Telling fewer lies tied to improved relationships, too, according to study
Telling the truth when tempted to lie can significantly improve a person’s mental and physical health, according to a “Science of Honesty” study presented at the recent American Psychological Association’s 120th Annual Convention.
“Recent evidence indicates that Americans average about 11 lies per week. We wanted to find out if living more honestly can actually cause better health,” said lead author Anita E. Kelly, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame. “We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies, and that in turn was associated with significantly improved health.”
Kelly and co-author Lijuan Wang, PhD, also of Notre Dame, conducted the honesty experiment over 10 weeks with a sample of 110 people, of whom 34 percent were adults in the community and 66 percent were college students. They ranged in age from 18 to 71 years, with an average age of 31. The just-completed study has not yet undergone peer review and has yet to be published.
Approximately half the participants were instructed to stop telling major and minor lies for the 10 weeks. The other half served as a control group that received no special instructions about lying.
Both groups came to the laboratory each week to complete health and relationship measures and to take a polygraph test assessing the number of major and white lies they had told that week.
Those who told fewer lies in each group experienced fewer mental health complaints and improved physical health, as well as closer interpersonal relationships, and after five weeks of honest effort reported seeing themselves in a more truthful light.
So, for better health, it appears that honesty is, indeed, the best policy.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry offers tips on children and lying.
Research presented at scientific meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.