The Psychology of Lying
Publication:
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 19 Oct 1950, p. 31-40


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Blatz, Dr. W.E., Speaker
Media Type:
Text
Item Type:
Speeches
Description:
The psychology of lying as opposed to the art of lying. The speaker's interest in children. A definition of lying; a definition in terms of the truth. Four kinds of lying, with a discussion of each. They are: a psychological lie; the lie of fantasy; the lie of loyalty; the lie of protection.
Date of Original:
19 Oct 1950
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Language of Item:
English
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
"THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LYING"
An Address by DR. W. E. BLATZ Professor of Child Psychology, University of Toronto
Thursday, October 19th, 1950
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. Sydney Hermant.

MR. HERMANT: Members and Guests of The Empire Club of Canada: Before introducing our Guest Speaker may I take a moment to ask Dr. Elias Clouse, a distinguished Past-President of this Club, if he would be good enough to make formal presentation of a new Flag to the Club at this time. As you will see from the wall of this banquet hall our fine old Flag has served us well for a long time but Dr. Clouse did think that we deserved a new one. He has personally designed a new Flag and is presenting it to the Club. I would ask Dr. Clouse to say a few words.

DR. CLOUSE: Mr. President and Fellow Members: I tried to stipulate that this flag would be an anonymous flag, but as you see, my suggestion has not been observed. However, I appreciate the privilege of having the opportunity of contributing any little thing that I may in the interests of the Club and the principles for which it stands.

And now I will ask the President if he will be good enough to accept the flag on behalf of the Club, and I hope it won't be entirely out of place if I add a few remarks about our British Emblem, the Union Jack.

Now the Union Jack was not born all at once; it was born in instalments. By some great achievement in Bri tish history, one colour was added, and then by another achievement another colour; and thence the stripes. And so was the Union Jack built up.

I am afraid that our Canadian people are not as familiar with their British Emblem, the Union Jack, as they should be, and if you will turn up the Club Year Book, there in the early history of The Empire Club you will find an address by the late Mr. Barlow Cumberland, who delivered a very interesting and informative address on the Union Jack, and that it was the flag that had "braved for a thousand years the battle and the breeze", and that great men had lived for it, and great men had died for it; great soldiers had carried it to various parts of the world and brought back glory, success and inspiration.

Now I feel that our people are not sufficiently enthused over our emblem. You may drive along the streets of Toronto on a holiday, and never see the British flag unfurled or displayed. Now The Empire Club of Canada stands for Canada and a united Empire, and the Union Jack is the emblem.

Now I wonder if it would be too much to ask the many members of The Empire Club, for each one to have a big fine Union Jack and have it displayed in front of his home on every holiday, or proper occasion? Gentlemen, don't you think it would furnish headlines for the newspapers the next day? Don't you think it would help to put Toronto on the map? And certainly it would help to put The Empire Club on the map! And may I say to the Membership Committee that in my opinion it would be a big help in their membership campaign.

MR. HERMANT: Thank you very much indeed, Dr. Clouse. This is just one more fine contribution that you have made to this Club to which you have given so much.

This is a unique meeting. I am sure that many Members have been scrutinizing the Head Table and wondering about the absence of our Guest Speaker, Major-General Brock Chisholm. I will give you the best news first and say that he is perfectly well although somewhat frustrated if one can imagine a frustrated Psychologist. But now the bad news. Last night there was a tragic train wreck in which lives were lost. It was the New York train bound for Toronto and Dr. Chisholm was on it. General Chisholm made every effort to reach Toronto. It was too far to drive and the only possible way seemed to be by aeroplane. Arrangements were made to charter a plane but, to use Dr. Chisholm's words conveyed over the Long Distance telephone "Government regulations made this impossible". It seems that respect for Rank is not what it was during the war.

This is not the first time we have been faced with such an emergency. Many members will recall the tragic occasion in 1939 when the Honourable Norman Rogers was proceeding from Ottawa to Toronto to address this Club. His plane crashed and Mr. Rogers, the brilliant Minister of National Defence, was killed. Several years ago the Honourable Hector McNeil, Secretary of State for Great Britain, decided to take the morning plane from New York to address our Luncheon meeting. It was a foggy morning at La Guardia Field and all planes were grounded. General Chisholm, having read the Pullman Company advertisements, had wisely decided to come the safe, sure way by train with these unhappy results. We are, of course, much relieved to know that he is unhurt, and we are hoping that it may be possible for him to address another meeting of the Club in the near future.

Happily The Empire Club is resourceful and very fortunate. To use a football term we are going to use the platoon system of substitution. Among our Head Table Guests is Dr. W. E. Blatz, a life-long friend and colleague of General Chisholm. Dr. Blatz is the Professor of Child Psychology at the University of Toronto, Director of the Institute of Child Psychology, and Consultant with the Toronto Juvenile Court. I advised him of my dilemma and happily he acceded to my suggestion that he address this meeting of the Club. Dr. Blatz tells me that the subject of his talk is "The Psychology of Lying" but I assure you, Gentlemen, that this implies no reflection on the advice card which brought you here today.

DR. BLATZ: If you think that Brock Chisholm's absence has ruined your lunch, imagine what it did to mine! The subject of this talk is the Psychology of Lying: not the Art of Lying. I am an expert informant. There will be a short pause for all accomplished liars to leave if they wish, because they will not have to listen to this. I am pinch-hitting for your distinguished guest. I happened to be on the same boat, The Queen Mary, with him, and I heard most of his talk, and it is an excellent one.

Now this talk of course stems from my continued interest in children, and lest there be any opportunity for embarrassment, you will consider that I am talking about, children. Looking about me, I find there are a great many of you with even less hair than I have, and perhaps some of these remarks I will give will not help you with your children.

It is obvious if I am to talk on lying, I should define it, and in order to define a lie, one must of course be able to define it in terms of truth; and you are all sufficiently familiar with philosophers since the dawn of history to know that no one yet, even among them, has agreed with any other as to a definition on truth. So you see I am saved from the definition of defining a lie: when one does not know what the truth is, one can't define a lie. However, you will all feel that you know what it is. I am quite sure that in your own youth, and towards your own children, you have often said: "Now, never, never lie". And when these children were younger, they always thought that their parents never lied. It took them sometimes fifteen, twenty odd years, to find out that that was not the truth, depending of course on their I.Q.

Now, like all scientists, one must divide the field into various parts, so that one can talk in a scientific manner. Scientists take a subject apart and forget to put it together again.

There are four kinds of lies, and these four I am going to discuss, and I am. also going to tell you what you should do if you are in a position that you have to govern the behaviour of others--and you have to if you are parents, of younger children. I would guarantee that if you were to follow a plan that I laid out for you here, you would never have any serious problems in your home with reference to this pattern of behaviour. I can say that quite sincerely, because I haven't found anyone yet who will follow it.

The first kind of lie is what we call a psychological lie. That is a lie which you tell every time you open your mouth to tell someone else what has happened, because you see, in order to tell someone what has happened, you have to depend upon your memory, and the human memory is subject to three faults. These three faults are that you leave something out--called omission--and you add something to it--that is called addition; and you rearrange the facts--that is called distortion. Every time you tell anybody what has happened these three factors are involved, and it is a little more complicated than that because as you grow older it is impossible to be without bias, and so this bias creeps into everything you say, so that distortion and addition is governed by your biases. If a Conservative and Liberal went to hear St. Laurent and told of it afterwards, oftentimes you would wonder whether they were both at the same meeting or not.

So when your child comes home late for lunch, and the mother says to him "Where have you been?"--well he has to do a little bit of psychological lying. So he just says, "As I was coming along the street, a great big circus band busted into a telephone pole, a giraffe busted out, and I had to stay and watch it."

That is a psychological lie, with bias involved. As he gets older he has to tell his wife why he is a two o'clock traveller. There is bias there too, because he does not want her to worry. These biases of course are translated from one place to another until the story becomes wholly distorted. There is a story I tell in this connection. Two people met on the sidewalk, and one said to the other, "I have not seen you in a long time. I just heard your brother made $5,000 in the shoe business in Buffalo." And the other one says, "Well, it was my cousin, not my brother. It was not in Buffalo, but in Cleveland.

"And it was not in the shoe business, but the hat business. And he did not make $5,000, it was $50,000. And he did not make it, he lost it."

So you have these stories distorted. And so we find it possible then to deal with our friends in a perfectly sound way. We know there are 20 percenters; there are twenty-five percenters; there are 50 percenters; there are 75 percenters; and some you can't believe at all. So it all works out to the best.

Now these psychological lies we can't do anything about, because they are inevitable. We can, under certain circumstances, so train an individual that they can be minimized. The scientist pretends to be such a person. A scientist is a person without bias, as you all know. He is trained to observe and record facts, and obviously, if he succeeds, he becomes an individual in whom one can be very confident that the bias is reduced to a minimum: never to zero.

So you see the psychological lie is with us always. You can't do anything about it except by your own observations and acumen size people up.

The next lie is the lie of fantasy. This is the lie in which one deliberately adds, subtracts and distorts, and the reason we do that is because human beings are exceedingly anxious to be interesting to other persons in the universe. So as we grow up, we learn, if we want to be in the presence of another human being, that we must be interesting, because that human being is interested in himself, just like everybody else, and if we talk about ourselves they won't be interested, and we would not have a chance to crash in. So we have to learn how to distort, how to leave out a great deal and how to add from another experience, and then, if we become skilled in these lies of fantasy, then people will listen to us, and that is a very nice thing, as you all know.

Now this is a long, long road: it is the most difficult task in human learning, to so develop your lies of fantasy that other people will be interested. Here we find the genesis for poets and novelists and painters, and sculptors and entertainers. They are all lies, they are all distortions. There is a game here, and that game is that if you can recite something in such a fashion that another person sometimes wonders whether it is true, and then he realizes that it isn't, but still wonders, then of course you have become skilled in that game. Some very unskilled persons, they will preface what they are saying by saying, "This is a true story". Or beware of a person that starts out with "Now let's be frank." You know what is coming.

You remember your Robinson Crusoe, "And it started out in Bristol in the year . . . ", sounded as if Robinson Crusoe lived, which of course we know he did not. Commercial enterprise has entered into it, and so novelists must have at the beginning the reference, What follows has "reference to no person living or dead." That is too bad, because it takes away from us the opportunity of losing ourselves in this medium and imagining that it is real, and if an artist of that kind can lift us out of the present and into a world where the delusion of reality is given with skill, then of course he is a good artist.

And you can see how important that is, especially for us Canadians who pride ourselves on our honesty, and we of course stunt the imagination of our children by having to tell the truth. So we have to import our best poets from Newfoundland, where they don't hear much about it, and our artists, like Healey Willan, from England. We Canadians are a very dull folk, and they say, "What have you been doing", and when you start saying, they tell you!

The third kind of lie is the lie of loyalty. This is a very important kind of lie, because those of you who are at all familiar with modern psychology know that the most important aspect of our personalities is security; you must feel secure. It is impossible to feel secure 100% by any means, but it is possible to compensate in certain areas for insecurity in others. And one way of doing that is to have very close friends, to belong to a gang, to belong to a group. We start out, thank God, with a family, and so throughout life we have to form more or less close human relations.

Now all of us have faults, and so in order that these faults will be minimized, we develop deliberately certain forms of behaviour that indicate loyalties, and we feel perfectly free to protect that belongingness, sometimes at all costs. So we develop lies of loyalty because these attachments are sometimes tenuous. We belong sometimes very close in comparison with those of our wives and daughters--sometimes these lies are very trivial. In these trivial matters, we have what we call courteous ones. Someone bumps into you, they say "I beg your pardon"--they don't mean it--and you say "Not at all, it was my fault."--You don't believe that. If you said, "You are a clumsy goat", and you ask yourself how he ever got invited to this tea at all--it would be pretty difficult for you to carry your sword with you all the time.

They call you up for a game of bridge, and you say, "No, I am sorry, I am busy tonight", instead of saying, "I wouldn't play bridge with you for anything." You think that is perfectly proper, but remember, it is a lie.

And so one must become skilled in these lies of loyalty. We start very early in telling them to our children. Sunday afternoon, it is rather blustery outside, you are sitting in front of the grate fire, with your young son: he is reading the comics after you have, and you have settled down for a nice cosy afternoon. When down the street comes Jones, you say, "My God here is Jones, that old bore, I hope he does not come in." He comes up your walk and to the door, and you greet him with, "Well, Jones, I am glad to see you. We were just talking about you." He ruined your whole afternoon. He stays for a nice cosy visit, and when he has left, your son says, "Daddy, why did you call Jones a bore?" You say, "Ha, ha, children get into the kitchen there." Things like that happen in the home.

You will tell your son, "Anybody asks you how much money I make, don't you tell them." So that loyalty is built up.

If you become real skilled in these lies, they will make you an ambassador. And if you don't become real skilled and have not that degree of suavity to become an ambassador, you become an advertiser, creating advertising which is solid lies of loyalty. There may be some excuse--you are paid for it--I don't know. After all, some of these tires can't possibly be "the best in the world", because three or four people say they are, and they can't all be right.

However, you can see it is a very important thing to start early in your child to develop these lies of loyalty, because if he does not develop them, he could not live in our society.

Now you are wondering, are there no lies at all that we can just say we won't have anything to do with. The fourth lie is the lie of protection. This is a lie in which the individual lies in order to avoid the consequences of his behaviour: This is a lie in which the individual will just say "No" because if he says "Yes", somebody is going to come down on him like a ton of bricks. We don't like that kind of lie, and we go to all sorts of devices in order to get our children not to lie in this way. Now I have a great deal to do with children, and I know perfectly well--in these kind of lies, remember there is no such thing as absolute justice except as an ideal, and as your child grows up he gradually forms a concept of justice. Every one of you in this room has a concept of justice. Justice is not just a willowy figure with the scales and the sword, that is the symbol. If you examine very carefully what you mean by justice, you will find it is the sum total of your attitude on how the world has treated you. You may give it lip service. And as these children grow up, their concept of justice grows, and if they are not being treated "fairly", as they say, then they are going to use any device to avoid consequences which they think are cruel, arbitrary and unfair.

So you see, if you find that your child really has lied, don't beat him, don't wash out his mouth with soap, because you and the family atmosphere are at fault, and you should go upstairs and sit down, and say to yourself, "What has been my treatment of my child--has it been such that he has found it necessary and fair, in order to avoid what he thinks I am going to do, to lie?" And if you are honest with yourself you will always discover that but by the grace of God, there go I, in every such instance. And if you then re-arrange your disciplinary procedure in the home, so that it is fair, you will find that those lies disappear.

Now the other kind of self-protective lie is not to evade punishment: it is the kind of lie we use to protect our self-esteem, so we lie in order to bolster up our self-esteem. In other words, we will say we make $10,000 a year, when we make only $3,000. That hat blocked was $7 rather than $3. What is the reason for that? Again we must look back to the early history of the child--all of us were children at one time--and find out whether in the course of our development we find out whether the opportunities we had for reaching a status in the community, that opportunities were denied. And in every case where you find such a lie of self-protection, you will find that individual was less fortunate in achieving that status outside of his own control.

So you see, the psychological lie you have to take for granted. If you are interested in having your son a scientist you can have him trained. Lies of fantasy, by all means foster,--there are too few of us. Lies of loyalty are absolutely essential if your child is to feel comfortable.

Lies of self-protection can be eliminated if we give children a fair chance.

So you see, if you do these things, children will not grow up not to lie, but by judicious training, you can teach them how, when and how well to lie.

VOTE OF THANKS, moved by Dr. W. J. Deadman.

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The Psychology of Lying


The psychology of lying as opposed to the art of lying. The speaker's interest in children. A definition of lying; a definition in terms of the truth. Four kinds of lying, with a discussion of each. They are: a psychological lie; the lie of fantasy; the lie of loyalty; the lie of protection.