What habitual liars should know about their brains.

They say each lie is easier than the last.

Let's try it out.

I had a bagel for breakfast this morning. I am completely happy with my diet. My loan and rent payments are — deep breath — entirely reasonable. I am totally fine with ... how this political season ... has ... gajsdfasdjfklsadf.


Photo from iStock.

Damn it. I can't do it.

But there is a well-known idea that little white lies can eventually snowball into giant ones. (For reference, consider any romantic comedy movie, ever.)

So scientists from University College London decided to see if lies really spin out of control like we think they do.

To test this, they made people play a lying game, and scientists watched their brains.

The game was pretty simple: The player's task was to look at a jar of pennies and try to tell a friend how many pennies there were. They'd each get a prize based on their guesses. Sometimes the prizes would be better if they cooperated, but sometimes the player would get better prizes if they lied to their friend.

While this was all happening, the scientists used a type of brain scan called an fMRI to watch the activity in the person's brain.

If the player lied, a region of their brain called the amygdala would light up on the scans.

The amygdala is kind of like an emotional control booth in our brains. It lights up whenever something makes us feel an intense emotion, such as learning your child bought an alligator.

Photo by iStock.

The scientists saw that same emotional center light up when a person told a lie.

But the amygdala didn't always stay lit up and that's the interesting part of this story.

Each time a person told a self-serving lie, their amygdala reacted a little less. And larger drops in activity predicted an increase in the size of the person's lies.

So if the amygdala controls emotion, and we see less activity after repeated lying, that means...

Repeated lies might blunt the brain's emotional response.

At least, that's what the scientists are speculating. (They're a little cautious about making a big statement just yet.) They think that the first time we lie, our amygdala produces a strong emotional response, such as shame or guilt. The more you lie, however, the less the amygdala protests. Basically, the more you lie, the easier it is for you to keep lying.

However, the scientists didn't see the same pattern when the lie actually benefited the player's friend — just when it screwed them over.

So those little white lies we tell to protect our friends? Those stay with us. But the lies we tell to serve ourselves? Those can get so easy, we don't even feel them.

Scientists think this could also teach us new things about decision-making in general too, but they need to do a bit more research on that line of thinking.

"We only tested dishonesty in this experiment, but the same principle may also apply to escalations in other actions such as risk taking or violent behavior," study author Neil Garrett said in a statement.

Let's try this lying thing again...

I did not eat pizza last night. I am definitely not currently bingeing my way through Luke Cage. The traffic in my city is — eye twitch — fine. Just fine. And I am definitely not freaking out about climate change. Nope. Not at all.

I did it! Take that, amygdala.

Family

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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