Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire: The 5 Most Important Rules of Lying

Like it or not, as humans, we are born to lie. The desire to control information and how it is shared is part of who we are and how we live our lives. In fact, our brains are designed to lie—sort of.

Our understanding of “reality” is to a large extent shaped by how our family and friends present it to us as we’re growing up, something that I explain in more depth in my recent article for, which you can read here.

Basically, as we get older, we build a community around ourselves containing those with whom we share the same core values, beliefs and ways of doing things—also known as culture. Our brains then sort everything from then on through a filter that only “sees” what fits that reality. 

Do we lie occasionally or all the time?

Unfortunately, pretty much all the time.

As proof, a well-known study about deception and lying found that most people lie once or twice a day. Over the course of a week, both men and women lie approximately one-fifth of the time and deceive about 30% of those with whom they interact one-on-one. And according to the study, college students lie to their mothers in 50% of their conversations. That’s half of the time!

If you think these “lying” statistics don’t apply to you, think again. 

Think you’re above this habitual lying which the study revealed? Consider this: When you compliment your friend’s awful outfit, or tell your boss how great he is when his work stinks, you’re not just “sucking up,” you’re lying. 

So what really is a lie?

The 5 most important rules of lying

As I discuss in my article, no matter what group people are in, they tend to create a story that helps keep their social network operating and their relationships intact. To do that, they seem to follow these 5 rules:

1. Rule of Quality: People are expected to speak the “truth” in order to be accurate and honest.

2. Rule of Quantity: They relay just enough information to communicate what’s going on without extensive detail unless someone pushes them for more.

3. Rule of Relation: People are expected to talk about things that are related to each other (not go off on tangents about the weather, etc). 

4. Rule of Manner: The conversation or story-sharing should be direct and to the point.

5. And the most important Rule of Lying: BREAK ALL OF THE ABOVE.

Ok, so we lie—a lot. But should we always be entirely truthful?

Is it really worth your while to tell a friend her new shoes are hideous? To tell your boyfriend exactly why you’re breaking up? In essence, could any of our relationships survive if we were really, truly honest?

As an anthropologist, I realize that at their core, these relationships do have a foundation based on “truths,” but more often than not, what holds them together is a bunch of lies.

And that’s the truth. 

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From Observation to Innovation,


Andi Simon, Ph.D.
Corporate Anthropologist | President
Simon Associates Management Consultants