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The Many Ways We Lie to Ourselves

Shahram Heshmat Ph.D.

By Shahram Heshmat Ph.D.Science of Choice

Posted Aug 29, 2017 on

Everyone is in denial about something. Self-deception, or lying to yourself, is simply a motivated false belief. False beliefs can satisfy important psychological needs of the individual (e.g., confidence in one’s abilities). The following are some of the lies we tell ourselves.

1. Ignorance is bliss.

One of the most difficult problems in sustaining goals is how to persist in the face of negative feedback. Strategic ignorance can help to achieve persistence. How? Avoid information sources that could demotivate you (Benabou and Tirole 2002). For example, someone who says “till death do us part” during the marriage ceremony need not be aware of the divorce statistics.

2. Reality denial.

Denial is a psychological defense we all use against external realities to create a false sense of security. Denial can be a protective defense in the face of unbearable news (e.g., cancer diagnosis). In denial, people say to themselves, “This is not happening.” For instance, alcoholics insist they have no drinking problem.

3. Overconfidence.

Overconfident individuals think that they are blessed, that they are well liked by others, and that they’ll come out on top. (As the bumper stickers state: “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.”) For example, 90 percent of all drivers think they are above average, and 94 percent of professors at a large university were found to believe that they are better than the average professor. Unrealistic optimismcan have significant health consequences. Psychologist Loren Nordgren (2009) found that among a group of people trying to quit smoking, the ones who gave especially high ratings to their own willpower were most likely to fail.

4. Self-handicapping.

This behavior could be considered the opposite of overconfidence. If a person is uncertain about her true ability and afraid to find out what her true ability is, she might refrain from doing the work that might reveal her as having a low ability. In such a case, a successful performance could be attributed to skill, while an unsuccessful performance could be externalized as due to the lack of good preparation.

5. How I like myself to be seen.

People like to be perceived favorably, by themselves and by others, but some personality traits that carry a high social value (altruism and fair-mindedness) are not directly observable to outsiders. Our actions, however, offer a window into our personality and tastes (Benabou and Tirole, 2004). For example, giving money to a panhandler, or changing Facebook profile photos to honor the victims of some new tragedy.

6. Cherry-picking data.

People tend to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them. For instance, people require more information to accept an undesirable idea than they do for a desirable one.

7. Sour grapes.

In Aesop’s fable, the fox tries hard to get his hands on a tasty vine of grapes, but fails in all of his attempts to acquire the grapes; at which point, the fox convinces himself that he really didn’t want those grapes that badly after all. In the presence of dissonance (awareness of different beliefs), the individual feels psychologically uncomfortable and attempts to reduce it. The motive is to maintain a positive self-image.

8. Me and others.

Psychologists use the term attributions (or causes) for people’s explanations of the events in their lives. We tend to attribute our success to our enduring character traits, and our failures to unfortunate circumstances. For example, when we say, “You failed, because you did not try hard enough; I failed, because I had a headache from staying up all night with my son.” An alcoholic may be happy to tell himself he “just cannot help it” in order to have an excuse for persisting.

The key aspect of these lies is that people treat (or search for) evidence in a motivationally biased way. Self-deception can be like a drug, numbing you from harsh reality, or turning a blind eye to the tough matter of gathering evidence and thinking (Churchland, 2013). As Voltaire commented long ago, “Illusion is the first of all pleasure.”


Benabou, R. and Tirole, J. (2004). Willpower and personal rules. Journal of Political Economy, 112(4): 848-886.

Churchland P. (2013) Touching A Nerve. W.W. Norton & Company

Elster J (2009) Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences 2nd Edition. Cambridge University Press

Gloman R et al. (2016) The Preference for Belief Consonance, Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 30, Number 3—Pages 165–188

Nordgren, L. F., Harreveld, F. V., Pligt, J. V. D., (2009) The Restraint Bias: How the Illusion of Self-Restraint Promotes Impulsive Behavior. Psychological Science, 20(12), 1523-1528.

About the Author

Shahram Heshmat, Ph.D.,

Shahram Heshmat, Ph.D., is an associate professor emeritus of health economics of addiction at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

In Print:

Addiction: A Behavioral Economic Perspective


Science of Choice

10 Faulty Thoughts That Occur in Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Explaining Delusional Thinking


The Many Ways We Lie to Ourselves

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    The Nigerian internet bastardization of feminism

    When I wrote about feminism it wasn’t what I see some people do today. 
    Everything I’ve written on and supported have been through careful analysis, deep thinking and reflection after careful research and study. I used to have a large library of books and archives of documents on subjects which I espouse. But today, it seems a lot of people just wake up with their personal issues and find one “ism” to pour it into. When they open their minds to express themselves, you pick nothing intellectual, not one thing to praise as truly a deduction of a well bred mind. And this is wrong. The resultant effect of this is the pure bastardization of a noble cause, of which I am hurt to see evolve into a game of swine battling.
    This is not feminism! Give it a new name.
    Feminism is a cause that seeks the sociopolitical development of the woman. That a woman, like the male counterpart is of her basic right to be treated fairly, just and equitably and that every form of discrimination against persons because of their sex is a primitive wrong that must be done away with.
    What some people do these days on the internet isn’t feminism; at least the one I learned of by thorough reading and research.
    So many people with personal issues are hiding behind the mask of feminism to make a market-square mockery of a beautiful selfless, humanitarian and intellectual cause. We can understand why:
    In psychology, Sigmund Freud the legendary psychologist highlighted what is called “DEFENSE MECHANISM” in psychology. It is simply ways or forms which the unconscious mind expresses itself and it is unknown by the individual. One of such is called “displacement”.
    Put briefly in a lay sense, displacement is when a person channels their bad experiences, frustrations, anger, etc on another object. It is what happens when a person hits a knee on a chair and someone that is behind them gently collides into them, and then they explode at the person, when actually it is the chair they hit their knees into that is the cause of such frustration and explosion at another object. It is another form of aggression transfer.
    It is not unnatural for  females who have suffered abused, rape, unhappy marriages, disappointments from men to unconsciously channel their frustrations and anger into what they regard as feminism. Even though they’re not aware that their subconscious mind is greatly wounded and needs healing. But many of them may deny this and still put up reasons to debunk this. But the truth is that deep down in their subconscious mind, they’re in chaos and they need help and not to assume they’re pursuing a cause. No they are not championing a cause, they’re displaced individuals. And it is not their fault and I don’t blame them. However, I can help if they desire real help. I am gifted in that and I’ve helped so many people heal their minds and pains and put them back to peace and flourish.
    How do you know an individual that is displaced or hiding behind an “ism” to pour out their frustrations? I’ll give a few
    – You get uncontrollably angry and explosive when someone does not agree with your point of view (POV)
    – You think that everyone who disagrees with you is a misogynist, slave or what have you. 
    – you want to throw your standards, which is mostly drawn from bad past experiences as a national standard of the private lives of others
    – You’re happiest and feel well achieved when you vilify others, bully them or what have you if they don’t agree with you or critique you. And of course find great comfort in those who masturbate your ego.
    If you cannot stand anyone criticising your “ism” you are a problem and not a solution. Getting bitter by dissenting views and voices is a sign you’re not a thinker or intellectual revolutionary. You are yet to mature mentally and otherwise.
    A person who is offering knowledge, well reasoned thinking does not have to be bitter. If you’re bitter all the time, it is a sign you’re mentally or emotionally not very well, albeit you look physically fine.   It is nothing to be ashamed of. You’re human and can break down or get out of touch sometimes.
    Well, I can help anyone in need of counselling and mental healing. I won’t judge you, I understand you. Be good, be humane and less bitter.

    The Psychology of Social media 1 : Why are some people aggressive on social media?


    It is not new to the hearing that the social media is a sort of beehive for all manner of individuals. Individuals, as we knnow, are baggage of different personalities.

    In psychology, personality is defined as the configuration of distinctive characteristics, behavior, traits, attitudes etc of an individual which are considerably persistent, distinguishing the individual from another.

    People are on social media for a variety of reasons. As the reasons differ, so do their awareness of such reasons. Some are on social media as a result of boredom, stress, depression, or other terrifying personal issues like sadness, self-esteem, tragedy etc.

    That is not to say all are on social media because they have problems to deal with. We have people on social media purely for the “socialness” of it; for marketing, promotion, networking, exposure or for getting information of latest events. Social psychologists have identified the use of social media as a form of hobby and addiction.

    Humans always drag pieces of their personalities and well being into any social environment. As such, we see the mad, insolent, bitter, smiling face, the carefree, the grandeur, just to name a handful.

    One set of people I do want to draw attention to are the conflict personalities. Observable on social media are those who have hard time keeping an amicable relationship with others

    This is very typical on social media platforms like Facebook, where people interact in a more personal context. Such individuals exhibit behaviours of unnecessary insolence, bitterness, anger and intolerance of opinion of others. They find it difficult to maintain a decent conversation or disagreement with others on social media. They often have no difficulty in the use of abusive and derogatory words.

    What possibly could be the cause of this?

    The reasons are many but top on the list is mental health. Yes, it takes a mentally unhealthy person to have a consistent relationship of conflicts. Fighting and quarreling consistently on social media is a clear sign that one is not socially and mentally healthy.

    Poor mental health is a term people interprete as some kind of break down of brain functions. Not necessarily is the case. One can have good cognitive skills, verbal and articulatory processes but a very terrible social life. Neuroticism can be an instance.

    Neuroticism is a disorder characterized by excessive anxiety. Neurotic individuals are normal people with normal lives. But what is not normal about them is their response to issues. It is difficult to be neurotic and maintain healthy relationships. This pervades into the social media. Neuroticism comes with the gift of temperamental imbalance, accompanied by undisciplined emotions such as carelessness of the tongue, rude remarks, fighting etc. In short, if you’re neurotic, you’ll be blocking people indiscriminately on social media.

    Neurotic personalities on social media have a hard time communicating their opinions, disagreements on subjects with others amicably. Their aggression poisons everything.

    Another reason some exhibit behaviours of conflict is due to personal stressors. This could be marital stress, job stress, family stress etc. These stressors may invariably evolve into frustration. People who are unhappy about their lives will unconsciously project their unhappiness and bitterness at others.

    Research has shown that frustration can increase the probability of an aggressive response. This is very imminent when the frustration is unpleasant.

    However, this is subject to individual differences. Some people have a disciplined ego which keeps their emotions from wandering bitterly against others. But others don’t.

    Self-esteem is another factor. Individuals with low self esteem in real life often resort to social media as a form of compensation for their self esteem and other issues in real life. They may resort to the use of phantom names and photos as a form of anonymity, where they can confidently express themselves or hit on others without fear of retribution- something they are unable to do in real life. Thus, social media is a means for role play for such individuals. It is unsurprising to find that a lot of folks who display unnecessary insolence and tongue-lashing roles on social media are actually shy people who barely can confidently look people in the eyes to speak.

    On the physiological point of view, aggressive behaviour whether physical or verbal can be influenced by certain chemicals known as neurotransmitters. For example serotonin a neurotransmitter that plays a role in inhibiting impulsive aggression, when disrupted, aggressive behaviour becomes increasingly rampant. Research have shown that violent criminals have particularly low levels of serotonin. They same can be said of neurotic individuals. And so, when such individuals come on social media, their physiological disruption in these chemicals like serotonin, will naturally make them act impulsively aggressive at others when not necessary.

    Sometimes when you see a person who is consistent at being unnecessarily bitter, confrontational, angry at others not only on social media but in real life, it may be they are passing through a lot which unconsciously project their nasty attitudes. In cases as this, they are to be understood and be patient with. The use of positive words and appealing to their conscious mind that they are not behaving well can be a good way to sort things out.

    Recommending they see a psychologist is the best option. Resorting to negative responses do not solve the problem.

    However, in cases where the individual is a pure sociopath- individuals who are sadistic, unconcerned about the emotions of others, the best is often to completely avoid them.

    Imoh Son Of David is the author of the best selling book The Ultimate Curse on Mankind.

    10,000 visitors: 2014 Review of Imoh David’s Blog

    The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

    Here's an excerpt:

    The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

    Click here to see the complete report.

    The Charley Boy Versus Governor Rochas Okorocha Show

    In time past it was regarded as impossible for a governor to be arrested in the territory I was thrown into by nature; Nigeria. The thought that the Inspector General of Police can be arrested and jailed was as feasible as the thought that a pastor can refuse calling for a Sunday service offering. It was good as a myth to conceive the possibility that a Senator can be charged for corruption, that high level government officials and contractors can be brought to book and demanded accountability. It was just too difficult to imagine happening in the Nigerian territory because of a long standing culture of impunity. Corruption and the law had a special inseparable relationship like milk and tea, Pastor and offering, fish and water.

    But one day, a man came to feed us with a different reality. He contrasted our reality and began a wild conflict with the status quo. Through him, it was introduced into our reality that an Inspector General of police could be handcuffed in the glaring view of the parrots. Governors were arrested, tried and jailed, the guilty legislators joined the criminals behind bars, Ministers, top office holders were given reception and reservation in the custody of “special landlords”. His feats, however controversial, but it was short-lived. The man Nuhu Ribadu showed us that it is possible to go to jail for stealing public funds and we now know it is possible.

    Nuhu Ribadu cannot be accorded with warmth in such a place where disorder was the order of things, a land where corruption sacked conscience and to not loot in office is to not love your friends and family. He was refused a soft landing; you cannot undertake the feat of trying to educate a pig with cleanliness without her smearing some dirts on you. Nuhu Ribadu learned this in the hard way. We all know his ordeals, he escaped assassinations. For if he was not attempted to be assassinated, it only meant he never did fought any war on corruption. But he was fortunate; he escaped to a faraway land where he could gasp a breath of fresh air. That man remains the most unappreciated public servant in the history of this nation. 2011, Nuhu Ribadu gave the Presidential sit a shot after his return from exile. But we know the fate of men who register enmity with the enemies and the assailants of the people; neither the people whom they desire positive change for or their assailants will grant them easy favour. Not in a place like my country, Nigeria.

    Yes his methods were controversial but successful and reputable when he was the helmsman. In our vary eyes, the commission and vision which he led is now a harlot in the arms of pot belly voracious men. The fearful dog which once barked and everyone took cover is now sick of toothache and of course she has weak bones. We await her burial next year.

    Not to be distracted by the revocation of Nuhu Ribadu’s tale and the fall of the commission he presided in sweet old days. I am most keen on the Charley boy versus Governor Rochas Okorocha of Rivers State. Charley Boy, the son of the late judicial luminary, Justice Oputa, I learned “embarrassed” the governor at his father’s burial. As reported in the Nigerian Media, he sauntered to the podium where the governor was granted speech and snatched the microphone from his hands, insisting on the protocol that no politician be allowed to speak in his father’s burial. What I am disturbed is what the media defines as “EMBARASSING”.

    Just the other day, the convoy of Speaker of the House was insisted to follow protocol on the routine security check at the venue he was billed to speak. In trying times like this where bombs can set-off anywhere and masked men with destructive tools are having their fill, the sight of embarrassment is myopic in the oversight of security. How is the Security operatives insisting on doing their job an embarrassment? What if the Speaker’s car was wired with explosives and unknown to him? Won’t it be a bigger embarrassment if he walked past security operatives just because it was the Speakers car and then later on it is everywhere in the news? I think we deserve what we are getting in this nation. Very terrible to read that he was tendered an apology from one of the “ogas on top”. To insist on protocol is now something to apologize to? We are a sorry bunch, I am shamed.

    Back to Charley boy and the Imo State governor. Charlie Boy like Nuhu Ribadu has began a new trend which I hope will soon be followed. The insistence on protocols is not an embarrassment unless to those who had no intention to respect protocol. Besides, Charley Boy is conveying the irritation of the ordinary Imo citizen. They are all angry with their governor whom they call “The Emir of Imo”. To be given such a title to portray the despotism as democratically elected governor, is a horror. If the microphone can be snatched from him, it is only symbolic of the impatience of the Imo citizens to snatch his tenancy at the government to another man. When protocol is broken, it must be corrected. Failure to do that is to open doors to mediocrity and disorder, and Charlie boy shut the door at executive disorder; it is not an embarrassment.

    People want to get things right in this country. Nobody wants to be accorded some special sympathy to act without check mate. Leaders must be put on order when they misbehave; that is democracy. Well done Charley, well done Imo state, may this fire of revolution never be apologized for or quenched.

    Dreams And Superstitions Pt1

    Dreams and Superstitions Pt 1:

    Sleep paralysis is a condition where a person is temporarily unable to move or speak while asleep or awake. Tell this to a toxic Nigerian believer, he’ll say you’re saying shit, but rather it’s a “SPIRITUAL ATTACK”, that a witch is PRESSING you. Trust the Nigerian preachers they are always ready to feed them with whatever they deem fit, hence, the birth of “DIE BY FIRE AND THUNDER” prayer topics in the pentecostal churches.

    The mind of the highly religious is very toxic and recipient of fear and meaningless superstitions, which is the bulwark of profiteering for the PASTORPRENEURS and PROPHTEFTS. I don’t know if this is replicated in the practice and beliefs of other christians in other countries or its just inherently Nigerian. But to the Nigerian christian (especially the pentecostal), eating in the dream means “spiritual poisoning”, “witchcraft initiation”, etc. Being chased in the dream translates to being under a spiritual attack. And having sexual intercourse means having “spiritual husband and wife” (as the sex maybe), which is hindering one’s progress.

    As ridiculous these things may sound, a vast multitude of believers buy this hokum even though there are no biblical back-ups for such absurdities. The preacher who is in the business of selling imaginary problems and enemies to people in order to sell them a solution is the arbiter of the meaning of dreams. And like a typical capitalistic, he must create a demand for his supply.

    A female friend, sometime ago recounted her ordeal in the hands of pastorpreneurs after she had a dream where she drank a glass of wine. According to her, the 3 different pastors she consulted, gave her 3 different interpretations:

    Pastor A: It is a sign of demonic contract and oath! Wines are symbolic of oaths and that is what the enemy has used to tie you down.
    Solution: 7 days fasting (in church), 7 bottles of olive oils (compulsory to buy the church’s oil cos its BLESSED at an over-inflated price).

    Pastor B: That is your wedding wine. It is a sign that someone is drinking your wedding wine in the realm of the spirit, and that is the reason you cannot marry.
    Solution: 3 days DRY fasting with a bottle of wine, ring, handkerchief, Bride price -50,000 naira (more than 300 dollars for my non-Nigerian friends)

    Pastor C: Have you been paying your tithes? “No pastor” she replied. That is the problem. Wine is a thing of merriment but it cannot come to pass in your life because you haven’t obeyed the word of the lord!
    Solution:(After reading from the book of Malachi on tithes), you have to reconcile and amend with God, ask for forgiveness for cheating him. Then you sow a reconciliation offering and a seed of redemption (reads from the book of Deutronomy and Levitcus to back up this).

    Part 2……..