were interested in studying how groups of people grow and how they evolve over time by adding a key variable: the lie. Dunbar has been able to prove two facts through a complex mathematical model.


On one hand, the model demonstrated that people who usually tell anti-social lies are more likely to get isolated from others over time. On the other hand however, Dunbar also explains that pro-social lies not only help to avoid confrontations or hurting other´s feelings but are also essential to form and strengthen relationships and communities.


A simple way to understand it is through social networking sites, as these are good reflections of real offline networks. Take Facebook for example: who has not ‘liked’ a photo of their best friend wearing a horrible new dress? The equivalent of this in real life would be your best friend asking you if you like her dress and you saying yes, even if you don’t mean it.


«I think that in many cases you can consider the like a white lie if it’s done for reasons that have nothing to do with support», explains Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University. Nevertheless, it has been proven that these little lies help us to empathize with others and generate more durable long-term relationships.


Consequences of white lies 

However, we have to be careful with the white lies that we tell because according to the Journal of Consumer Research, white lies have an influence on our later behavior. According to an experiment conducted by them, when we tell a white lie, we are able to recognize it. Therefore, we feel bad about it and we will more likely do nice things to the person that we lied to without noticing it.


In short, as the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said «lying is one more condition of life». We all lie, what makes the difference is the reasons why we lie. But of course, each lie has its consequences, which we must accept.