As much as we say we detest people lying to us, most of us stretch the truth an average of three times during a 10-minute conversation. “The reason most people give for telling little white lies is that it’s polite, and they themselves don’t always want to hear the truth if it’s disagreeable and painful,” says Robert Feldman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who uncovered this high level of conversational fibbing.
So, when does the truth hurt and when do we actually prefer a little alternative reality?
1. The Pinocchio Effect
A recent study at the University of Wisconsin found that politicians who lie are longer winded that those who keep their statements brief. This "Pinocchio Effect" study used linguistics software to analyze more than 500 statements already vetted as true or false. The New York Times recently fact-checked 70 statements by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump and other 2016 candidates, and rated three-quarters of Trump's statements as "Mostly False, False or 'Pants on Fire' (we reserve this last designation for a claim that is not only inaccurate but also ridiculous)." The good news, according to a recent study, is that many of us are embarrassed that we like liars: Voters are far more likely to say they support Donald Trump if they answer in an online poll instead of a live telephone interview.
2. The Truth Can Ruin Your Appetite
A recent poll on the Zagat Survey's website asked restaurant goers if they like to see nutritional information on menus, and over 68 percent said, "No thanks!” As CEO Tim Zagat explains, “Many people dine out for entertainment and pleasure; therefore, they are less inclined to calorie count or obsess over the nutritional information. Patrons who are health conscious are already aware of what dishes are in line with their diets."
3. If You Love Me, You’ll Lie to Me
“Children receive mixed messages in this society—we punish them for lying but tell them it’s rude to say they don’t like a Christmas gift,” says Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., who headed a study on liars at the University of Virginia, in which college students reported lying to their parents at least 50 percent of the time. “The result," she says, "is that they grow up lying to us and justify it by saying it’s to spare our feelings.”
4. Falling in Love with Lies
Not only do people routinely lie to each other when dating but, surprisingly, many people accept deception as a routine part of the courting ritual. DePaulo surveyed 147 people age 18 to 71 and found that 100 percent of dating couples copped to lying to their beloved at least a third of the time. Feldman, who has also studied deception between the sexes, found that women fib more often than men because they don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings, while men are more likely to be stretching the truth to make themselves look better.
Jennifer Haupt is a freelance writer in Seattle, Washington.