It’s not your imagination: The pace of President Trump’s lying has accelerated. In the first 100 days of his presidency, Trump made 4.9 false claims a day. By May 1 the count was up to 9 Trump lies a day, according to the Fact Checker blog at the Washington Post.
At this rate, Trump could make 19 false claims every day by the end of his term, say a pair of psychologists who looked into possible reasons behind the increase.
Tali Sharot and Neil Garrett considered the possibility that the president had to tell more lies to cover up previous untruths, or that lying had positive consequences, encouraging more of it.
Why are the Trump lies accelerating?
But they said the president’s behavior could most likely be explained by research they published in 2016 in the journal Neuroscience: A concept called emotional adaptation. Basically, emotions are what prevent us from lying all the time; we may feel shame or discomfort after fibbing. But the researchers found that frequent liars have less and less emotional response to their untruths.
“Repeated dishonesty is a bit like a perfume you apply over and over,” say Sharot and Garrett in an op-ed for NBC News. “At first you easily detect the powerful scent of a new perfume. But over time and with more applications you can hardly sense its presence, so you apply more liberally. This happens because neurons in your olfactory bulb desensitize to the smell of the perfume. Similarly, it appears that our response to our own acts of dishonesty is strong at first, but over time decreases.”
A side effect of the increasing Trump lies
And the audience for the lies can become desensitized too, which just encourages more lying. “People are less likely to criticize the unethical actions of others when such behavior increases gradually over time,” say Sharot and Garrett. “Politically speaking, this suggests that voters (and perhaps even the president’s own advisors) may desensitize to the president’s falsehoods in the same way that they do to overused perfume, making them less likely to act to correct this pattern of behavior. The absence of sanctions could in turn be interpreted as a ‘green light’ by the president.”
If that’s the case, Trump cranked the top down and blew through a city’s worth of perceived green lights in his rally in Nashville last Tuesday: In a campaign appearance for Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn, Trump told 35 lies in one speech.