Blue Lies Are Why You Can't Talk Politics With Some People

Let's say you have a friend who roots for the Minneapolis Mollusks, while you're for the St. Paul Seacows all the way. At last night's game, one of the Mollusks blatantly fouled the Seacow's star player, but your friend won't admit it happened. What's more, neither will any of the other members of the Mollusks fan club. How can they deny seeing something so obvious? The answer is that they are telling blue lies—falsehoods meant to reinforce the bonds within a group and keep others out.

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Learning To Lie

As it turns out, we all learn to tell lies at a pretty young age. Around age 3, kids figure out that their parents can't actually read minds, and they start telling black lies (that is, lies for self-gain) such as "I didn't eat the chocolate chips." Later, around age 7, their developing sense of empathy leads to white lies, such as "I like your drawing." As these nuances develop, they are learning the entire time about blue lies, and a new study shows that, the older they get, the more likely they are to participate in these lies.

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Groups of children ages 7, 9, and 11 were asked to assemble a team of four Chinese chess players—two experienced players, and two novices. Every class decided to break the rules without prompting from the experimenter, but later, when asked if they had done as instructed, the older children were much more likely to lie for the group than the younger kids. As it turns out, those same groups were also less likely to tell lies for their self benefit, suggesting that a growing sense of morality is linked to these kinds of lies—but don't take that to mean that it's a good deed.

How Lying For The Group Hurts Us All

The phrase "blue lies" allegedly originates in cases when police officers would cover for the department or fabricate evidence to ensure the state's case. In that sense, it's pretty easy to see how these kind of lies are detrimental to society. They can also come into play in the political arena. We've all seen it in action—a politician can get away with a lot more falsehoods when he's speaking to supporters than he can otherwise. That's because those lies either reinforce the beliefs the group holds dear, or because they demonize those outside of the group. Again, it's clear how this hurts society. When political parties traffic mostly in lies, the gap between them grows insurmountable. That's why it's so important to hold each other accountable for the lies we tell, even if those lies benefit us or those we identify with.

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Written by Curiosity Staff April 7, 2017

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