Amazing! Telling lies could damage your health

THE PUNCH Newspaper- Tunde Ajaja

It was his first time travelling by air, and suffice it to say if he had told the truth when it was required of him, he would have saved himself from some embarrassment. But in a bid not to appear like a novice, he lied his way through, even to the point of ridicule.

As expected of a first-timer, he was anxious, but he did everything possible to hide it. Thus, like a regular traveller, he sauntered towards the departure hall having asked a security man for direction.

From the entrance of the hall where security personnel search passengers entering the hall, instead of submitting himself for check and dropping his bag to slide through the scanning machine, Seun Oladele simply told the officer at the door, “Excuse me, I’m travelling,” thinking those travelling would not need to be checked.

After a brief but quality bashing that made one of the officers ask him, “Is this your first time at the airport,” his passage through the other check-points was also greeted with same bashing and questioning.

The icing of the cake, according to him, was when he entered the plane and all passengers were told to fasten their seatbelts. He said he kept looking around until the person beside him asked “politely” if it was his first time. “I quickly told him no, until he pointed out the belt for me, helped me to fasten it and told me ‘that is how to do it next time. Then I felt stupid and quite ashamed.”

How easy and effortless it is for some people to hide the truth, but given the fact that honesty has been described as one of the best virtues any human being can have, it is not out of place to see Oladele’s action as reprehensible or lying taken too far.

However, it appears the natural propensity to hide the truth is inherent in most human beings. Findings have shown that one of the things all human beings have done before and what most are still guilty of is the act of telling lies, even though it has been said several times that the best way to remember what you have said before is to say the truth. For some, lying has almost become a way of life, such that they would have even lied before realising it, simply because it is a reflex; hiding the truth comes naturally to them. To some others, they are caught between being truthful and hiding some vital information. Regardless, many people do it.

As common as it may sound, scientists have found that lying may not be good for the body and the mind, saying it could lead to stress and harm the body.

According to Linda Stroh, a professor emeritus of organisational behaviour at Loyola University in Chicago, United States, beyond the fact that lying could prompt the release of stress hormones in the body, it could increase heart rate, blood pressure and stress, depending on the situations that make the person to lie.

Stroh, in her reaction on usnews.som, cautioned that since stress has been found to reduce immunity, if sustained over time, it could contribute to tension headaches and lower back pain. She added, “Imagine, for example, that you are planning on lying to your boss or girlfriend tomorrow morning, I would bet that you can feel the tension in your shoulders, in your stomach, and in other parts of your body. You would spend a lot of time planning the lie, executing it, and maintaining it and that can be awfully draining.

“It takes a lot of negative physical and mental energy to maintain a lie. We have to think before we answer and we have to plan what we say and do, rather than saying and doing what comes more naturally. Thus, we waste a lot of precious time covering our tracks rather than spending that time in positive ways, doing good things.”

In his own explanation, the executive editor of the journal, Cognitive Science, Dr. Arthur Markman, said planning a lie could release stress hormone, cortisol, into the brain and that in serious situations, it could lead to adrenalin rush and sometimes resulting in sweating.

He said the fact that the brain has to process and store the truth and the released information (lie) at the same time could increase the workload on the brain and put it under stress, which he said could ultimately reduce the brain’s ability to make smart decisions.

Markman, in his post on, explained further that such people could tend to anger to shift focus off the guilt or dishonesty, and in the process subject the brain to further unnecessary actions. He said over time, habitual liars could lose track of the truth and their brain could be accustomed to negative feelings.

He concluded that the burden of living with the guilt, especially if the person does not deserve being deceived, could cause persistent anxiety.

He added, “The continuing circulation of stress hormones like cortisol in your brain hurts your ability to think clearly and depresses your immune system. While these harmful responses eventually fade, they could pop up again if you feel your lie may be exposed.” Then his advice, “Telling the truth may get you in trouble, but in the long run, it’ll feel better to get things out in the open.”

In a study by psychologists, Prof. Anita Kelly and Prof. Lijuan Wang of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, she involved about 110 people aged between 18 and 71 and made up of 35 per cent adults and 65 per cent college students in the study that lasted 10 weeks.

She instructed half of the participants not to lie throughout the duration of the study, while the other half were given free hand to operate, with no instruction on lying. On a weekly basis, apart from taking lie-detector test every week, both groups were instructed to visit the laboratory to fill a questionnaire on how much lie and truth they told in the course of the week, information about their physical and mental health, including incidences of stress and headache, and the noticeable changes in their relationships.

The result of the study, which was unveiled at the American Psychological Association’s 120th annual convention in the United States, found that people who were instructed not to lie had better physical and mental health than those who acted freely and told lies at will.

The researchers found that the absence of the guilt that often characterise lying and the feeling of honesty that also comes with telling the truth boosted the first group’s health and enhanced their social interaction and personal relationships.

The members of the group said beyond the fact that telling the truth helped them to be honest with themselves, it helped them to do better in completing their tasks and avoiding mistakes that would ordinarily prompt them to make false excuses and contemplate the truth.

Talking about some of the tips that helped them in avoiding lying, participants in the first group pointed out that they tried to answer such questions with rather troubling questions that are capable of distracting the person or reducing the attention paid to the expected response.

Kelly said, ““We established very clearly that purposefully trying not to lie caused people to tell fewer lies. When they told more lies, their health went down and when they told the truth, it improved, together with their relationships, and research has long indicated that people with good relationships have better physical and mental health.” Also, Wang said their statistical analyses showed that the people in the first group experienced improved relationship with others, which they said significantly impacted their health, as they were less stressed during the period.

A professor of psychology, Oni Fagboungbe, said lying is a physiological activity that involves the brain and that the entire process could stress the brain, more so because it consumes a lot of energy.

He added, “Lying involves cognitive process, meaning that it involves the brain. You have to task the brain because you are trying to manufacture something that is not the truth, so you have to think of how to put it in such a way that the receiver will not know you are lying. So, you work it out and in the process you task the brain. It’s a physiological process that is highly cognitive.

“Talking about the consequence, when you lie consistently, you become conditioned to lying, especially if the receivers don’t detect it, but if detected, it could bring about shame that is capable of affecting the person’s social interaction. Keeping track of a lie, as distinct from the truth, also tasks the brain.

“In Yoruba land, it is believed that there are three components connected to lying, such as stealing, being a murderer, fornicator/adulterer and such obnoxious behaviours. So that is why liars are put to shame to discourage others.”

Explaining how it works, he said when the lie is manufactured, it first stays in the sensory part of the memory, from there it moves to the short term memory and from there to the long term memory, where it is stored.


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