It seems there is at least one thing liars are honest about: Their lying. A recent study conducted in Israel and the Netherlands found that most people tend to avoid lying, and people who do lie usually admit they do.
The research team of Doctor Shaul Shalvi of Ben Gurion University and Rony Halevy and Bruno Verschuere of the University of Amsterdam gauged the responses of 527 people who were asked how many lies they told in the past 24 hours. Participants were also asked to return for a laboratory assessment that would decide how truthful they had been about how often they lied.
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“We asked participants to report how many lies they told in the last 24 hours, a common way to assess self-reported dishonesty,” explains Shalvi. “We then gave participants the opportunity to privately roll a dice and earn money as a function of the outcome they reported rolling, with higher numbers yielding higher profits. We found a positive relation between self-reports and behavior – the more people said that they had lied in the previous 24 hours, the higher were the numbers they reported on the dice task. The finding indicates that people are to some extent honest about their dishonesty.”
Luck or lie?
On the survey portion of the examination, 41 percent of people who responded said they had not lied throughout the course of the day while five percent of respondents were deemed accountable for around 40 percent of all the lies that were told. The majority of participants who admitted to lying also came out of the dice test with more money. When researchers glanced back over the data, it was decided that the numbers they rolled to accrue so much money were not the result of a series of lucky rolls, but more likely a result of lying.
“We often use people’s self-reports as indicators for how they think or behave. Political surveys are used as an indication of the party people will vote for, or their opinion on a given topic. Psychological assessments as well as various employment selection tools share this idea as well. One behavior which might be tricky to assess is people’s willingness to honestly report how dishonest they are. After all, if one is a liar, this person may claim to be honest. Our study was set to assess whether people are honest about their dishonesty. That is, can self-reported dishonesty tendencies be trusted as an indicator of real dishonest tendencies?” Shalvi adds.
“The fact that participants who indicated lying often actually did lie more often in the dice test demonstrates that they were honest about their dishonesty,” says Verschuere, “It may be that frequent liars show more psychopathic traits and therefore have no trouble admitting to lying frequently.”
According to Shalvi, there are practical applications to the study: “It is important to study the conditions leading people to lie, deceive, or engage in unethical conduct more broadly. Such behaviors are rather costly from a societal perspective. Consider, for example, behaviors like lying when filing an insurance claim, reporting that the TV that was stolen from one’s apartment was just a couple inches larger than it really was. From the individual’s perspective, this seems like a minor lie. Insurance companies however, pay millions of dollars annually for such insurance ‘build-ups’,” he concludes.
The article entitled “Being Honest About Dishonesty: Correlating Self-Reports and Actual Lying” was recently published in Human Communication Research.
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