Lying liars lie!

Posted on 31 January 2013

Telling the truth about lying

So what does science say about lying?

 Lying makes you feel dirty. For a 2010 study, Norbert Schwarz, of the University of Michigan psychology department, asked participants to imagine they were competing for a job, and then falsely deny that they had found a document that would help a competitor. Afterwards, as part of a purported marketing survey, the people rated mouthwash, hand sanitizer and other products. Participants who lied on the phone felt a stronger desire for mouthwash; those who lied on e-mail favored hand sanitizer. “This study shows how ‘concrete’ the metaphorical links are between abstract and concrete domains of life,” Schwarz said via press release. “Not only do people want to clean up after a dirty deed, they want to clean the specific body part involved.”1

 Not lying makes you healthy. Telling the truth when tempted to lie can significantly improve mental and physical health, according to a 2012 study. “Recent evidence indicates that Americans average about 11 lies per week. We wanted to find out if living more honestly can actually cause better health,” said Anita Kelly, professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame in a press release. “We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies, and that in turn was associated with significantly improved health.” Weekly self-reports of mental and physical health for both the control group and the group instructed to stop telling lies improved if they told fewer lies. The link was stronger for the no-lie folks, who also began to see themselves as more honest during the 10-week experiment.

 Writing lies leaves traces. A 2009 study at the University of Haifa, Israel, found differences in pen movement and pressure when people wrote the truth compared to fiction. Study participants who were asked to lie pressed harder on the pen, and altered the height and length of their letters. The researchersconcluded that liars spend more mental effort controlling behavior that is normally automatic, altering the mechanics and outcome of writing.

 Some parents “parent by lying.” American parents often say “honesty is the best policy,” but they often lie to their kids, according to research2 by Gail Heyman, professor of psychology at the University of California San Diego. In one case, a mother told her child that if he didn’t finish all of his food he would get pimples. College students told the researchers their parents had lied to them yet proclaimed that lying was wrong. “We are surprised … even the parents who most strongly promoted the importance of honesty with their children engaged in parenting by lying,” co-author Kang Lee, of the University of Toronto, said in a press release.

You may miss an online lie. In a recent study of online dating3, Catalina Toma, an assistant professor of communication arts at University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that would-be daters tended to skirt topics like weight or age that they’d lied about in their online profile, probably trying to deflect attention from the lie. The mental demands of concocting untruths likely explained the comparative brevity of liar’s self-descriptions. The study found that software, but not living humans, could sort legit profiles from phonies.

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