Have We Been Desensitized to Lies?

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Photo courtesy of vanityfair.com

Every time Trump makes false claims of victory and unsupported accusations of fraud, people wonder if he actually believes what comes out of his mouth. We’ve seen this question arise before: Does Trump know what he’s doing and does it anyway, or does he genuinely think what he’s saying is true?

The president lies so often that some think he has convinced himself he’s always right, regardless of the facts. Well, not quite. More often than not, compulsive liars could become emotionally desensitized to the action of lying itself. The more they lie, the more lying transforms into a normal part of their lives — though this does not mean they are not aware of it.

“The brain adapts to dishonesty” is a title of a study published by the journal Nature Neuroscience in 2016. The scientists involved in the research “provided empirical evidence for a gradual escalation of self-serving dishonesty and revealed a neural mechanism supporting it.”

As the subjects of the study continued to be dishonest, their lies escalated over time. The study showed that repetition is associated with an increase in the number of lies told, as well as the intensity of the lies. Scientists also found that as lying increased, the responses in the amygdala — an area of the brain associated with emotion — decreased.

“The findings suggested that the negative emotional signals initially associated with lying decrease as the brain becomes desensitized…Think about it like perfume,” Dr. Sharot, the senior author of the study, told The New York Times. “You buy a new perfume, and it smells strongly. A few days later, it smells less. And a month later, you don’t smell it at all.”

Now, the question is whether we — the people — have become desensitized to Trump’s lies as well. This doesn’t necessarily mean we’re not aware of them, but that our emotional responses — including anger — are not as loud as they should be (considering he’s one of the most powerful white men in the world.)

We can laugh and make memes about Trump’s lies all day long. However, the severe consequences of his behavior should not go unnoticed. Trump’s false claims of victory and unsupported accusations of fraud are dangerous. Sure, his berrinche may not result in his reelection, but it could lead to violence. It already has.

A democratic electoral process is not only about finding the legitimate winner of an election. It’s about accepting and respecting the decision of the people, the peaceful transfer of power, and the message of non-violence that political leaders should send to their parties.