Moral ‘slippery slope’: Neuroscience reveals how fibbing can spiral out of control


People who tell small, self-serving lies are likely to progress to bigger falsehoods, and over time, the brain appears to adapt to the dishonesty, according to a new study.

The finding, the researchers said, provides evidence for the “slippery slope” sometimes described by wayward politicians, corrupt financiers, unfaithful spouses and others in explaining their misconduct.

“They usually tell a story where they started small and got larger and larger, and then they suddenly found themselves committing quite severe acts,” said Tali Sharot, an associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London.

Amitai Shenhav, a psychologist at Brown University who has studied moral decision-making,…said the findings were “suggestive of a slippery slope.” But he added that it was still not entirely clear what was driving people down that slope.


“The implication is that we should watch out that we don’t tolerate lies, in order to prevent people from lying when it really matters,” [said Christian Ruff, a professor of decision neuroscience at the University of Zurich.]

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post: Why Big Liars Often Start Out as Small Ones

  • GrahamH

    I can now better understand why lying is so prevalent in religion.

  • ID9192

    This would happen for telling the truth as well, in a good way. Telling the truth that may depreciate our ego (e.g. having to tell someone that we failed an exam or that we have terminal illness), can be difficult to do, but once one gets used to revealing such things; it would become easier to do (which is good because it would bring one the peace of accepting such things as well – I know people who feel this way). So as I see it, ultimately, it is not neuroscience that is involved, but psychology.
    Additionally, studying the brain to understand behaviour is like examining skeletal muscles of someone to see if one has been exercising. Numerous factors can influence whether one engages in exercise or not – the reasons do not merely boil down to muscle cell-related explanations. In other words neurons do not cause feelings, behaviour, etc., but neurons do change as a result of human experience. I think it is important to bear this in mind when making inferences from simply observing the activity of the brain.