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Pinocchio's Problem


Explanations > Behaviors > Lying > Pinocchio's Problem

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



Pinocchio's problem is that, when we tell a lie, we often have to tell further lies to cover up the original lie. These additional lies can easily become increasingly complex, and morally more reprehensible.

In this way, a small lie can, if you are challenged further, stray into far bigger and more serious lies. Small lies are often reactions to things they have said or asked, spoken without thought as to how they can cause you more problems later. As a result, we can tangle ourselves up in a web of deceit that traps and exposes us.


Yes, that's really nice. ... I do like it, very much. ... I can't pay now as I don't have my wallet ... How did I pay for this shopping? er...

I didn't do it. ... I was at Jane's. ... Mike might have done it ... Hello Mike. ...


Pinocchio is the famous character from Carlo Collodi's 1883 book of the same name, whose nose grows when he tells a lie. In covering up an original lie, his nose continues to grow until it is very long.

Much lying can result from this problem. We start out with a relatively small or lazy lie, such as when we are trying to avoid work or being blamed for something. We then fear being exposed as a liar and so cover up the lie with other lies, which can easily become more serious than the original lie.

To admit you are wrong or did something you should not have done requires courage to overcome the fear of being criticized. Sometimes also we just do not want to be bothered with the hassle of accusation, and so we take a short-cut to avoiding this by lying. When we lie, we often excuse ourselves by telling ourselves stories, such as 'I don't have the time' or 'They wouldn't understand.'

So what?

When considering a simple lie, pause and think of how easily it could go wrong. When you feel pressured by others, stop before you speak and think what to say rather than letting the first thing that enters your mind come straight out of your mouth.

You can also nudge others into desired actions by provoking them into simple lies and then probe until they have got themselves into a potentially embarrassing situation. You then offer them an easy way out by suggesting they take the action you want. As this changes the subject, they are more likely to grab at this escape.

See also

White Lies, Why We Lie


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