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Ten Somewhat Unexpected Truths About Lying and Liars

George O’Leary’s lies cost him the Notre Dame coach’s job in 2001 and lying about his resume cost Yahoo CEO, Scott Thompson his job.

Yet how common is lying?

Truth One

How often do most of us lie? About every 10 minutes. Not you, of course, which may be a lie. Most of us lie to grease the wheels of social compatibility, or so we tell ourselves.

Social psychologist Robert Feldman believes, “It’s tied in with self-esteem.”

Truth Two

Knowing when to say something and not be completely blunt is in fact a social skill,” Feldman said. “We don’t want to hear hurtful things, so a person who is totally honest may not be as popular as someone who lies. This is not to say lying is a good thing, but it is the way the social world operates.

More bizarrely people who lie tend to be more popular.

Truth Three

Lying is so common that people often don’t realize they’re doing it.”

“Deception is rampant” Allison Kornet, noted in a Psychology Today article that explored lying by people in the public eye, including politicians like Newt Gingrich, the young monk who falsely accused Cardinal Bernardin of molestation and “Joe Klein, the Newsweek columnist who adamantly swore for months that he had nothing to do with his anonymously-published novel Primary Colors.”

Truth Four

“Both men and women lie in approximately a fifth of their social exchanges lasting 10 or more minutes; over the course of a week they deceive about 30 percent of those with whom they interact one-on-one.”

Truth Five

Guess who lies more convincingly. Boys or girls?

Truths Six to Nine

Social psychologist, Bella DePaulo and fellow researchers found that:

• Lying is more common in phone calls than in face-to-face chats. Relatedly we are more candid when texting than when we say things aloud.

• One lie in seven was discovered–as far as the liars could tell.

• A tenth of the lies were merely exaggerations, while 60 percent were outright deceptions.

• More than 70 percent of liars would tell their lies again.

Truth Ten

Ironically, those who see themselves as emotionally intelligent tend to be poor at spotting liars.

~   ~   ~   ~

DePaulo offers these insights on how to tell if your spouse is lying and Feldman’s suggestions for how to spot a liar.

~ ~ ~ ~

Soon after I wrote this post I got a review copy of Dan Ariely’s new book, out June 5, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, and thought two insights might be of interest. Ariely offers this summary of the research he and his colleagues conducted:

“Everybody has the capacity to be dishonest, and almost everybody cheats—just by a little. Except for a few outliers at the top and bottom, the behavior of almost everyone is driven by two opposing motivations. On the one hand, we want to benefit from cheating and get as much money and glory as possible; on the other hand, we want to view ourselves as honest, honorable people. Sadly, it is this kind of small-scale mass cheating, not the high-profile cases, that is most corrosive to society.”

Ariely also describes some of the situations that spurred college students (their study subjects) to cheat including:

“Having another student in the room who was clearly cheating. … Other factors that increased the dishonesty of our test subjects included knowingly wearing knockoff fashions, being drained from the demands of a mentally difficult task and thinking that ‘teammates’ would benefit from one’s cheating in a group version of the matrix task.

These factors have little to do with cost-benefit analysis and everything to do with the balancing act that we are constantly performing in our heads.”

We cheat just enough to feel good suggests Dan Ariely in discussing his new book.

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