Do Psychologists Think It's Okay to Lie?
Although parents teach children from an early age not to lie, research suggests that telling a lie now and then may have a functional purpose in life. When observing work, social groups and even family interactions, psychologists have repeatedly found that the truth can sometimes set you back.
Not only that, but lying is more common than you might expect. A 1996 study led by Dr. Bella DePaulo showed that people lie an average of twice per day. Over the course of a week, we lie to roughly one out of every three people with whom we talk to one-on-one.
Society can reward little white lies.
Like it or not, we've created a world where telling the truth does not always get you ahead, and discerning truth from fiction is exceedingly difficult. Lies can actually make it easier to get along with the people around you, evidenced by study results showing that people regularly lie for others' benefits.
DePaulo found that it's quite common for people to lie for no other reason than to make others feel comfortable. Women do this far more often than men, who were found to lie more in order to improve their own reputations. In fact, a conversation between two men typically involves eight times as many lies about themselves than about anything else.
Even people who are told little white lies benefit from the lies. A study published in the April 2012 edition of the Journal of Consumer Research demonstrated that people who were lied to were later treated with more kindness and generosity. It's not that we don't know we're lying; we know, and many times we feel badly enough to let it influence our future behavior.
Detection is difficult.
Despite shows like Lie to Me making it seem easy to discern the truth, most people can't pick up on the difference between honesty and deception. Misconceptions have made this all the more difficult, as people who're consciously lying often do things they're expected to do while telling the truth.
Charles Honts, a psychology professor at University of Idaho, Boise, explained that most people do three things when they're trying to come across as honest: look their conversation partner in the eye, stay calm and blink infrequently. However, there are just as many people who naturally do the opposite when they lie, so people trying to guess someone's guilt or innocence in a conversation are generally wrong half of the time.
Why so many lies?
The ease with which we can mislead one another and the prevalence of lying make dishonesty an element of our society that is not to be ignored. Is lying necessary, however, to succeed? It's hard to tell if that's really the motivation behind most lies, and repeated or major lies can certainly come back to haunt you in your professional and personal life. Instead, evidence overwhelmingly suggests that we lie more for others and for the sake of everyone getting along--instead of getting ahead.