Why All Lies Involve Protecting and Triggering Dopamine Flow

by Charles Lyell on June 9, 2013

“We tell lies, yet it is easy to show that lying is immoral.”
      – Epictetus

In his book, Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage, Paul Ekman estimates, “The average person lies three times per ten minutes of conversation.”

Three lies in 10 minutes equals 18 an hour, hundreds each week, and thousands of lies a year.

Why so many lies? Average people lie for the same reason junkies lie — to protect and trigger dopamine flow. The average junky’s lies involve dopamine-triggering expectations associated with heroin. The average person’s lies involve dopamine-triggering expectations associated with Abraham Maslow’s four deficiency needs.

To streamline this explanation I’m condensing Maslow’s deficiency needs into two:

  1. Physiological needs for oxygen, water, food, sex, shelter.
  2. Psychological needs for safety/power, acceptance/approval/attention, esteem/status. 

In 2010 the Scripps Research Institute issued the results of a ground-breaking study that found that laboratory rats given the opportunity to consume high-calorie, high-fat (junk) foods will overeat. This overeating forces a neuroadaptive change in their dopamine circuits that is similar to the changes in brains of people suffering from drug addiction. As the brain’s pathways grow accustomed to being overstimulated a pathological cycle begins where addicts require a constant flow of dopamine to avoid entering a state of withdrawal.

According to Scripps Research Associate Professor Paul J. Kenny, “What happens in addiction is lethally simple. The reward pathways in the brain have been so overstimulated that the system basically turns on itself, adapting to the new reality of addiction, whether its cocaine or cupcakes.” 

Dr. Kenny’s insights raise a few questions. If cupcakes can overstimulate our delicate dopaminergic system until it turns on itself, what if our psychological needs are even more powerful than cupcakes? We’re talking about primitive dopamine-induced survival behaviors that keep humans and chimpanzees obsessing over safety/power, acceptance/approval/attention, and esteem/status. What if these psychological needs cause the brain’s pathways to grow accustomed to being overstimulated until a pathological cycle begins where psychological addicts require a constant flow of dopamine (triggered by expectations of safety/power, acceptance/approval/attention, esteem/status) to avoid entering a state of withdrawal? And why aren’t researchers scrambling to find out if Maslow’s psychological needs are capable of forcing a neuroadaptive change in dopamine circuits that is similar to the changes in the brains of people suffering from drug addiction?

Which brings us back to the countless lies people, including scientists, tell themselves every day. I’m convinced that lying is a symptom of addiction, that liars/addicts are responsible for all man-made problems, and that all lies can be traced to the dopamine flow associated with expectations involving drugs, gambling, food, sex, shelter, safety/power, acceptance/approval/attention, esteem/status, and/or money.

I also believe that healthy people avoid lying (to themselves or others) because they don’t have any reason to lie and/or understand that lying is a waste of time. Spiritual individuals don’t lie because lying is immoral and self-deception and self-actualization don’t mix.

Psychological addicts, whose dopaminergic systems have been compromised, can’t stop lying because the system has been turned on itself. Like junkies, psychological addicts require a constant flow of dopamine to avoid entering a state of withdrawal. And lying is the easiest way to protect and trigger dopamine flow.

Anyone capable of admitting to a single lie every day for one week can test my theory by linking each lie to one or more of the following dopamine-triggering expectations:

  • scoring drugs, gambling, food, sex, money
  • protecting safety, acceptance, approval, status
  • increasing power, attention, and/or esteem.

I invite those who believe their lies do not involve protecting or triggering dopamine flow to send a brief description of their deceptions to Charles@DopamineProject.org.

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