The Slippery Slope

At one point or another in our lives, most of us have told “little white lies” if only to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. In telling that “little white lie”, we tell ourselves it is harmless and it will lead to nothing, and definitely, will NOT lead us to tell “bigger white lies”.

However, as explained in a recent New York Times article (Why Big Liars Often Start Out as Small Ones  by Erica Goode, October 24, 2016 Science section), those “little white lies” may well desensitize our brains so that as time progresses, we have no compunction in telling bigger and even bigger lies.

This conclusion is based on a study by Dr. Tali Sharot, an associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

To reach this conclusion, Dr. Sharot and her fellow researchers devised a situation that offered the participants a chance to lie if they were so inclined. To study this, Dr. Sharot used a functional MRI scanner to monitor each participant’s brain activity in the amygdala which is associated with our emotions:

Participants in the study were asked to advise a partner in another room about how many pennies were in a jar. When the subjects believed that lying about the amount of money was to their benefit, they were more inclined to dishonesty and their lies escalated over time. As lying increased, the response in the amygdala decreased. And the size of the decline from one trial to another predicted how much bigger a subject’s next lie would be.

These findings suggested that the negative emotional signals initially associated with lying decrease as the brain becomes desensitized, Dr. Sharot said. (Id.)

Indeed, the brain scans showed that with the first lie, there was much activity in the amygdala but as the lies continued and progressed, this brain activity (i.e., our emotional response) lessened. (See –Lying Feels bad at first but our brains soon adapt to deceiving by Jessica Hamelin Daily News, October 24, 2016)

Dr. Sharot likened it to a person smelling a particular odor. At first, it may seem quite strong but as time goes by, we become desensitized to it so that after a while we do not even notice it anymore. (New York Times, supra.) Or, we view a gruesome image; initially, we are shocked but the more we view it, the shock wears off and we “get used” to it.

What has this to do with resolving disputes: honesty is the best policy. If we do not know the answer or cannot recall, say so; do not make up a “little white lie” or a “story” as this study shows, it may lead to making up even “bigger lies” and even “bigger stories” and in the end, our credibility (when we need it the most) will be lost.  Then, when we do tell the truth, no one will believe us because of all those “little white lies” that preceded our honesty!

…. Just something to think about.


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By |2017-05-13T07:41:25+00:00November 25th, 2016|News articles|1 Comment

About the Author:

Phyllis Pollack
Phyllis G. Pollack, Esq. the principal of PGP Mediation (, has been a mediator in Los Angeles, California since 2000. She has conducted over 1700 mediations. As an attorney with more than 35 years experience, she utilizes her diverse background to resolve business, commercial, international trade, real estate, employment and lemon law disputes at both the state and federal trial and state appellate court levels. Currently, she is the in­coming chair of State Bar of California’s ADR Committee. She has served on the board of the California Dispute Resolution Council (CDRC) (2012­2013), is a past president and past treasurer of the SCMA Education Foundation (2011­2013) and a past president (2010) of the Southern California Mediation Association (SCMA). Ms. Pollack received her BA degree in sociology in 1973 from Newcomb College of Tulane University and her JD degree from Tulane University School of Law in 1977. She is an active member of both the Louisiana and California bars. Pollack believes that it is never too late to mediate a dispute and recommends mediation over litigation as it allows the parties to decide their own solutions.

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  1. The Slippery Slope | Updates By Suzanne November 25, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    […] post The Slippery Slope appeared first on Los Angeles California Mediation Services | San Diego Dispute Mediation | San […]

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