The Truth About Self-Deception

By: Krystina Murphy

What is Self-Deception?

The action or practice of allowing oneself to believe that a false or invalidated feeling, idea, or situation is true.
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Example of Self Deception:

  • We all like to travel but some people decide to travel when things go wrong in the town they live in. Those people might have failed to succeed there or might have failed to develop good relationships with the people around them and that's why they decide to escape. But again because escapement feels bad self deception comes to save the day. The person might lie to himself by claiming that he loves to travel while in fact he loves to escape.

Experimental Study Showing How Self-Deception Works:

What were the participants asked to do?

---> They gathered 38 students who were told they were going to take part in a study about the “psychological and medical aspects of athletics”. But, what the participants didn't know is what they were being asked to do was different from what they were actually testing was the ability to trick them into thinking the duration of the time that they could submerge their arm under cold water would give them their diagnostic of their health status.

What the participants did?

--->The participants were first asked to plunge their arms into cold water for as long as they could. (Most participants lasted a duration of 30-40 seconds). Then they were given tasks that pertained to athletics so that the study seemed accurate on what they were testing, at least, to the participants.


---> The researches told the participants that there are two types of hearts:

  1. 1. Type I heart: associated with poorer health, shorter life expectancy and heart disease.
  2. 2. Type II heart: associated with better health, longer life expectancy and low risk of heart disease.
  3. Half were told that people with Type II hearts have increased tolerance to cold water after exercise while the other half that it decreased tolerance to cold water. This was still part of the study; these results weren't accurate.
  4. Then, they were tested again after being told about the different types of heart and people who thought it was a sign of a healthy heart to hold their arms underwater for longer did just that, while those who believed the reverse all of a sudden couldn’t take the cold.

  5. After the test?
  6. ---> The participants were asked who had rigged the experiment: 29 denied and 9 confessed, but however, they didn't confess by telling the truth. They used lies (self-deception) to excuse it. Such as, the water had changed temperature, which it hadn't. However, of the 29 deniers, 60% believed they had the healthier type of heart, and for the confessors only 20% thought they had the healthier heart. What this suggests is that the deniers were more likely to be truly deceiving themselves and not just trying to cover up their deception. They really did think that the test was telling them they had a healthy heart.
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    Self-Deception in Class:

    Have we covered topics of self-deception in class?

    Yes. The story about the elementary kids when the teacher had told her students that the color of you eyes determined your obedience. She saw quickly that the children who eyes were of the most obedient color, blue, were more well-mannered, while the kids who were told were the trouble makers, brown eyes, were acting as if they were rebellious. She then came in and said she had made a mistake, and blue eyes were actually the trouble makers, and she saw that the manners of the children had swapped instantly being told that.

    Is there self-deception in class?

    Yes. Examples would be using excuses to get out of things, and constantly using them to help the one using the excuses cope.

    Why Do People Deceive Themselves?

    • It typically happens on the unconscious level; helps a person full-fill a goal
    • Main psychological balance
    • To Protect their ego
    • Don't want to feel inadequate
    • To cope

    How Can You Protect Yourself From Self-Deception?

    • The easiest way to protect yourself from self-deception is to be honest with yourself
    • Don't tell yourself or others little "white" lies
    • Find other coping techniques
    • Stay away from, "I can't", "But", "What if", etc
    • Recognize the problem
    • Get help if needed