28 February 2020

Lie or Be Thought a Liar

Welcome back. Yep, I’m blogging about telling lies again. It’s only been about a month since my last post on lying (Liars, Lies and Lying), but this was too interesting not to share with you (and it’s not about the president).

Most of us care about being or appearing to be honest, right? Yet we sometimes lie. Maybe it’s just to make someone happier--you look fine, when it’s too late to change clothes, the doctor who says there’s always hope, when there is none.

Today’s post reviews a recent study of times we might lie so we don’t appear to be, well, lying. When our results are outstanding, when they seem too good to be true, we may lie about how good they are so we’ll appear honest.

Should you lie if your results are outstanding? (Photo from federalsoup.com/articles/2019/06/26/bill-would-omit-polygraph-requirement-for-certain-cbp-applicants.aspx)
Lying Experiments
Researchers affiliated with The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, University of Chicago and University of California, Los Angeles, conducted a series of experiments on lying to appear honest. The different experiments enlisted from 101 to 225 lawyers and undergraduate students in Israel and the U.S. and from 150 to 532 adult online participants in the U.S. and U.K.

Most of the experiments measured if and how much the participants would lie if some manner of testing gave them perfect rather than average results. Other experiments tested if lying was justified. Would observers judge the participants to be dishonest if their exceptional results were perceived as being too good to be true?

Example Experiments
In one experiment, 115 lawyers were asked to imagine working on a case they had told the client would take between 60 and 90 hours. The lawyers were randomly assigned to one of two outcomes: they ended up working either 60 hours or 90 hours on the case. They then had to report the number of hours they would bill the client.

Most lawyers in the 90-hour condition told the truth; however, 18% underreported, billing fewer than 90 hours. None of the lawyers in the 60-hour condition billed fewer than 60 hours.

In an experiment using computer applications, 225 undergraduates rolled a die 4 times and flipped a coin 8 times, reporting the number of “wins.” The researchers  manipulated the program so that one group got 12 out of 12 wins, while another group got a random number of wins. This experiment was done first with a small monetary award for wins, then repeated with no monetary award.

When no bonus was awarded for wins, 26% of the participants with perfect scores underreported their number of wins. When a bonus was awarded, participants with perfect scores were apparently even more concerned with appearing dishonest; 35% underreported their results.

Wrap Up
Although the desire to appear honest generally leads people to lie less, the study showed that it may cause people to lie more. Those who receive outstanding results in private may report less favorable results in public, so others won’t think they are lying.

Is that concern valid? Do people think those with outstanding results may be lying? Two of the study’s experiments found the more favorable the reported results, the more dishonest the person was judged to be.

Oh, go ahead and be honest. Of course, it won’t hurt to be humble if you score way above average. Thanks for stopping by.

Study on lying to appear honest in Jour. of Experimental Psychology: General: www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/xge-xge0000737.pdf
Article on study on Eurekalert! website: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-01/apa-pml012820.php

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