Fingers Crossed: How Lies Break Social Bonds

fingers crossedOne of the key tenets of self-determination theory is that people are motivated when their need for relatedness is fulfilled. What this means is that we are social creatures who like to feel connected to others. We like to feel valued, and seen as individuals.

One way in which this need is undermined in daily life is through lies.

When a person tells a lie–or misrepresents a product or experience–the sense of relatedness is threatened. A lie may communicate:

  • A lack of respect
  • A sense of superiority or ability to manipulate
  • A disregard for feelings

Even lies which are well-meant on the part of their teller may have a damaging effect on the recipient’s sense of relatedness.

Within the context of a product experience, a lie may communicate that the people making the product don’t truly value the people using it. Consider the recent experience with experiments on the Facebook news feed; many people, myself included, were most upset at the surreptitiousness of the project, rather than the fact that it had happened at all. This is an extreme example; think about how frustrating it is to find that a product takes much longer to assemble than you were told, or a survey is three times longer than you expected, or that an app marketed as “free” requires several in-app purchases to use.

I’m not so naive to think that total transparency is required in all circumstances. Sometimes there are reasons to withhold the truth. But whenever possible, honesty can help nurture social bonds by demonstrating respect and caring for others.