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It is easier to find a unicorn riding a rainbow than someone who has never lied or been lied to during the entirety of their lifetime.
Lying and cheating have become so normalized in today’s world that most people would do it without batting an eyelash.
Lying can mean warping the truth, telling falsehoods, or even omitting some aspects of the truth in your favor. Cheating can have different levels too, and it does not summarize having sex.
The truth is cheating and lying almost always go hand in hand.
But they each have their own complicated reasons that run deep in our psyche. Nonetheless, they are both deceitful acts that are potentially harmful to the receiver and the liar/cheater.
Cheating and lying ruin the foundation of any relationship and ensure its demise since they break the trust that exists between two people.
Although some might argue that lying is an instinctive behavior, there is no moral justification for this action.
There are plenty of reasons why an individual might entertain himself/herself by lying and cheating at the expense of other people, but there are deep psychological roots that can explain why people lie and cheat.
The cheating and lying that we discuss here are not only limited to relationships but any kind of interaction among people.
If you are interested in finding out more about the nexus of reasons for cheating and lying, in other words finding the psychology behind cheating and lying continue reading this article.
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The Psychology Behind Cheating And Lying [2024 Research]
1. The Role of Personality Traits in Cheating and Lying
Although lying and cheating are conscious acts and the person who commits them willingly chooses to take this course of action instead of any other option, psychologists believe that like many other behavioral patterns, there are defining personality traits that could be affecting us, leading us to follow a pattern of lying and cheating.
Until recently, there were only five personality traits that could define an individual’s behavior.
But now, the “Honesty-Humility” factor is introduced to the equation by researchers at the University of Koblenz-Landau in Germany.
After experimentation, they realized that the subjects with lower Honesty-Humility factors were more likely to lie for their own benefit.
This might not be a shocking outcome since anyone could conclude that people who are less honest, tend to lie and cheat.
Yet, in another study, we have a more in-depth look at the personality traits that are associated with various forms of lying.
In this study, which was published in 2020, the correlation between lying and the personality factors of self-esteem, openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism was examined.
The researchers concluded that no matter the type of lie, be it altruistic, self-serving, or vindictive, the people with higher levels of self-esteem, openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, and agreeableness, were less likely to lie, while the correlation between neuroticism and lying was positive.
In simple terms, individuals who have more self-esteem and extraversion, and are more open, conscientious, and agreeable, have lower chances of lying.
Additionally, another article which was published in 2020, discusses some dark personality traits as predictors of infidelity.
The researchers examined the power of three malevolent personality traits (narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism) against light triad personality traits (Kantianism, humanism, and faith in humanity) and came to the conclusion that in the battle of dark and light, the people with more dominant malevolent personality traits are potentially more prone to cheating on their partners.
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2. The Impact of Social Norms on Cheating and Lying
The relationship between social norms and cheating and lying is a very complex one.
Social norms usually require people in the community to be honest and truthful, but we can see that not everyone is happy to follow this simple guideline.
In fact, in most cases, we witness a striking difference between descriptive norms and injunctive norms.
Injunctive norms are the expectations we have of people’s behavior in communities, and descriptive norms are their actual behavior in social settings.
More often than not, we watched the existing paradox between descriptive norms and injunctive norms, and lying and cheating are one of those examples.
Injunctive norms demand people be honest and faithful, but each of us can name a handful of people in our circle who violated this rule.
In a recent study, researchers tried to discover the impact of social norms on dishonesty across various societies.
This 2022 study shows that when the social norms are stricter regarding honesty and are more insistent in enforcing it, larger fractions of people are more likely to commit societal-level rule violations.
Simply put, when a society severely condemns lying and cheating in any setting, not just moral and ethical, but political and financial as well, the people of that society will cheat and lie to the maximum extent.
The discussion on the impact of social norms on lying and cheating is complicated because when it comes to society, the intervening factor and the settings expand, making it more difficult to isolate events and study them.
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3. The Role of Emotional States in Cheating and Lying
One of the most common reasons for cheating and lying is the emotional state of the person who commits these heinous acts.
The emotional states of the people who are in a relationship could be the primary motivation for being unfaithful.
The role of emotional states is more prevalent in romantic relationships than in any other form of interaction.
In relationships, when a rift is created through a lack of intimacy, constant conflicts, or any other reason, emotionally mature adults choose to communicate with each other and repair the relationship, or if it is beyond repair, leave it with mutual consent.
However, emotionally immature individuals would rather run away from difficult conversations take the easy way and gratify their emotional needs by jumping into another relationship.
Infidelity and the consequent lies that follow it might stem from the unstable emotional state of the unfaithful partner.
Moreover, when the emotional foundations of a relationship are rattled, the cheater could cheat in a number of ways.
Cheating in a relationship is not always synonymous with sleeping with another person.
In the case of emotional neglect, forming an intimate emotional attachment with someone who is not your partner could mean cheating.
If you are in a gray situation with your partner and you are wondering if you are emotionally cheating on your partner, you can ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I fantasize about having a romantic relationship with the new person rather than my partner?
- Do I lie about my relationship with the new person to my partner?
- Do I compare them together?
- Do I share and confide in the new person rather than my partner?
If your answers were mostly yes, you are probably cheating emotionally on your partner and you must muster up the courage to have a real talk with your partner.
There are many people whose lying and cheating are pathological behaviors and come from a degree of narcissism and psychopathy.
For these people, the role of emotional states is either negligible or altogether nonexistent.
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4. The Influence of Situational Factors on Cheating and Lying
Once again, it is important to remember cheating and lying are not limited to relationships and one can lie and cheat in any situation, i.e. social, financial, political, etc.
For example, take cheating on an exam.
You might think it won’t hurt anyone and it’s just a harmless act, but cheaters often transfer this habit into their working environments after graduation, which could result in demotivating their hardworking and honest colleagues.
Even when it comes to infidelity and cheating in relationships, one of the most common excuses of cheaters is that it was a mistake and it only happened once because of the situation they were in.
But are situational factors that powerful?
While the points we mentioned above are considered some of the basic factors that could influence people’s lying and cheating behavior, a situation can also push someone into telling a lie or cheating.
Humans usually have certain motives when they decide to lie, which are:
- Evading punishment
- Getting attention
- Getting rewards
- Getting sympathy
- Preserving self-image
- Protecting oneself or others
In high-stakes situations, people are potentially more likely to lie since the final result would be more valuable.
So, when a student cheats on the SATs, or a candidate lies to get hired for a position with an incredibly high salary, their situation is one of the factors that makes the opportunity to lie and cheat more precious.
So, in short, we can say that situational factors can in fact influence people to lean on lying and cheating to gain their desired reward.
But we must not forget that they are not the only factors and the final decision depends on the aforementioned factors of personality, social norms, and emotional states as well.
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5. The Psychology of Rationalization and Justification for Cheating and Lying
Now that we understand the factors that could affect an individual and cause them to lie or cheat, let’s take a look at another aspect of the psychology of cheating and lying.
What happens after you catch someone cheating or lying? A conscientious person would acknowledge his mistake and seek to redeem himself.
Yet, most people prefer to rationalize and justify their affairs, lies, and mistakes.
These people usually try to sell you the reasons they use to justify their actions for themselves.
For example, unfaithful people who have extramarital relationships, justify their actions by saying that this affair filled an emotional hole in them, that the affair sparked life in their dull and depressing life, that the affair could help their marriage, or they had fantasies that they could only play out with someone other than their partner.
But in any case, lying and cheating are not justifiable.
You could try to rationalize it and explain why you did it, but explaining it would not justify the action. If we consider politics instead of relationships, it becomes more tangible that lying is not justifiable.
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6. Narcissism and Its Connection to Cheating and Lying
As we discussed above, narcissism is one of the dark personality traits and it has a significant role in lying and cheating.
Narcissists have a habit of lying and cheating without any regard for other people.
More specifically, a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can be a weight on the personality factor side of the scales in favor of lying.
Many studies suggest that narcissism and having affairs are positively correlated.
One important thing to remember when dealing with narcissism is that for narcissists, cheating and lying are only the means to an end. It is the thrill of the hunt and the power that drives them.
They are not monsters, but their lack of empathy, thirst for control and power, skills in exploitation and deceit, craving for validation, and constant vigil for new supplies make them quite difficult to deal with.
The true power of narcissists lies in their skills in gaslighting, manipulation, and deception.
They can easily lie and manipulate others, and in most cases, they capitalize on this strength to get what they want.
Sexual conquest is an important thing that most narcissists gravitate toward.
Sexual conquest would satisfy their sense of validation, attention, power, and control.
The moment narcissists discover their partner is in a safe comfort zone, they start looking for new supplies, and in order to do that, they use their web of lies and finally cheat.
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The Consequences of Cheating and Lying on Mental Health
It is false to think that cheating and lying only hurts the other party and not the liar/cheater.
Unless someone is a pathological liar or has personality traits that make him less susceptible to the harms of lying and cheating, liars/cheaters hurt themselves by their actions too.
The psychological damages of cheating and lying are nothing trivial.
On the surface level, a liar/cheater is plagued by shame, guilt, and even depression. If we go deeper, the mental health of the liar/cheater could decline due to the stress and pressure of keeping secrets and not being able to share them, in addition to feeling lonely.
Additionally, lying and cheating could be indicators of low self-esteem.
The person might try to compensate for it by lying or cheating, but they will not medicate him and only sedate him for a while.
In the long term, constant lying and cheating could lead the liar/cheater to face identity crises, dissociation, and more serious mental health issues.
On the other side, the person who has been lied to or cheated on can suffer more.
This person’s trust has been violated and because of it, they might develop trust issues.
In addition, cheating in romantic relationships can cause the partner who was cheated on to be depressed, obsessed, addicted, insomniac, and many other things.
Considering the consequences of lying and cheating in other settings such as educational, professional, financial, or political, the liar/cheater could face serious prosecution since fraud is considered a graver matter than sexual infidelity.
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This is a podcast that is related to our article:
This article tried to look at cheating and lying from a psychological point of view.
Lying and cheating exist around us in many capacities. Although we can call them fraud, plagiarism, having an affair, propaganda, etc.
In nature, they are lying and cheating and as a society, we must try to reduce them.
Punishments are mostly in place to discourage such behaviors, but it seems like they only train more skillful liars and cheaters.
To stop this cycle, we must focus on education.
Educating children from a young age about the consequences of lying and cheating, is not to induce fear of punishment, but to encourage empathy, and increase their knowledge about the consequences of lying and cheating on their mental health.
In the end, remember that when it comes to cheating and lying, many factors play various roles and this makes things overly complicated.
So, if you really want to reach the bottom of why someone lies or cheats, you must dig deep and consider everything.