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Obscuring the truth: reading informational text; The Science of Lying 8


Read the passage, then answer the practice question.

The Science of Lying

  1. If you’ve ever attempted to pick up a completely unfamiliar skill, like playing a musical instrument, you know that practice is crucial. When you first begin, even getting the instrument to produce sound might seem impossible. The more you practice, however, the easier those new skills are to acquire. It might actually be easier to learn a complex piece of music than it was to learn your first scale. This is because learning a new skill creates connections within your brain that, once formed, only need to be activated in order to add to that skill.
  2. Just like playing the violin, our ability to lie improves with practice. The more you lie, the better you’ll be at lying, and the easier it will become. That’s what researcher Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology at Duke University, discovered in his research.
  3. Ariely performed an experiment in which subjects played a card game that involved lying to a partner in order to win money. The most successful players were those who could most effectively obscure their intentions and trick their partners into believing false information. Ariely monitored the brain functions of his test subjects as they played the game.
  4. Ariely was particularly interested in the effects of lying on the amygdala. The amygdala is a section of the brain that responds primarily to negative emotions, like guilt, fear, and anxiety. When you’re afraid someone is mad at you, or when you realize you’ve accidentally told a secret about a friend, your feeling of panic and regret is triggered by connections firing in your amygdala. Unsurprisingly, this area of the brain showed increased activity when the subjects were lying, indicating that their lies caused them to experience negative sensations.
  5. The amygdala activity wasn’t consistent, however. As the subjects told more lies to win a succession of rounds of the game, the amygdala’s response grew weaker. In other words, the more the subjects lied, the less remorse or anxiety they felt about those lies. Their devious behavior became easier because their brain was desensitized to the negative emotions created by lying.
Figure 1. Amygdala’s response to lying
  1. The opposite may also be true. Researchers at the University of Chicago asked people to be more honest for a few days and had them document the results. The subjects initially reported concern that increased honesty would damage their relationships with others or make life more difficult, but the results contradicted this hypothesis. In fact, subjects rated themselves as happier after the experiment, and said that their relationships were stronger after this period of increased honesty.
Figure 2. Parts of the brain
  1. Like any other muscle in your body, exercising parts of your brain makes them stronger. Lying becomes easier the more you do it; however, that’s not necessarily a good thing. If Ariely’s results can be believed, then living a more honest life will not only make people trust you more; it will actually make you happier. Decreased sensations of guilt and fear from your amygdala and improved relationships with loved ones seem like a pretty good payoff for the momentary discomfort of telling difficult truths.

Practice question

Match each sentence from paragraph 6 with the role it plays in developing the ideas of the passage.