Conservative MP Neil Parish has resigned after it became clear that he was looking at pornography in parliament. He himself stated that he was 'looking for tractors', an obvious lie. Why did he do this and how do we judge lies? Sophie van der Zee, Assistant Professor of Applied Economics, answers these questions.
Parish's so-called statement was a lie par excellence to get away with something. Van der Zee says that this is the fourth most common reason why someone lies, to get away with something. 'Because there was a lot at stake for the former MP, he is more inclined to lie.'
Types of lying
Science distinguishes between types of lies, Van der Zee explains. 'One can lie by saying something that is not true, that is called a fabrication. One can also lie by withholding crucial information, by exaggerating or by minimizing matters'. Here the self-image of an individual is interesting. For example, everyone thinks it is very important to be honest and not to lie, which of course they do not do. Of course, the rest of the world does lie sometimes and those lies are hard to justify. As can be noted, this cannot be true for everyone.
Two things are important when assessing whether a lie is acceptable or not. Firstly, Van der Zee states for whom the lie is advantageous. Is that for someone else or for yourself? As you can imagine, an unabashed compliment to make someone else feel good is experienced as less bad than a lie to get away with something yourself. Secondly, it is also important whether the lie has to do with something emotional or material. If a lie is about something materialistic, such as whether you have stolen something, then this is seen as worse than a lie about something psychological.