The authors of a paper published Monday in Nature Neuroscience call this “emotional adaptation.” It’s similar to what happens when you’re exposed to a strong smell. At first the smell is extremely noticeable, but eventually you stop noticing it as much....More, from Angela Chen at the Verge:
In the study, the researchers had 80 participants play a simple game. The participants played the role of an adviser. They looked at 60 photos of glass jars with differing numbers of pennies, and were told to advise a partner (who was really a researcher in disguise) on how much money the jars contained. The participants were told they’d receive compensation based on the accuracy of their partner’s guesses.
In some of the trials, the participants were incentivized to be honest: If the partner guessed correctly, they’d both get the prize money. In other trials, the participants were incentivized to lie: If the partner overestimated, the participant would get more (the study gave the participant the impression the partner had no idea about this arrangement).
When the participants were incentivized to lie, they lied more as more trials were conducted.
As the participants played the game, the researchers did brain scans of some of them. These scans, called fMRIs, show which regions of the brain used more oxygen; this is an indicator of brain activity. The researchers saw that as the participants continued to lie, the amygdala reacted less.This might explain why folks like Donald Trump lie so relentlessly and shamelessly: They get used to it. They keep going when they receive benefits and don't suffer consequences.
Participants in the game also became more dishonest more quickly when it would benefit just them and not their partner. And the amygdala really did activate less as people lied to help themselves. The participants kept lying to help themselves even if lying didn’t lead to more money every single time. This means it’s likely that people keep lying not because of rational calculation, but because they become desensitized.
But what I want to know is why people lie to themselves -- and do so even when there's nothing to be gained from it. For instance, I know that the NRA's Wayne LaPierre has an amygdala (or whatever) that's thoroughly desensitized to lies, which explains why he can talk to his membership base this way:
During a six-minute get out the vote video, NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre described America after eight years of Obama as president in hellish terms unrecognizable to anyone who actually lives here, claiming that the president has “laid waste to the America we remember” causing the country to “completely unravel.” ...LaPierre also said that America is now "a sanctuary nation for felons, criminal gangbangers, drug dealers, repeat offenders, and illegal aliens” and that “our inner cities now rank among the most dangerous places in the world.” Also, " “Our economy is on life support. Health care is an utter failure. Our schools have never been worse."
LaPierre said his prediction that Obama “would come for our guns and do everything in his power to sabotage the Second Amendment” “came true” following the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, when Obama “exploited a horrible tragedy to launch a blizzard of gun bans, magazine restrictions, and gun registration schemes against law abiding gun owners all across the country.” ...
LaPierre claimed [Hillary] Clinton “will come for your guns, she will attack your right to carry, she will attack your most basic right to defend your family with a firearm in your home.”
For some in his audience, maybe life in America is pretty bad. But what about the guns? LaPierre and his allies have been saying for eight years that Obama would come for their guns. In the '90s, he spent eight years saying that Bill Clinton would come for their guns. Now he says Hillary Clinton will come for their guns.
But notice that after sixteen years of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, these people still have their guns. Nobody came for them. They were told it would happen, they believed it, it never happened -- and they still believe it's inevitable.
Some people get used to lying to others. Maybe they learn to calm their amygdalas in order to do that. But why do some people get used to being lied to? Why doesn't it ever occur to them that they keep believing the sky is falling, even though it never falls?
Does some part of the brain get used to being overstimulated? Are these people simply accustomed to fear? Do they enjoy it? Would they miss it if it went away?
Scientists, we await your analysis. Please let us know.