Study Finds Your Partner's Little White Lies Will Grow Bigger Over Time

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I feel like it's almost impossible to have a relationship where there isn't a little bit of lying here and there.

In my past relationships, I've dealt with some white lies from exes: He would tell me he went somewhere different on guys'  night than where he actually went. Or, he said he wasn't occasionally texting an ex-girlfriend (when he actually was).

At the time, my exes may not have thought these stretches of the truth were a big deal. But lying to your SO, even in the smallest ways, can be a slippery slope. Not only can it lead to disappointment, but it can lead to telling even bigger lies, as new science suggests.

A new study published yesterday in the journal Nature Neuroscience found that if a person starts telling little white lies for their own benefit, over time, their lies will grow bigger and bigger. And they won't feel as bad about telling them.

Partners who lied were much more likely to lie to a greater degree down the road.

In the study, researchers from Duke University and University College London instructed 55 participants to look at pictures of penny-filled jars and then tell their partners how many pennies were in the jar.

In certain instances, participants were rewarded with money if they lied to their partners about the number of pennies.

What the researchers found? People who lied were much more likely to lie to a greater degree in other experiments down the road. Once a monetary reward became a factor, these lies became self-serving, so people felt they were benefitting from lying, and therefore, continued to do so.

The researchers believe that if we act on vices once or twice in ways we think aren't that detrimental (like telling a little fib to our SO), then that action is more likely to become a regular habit that grows worse over time.

They also found that when people initially begin to lie, the amygdala — the part of the brain linked to both fear and pleasure — lights up with activity. But as people lie more, this area is activated less and less.

In other words, the more we deceive someone, the less we feel bad or fearful about it. Uh oh.

The more we deceive someone, the less we feel bad or fearful about it.

This phenomenon of continuing to lie with little to no remorse can be attributed to "moral desensitization," Deception researcher Sophie van der Zee explained to New Scientist.

"When you lie or cheat for your own benefit, it makes you feel bad. But when you keep doing it, that feeling goes away, so you're more likely to do it again." 

Apply this new finding to your relationship, and it becomes clear that letting your BF's little white lies go may really only hurt YOU in the long run.

Eventually, he won't feel guilty about deceiving you anymore, which will make it easier to feed you even bigger lies in the future.

So, if you suspect your boyfriend is lying to you, don't let it slide. Let him know his dishonesty makes you uncomfortable, and then, try to find out why he's lying in the first place: Is he doing it because he's insecure about his decisions? Is he afraid you'll yell at him if he tells the truth?

Finding out the motivation behind white lies could stop them altogether and keep much bigger fibs from becoming a reality in your relationship. So, it's definitely worth a conversation.

Citations: "How Small Fibs Lead To Big Lies" (NPR)