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Scientists discover why people love truth or dare

Truth or dare is a classic schoolyard game that anyone who graduated from the third grade should remember all too clearly.

It’s a simple enough game at first – you choose between answering a hard-hitting question or acting on a dare, as though your choice can make any difference. In all likelihood, the game is probably devised to prepare young children for the inevitability of fate and the illusion of free will – you make your “choice” and find yourself at the whim of someone else no matter what. This idea is further supported by that one kid who would “dare” you to tell the truth about something. That cheating bastard.

The balance between truth and dare in this game makes for an interesting dynamic. At first glance, dare is the more obviously threatening option, as it is not just physically driven, but potentially emotionally as well. You can reveal a fair amount of “truth” about someone with a dare.

However, for those in search of more pointed plays, the thoughtful player will prepare questions for truth. While dares only subtly expose hidden truths about a person, the truth questions can really go for the jugular. And because people will often pick truth rather than dare, having prepared power questions can ensure that the next round, they’ll be opting for the dare. In this way, truth or dare is not unlike chess; to capture a piece (i.e. set up a dare), one must play the long game, one turn at a time.

Put simply, truth or dare is more than just a silly party game for children. It’s a window into the human psyche. And in this way, it’s the perfect tool to tear down the boundaries between people.

There are few ways to get to know someone like a game of truth or dare. In our interactions with people, rarely do we actually talk with the person in front of us. Both parties have set up a face, a finely tuned persona designed to buffer the stress that is revealing who we truly are to the world. Checkout lines at coffee shops, conversations at first dates, even time spent with coworkers and friends can be dances between these disguises.

However, in truth or dare, there are no facades – at least not by the end of the game.

Done correctly, a game of truth or dare can shatter the invisible walls between people. And while this may seem scary, not unlike truth or dare itself, this is ultimately a good thing. This is why children play this game – they feel the falsehood of the world they live in yet don’t yet fully understand, so they vet their peers for answers. Why is this person reluctant to be honest about themselves? Why are they so averse to letting go of inhibitions for a harmless dare? And when challenged myself, can I be any better?

Valuable lessons can be learned in every game of truth or dare, be it about the players individually or society as a whole. As adults, we have much to relearn from the games we played in grade school. There’s a reason why truth or dare has proven to be among the best icebreakers on dating sites – dating culture is rife with these barriers that truth or dare can break effortlessly.

Whether it’s by playing the game literally or simply keeping it in the back of your mind, we could all use a little truth or dare in our lives. Demand the truth and back down from no dare. Live life unflinchingly honestly, and press others to do the same.

Next week, we’ll be examining how hopscotch is an allegory for the American Dream.