Humans Are Wired To Love Lies


We are wired to love lies. If we weren’t, the race would have died out long ago.

It’s easy to lie to people and get away with it—even profit from it—because humans are primed to believe lies.  Animals are harder to lie to, and they will believe only a very limited range of lies, while people can and will believe lies about everything and anything.

Whereas animals’ senses are tuned to respond to concrete stimulation—sight, sound, touch—right in front of them, peoples’ senses are tuned to be able to visualize things that are not there. If we weren’t, there would be no humans left.  We could not have survived as a species if we were not hardwired to believe in lies.

We must be able to IMAGINE something that is not in front of us.  More than imagine, actually. We need to be able to have a relationship with something that is purely imaginary. We must be able to feel emotions because of that imagined object.

Why does that have survival value?

It’s 100,000 BC and we’re looking in on a community of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. We’ll call them the Angelinos.  Their village is on a hill in a thick forest. The village is very peaceful. The morning sun is bright and everyone is looking forward to a great day of fishing and gathering.

There are two paths the Angelinos can take through the forest down the hill to the river, where the fishing and the veggie gathering are good: The North Path and the South Path.

Suddenly the peace is shattered when a young man—let’s call him Steve—runs through the village screaming that a huge hungry bear is prowling around the North Path.

The villagers hear Steve and his warning. They have a choice to make.  Do they believe Steve or not?  They haven’t seen the bear, heard the bear, smelled the bear. They have absolutely no evidence that the bear is prowling around the  North Path. All they have is this story Steve is telling them.

Of the villagers who hear the story, most of them believe Steve. They decide to take the South Path.  It’s longer and more arduous, but they figure its worth it to avoid the bear.

But a few decide not to believe Steve. After all, there is nothing in front of their faces to tell them the bear really exists, and taking the South Path does require more work. They take the North Path.

At the end of the day, the villagers who took the South Path return with fish and veggies.  Those who took the North Path were eaten by the bear.

The fascinating thing about this is that most of the people believed something that wasn’t immediately evident or verifiable. They believed in something that wasn’t there, wasn’t right in front of their faces. That’s remarkable! Who does that, except people?

Ok, animals make warning noises and bees do a little dance that tells other bees how to get to the flowers. But here’s the difference: Only people are wired to both create and believe complex stories about reality without immediate evidence or verifiability. We live in a sea of stories. As a matter of fact, stories usually have more impact on our behavior than verifiable, immediate facts and actual experiences.

Without this ability, the human race would have been swallowed up by the bears before it even got started. But because there is essentially no difference between a true story and a lie, we can also be led right into the bear’s sharp teeth—if the teller of the story has malicious intent and is a convincing enough liar. It happens every day. It happens in every election. Organizations created for the very purpose of fact-checking campaign claims knock themselves out reporting inaccuracies from both sides—to little effect.

The point here is that most of our lives are lived in our imaginations, whether we acknowledge it or not. We get information from several sources “out there” but most of our communication, most of our work, is about things that are not in front of our faces. Without the ability to do this, human life is not possible.

Its also what makes us susceptible to lies. Human life as we know it would not be possible if we weren’t wired to believe in lies.

So what? What does this have to do with advertising?

Just everything.