Honesty, a maxim says, is the best policy. This may however account for the findings of a study which show that telling fewer lies or entirely imbibing honesty can contribute to the overall improvement of an individual’s health.
The study was presented to psychology professionals who discovered that telling fewer lies benefits people physically and mentally.
For the “honesty experiment,” 110 individuals aged between 18 and 71, participated over a 10-week period. According to the study, each week, they came to a laboratory to complete health and relationship measures and to take a polygraph test assessing the number of major lies and white lies they had told that week.
A lead author of the study, Anita Kelly notes, “When they went up in their lies, their health went down. When their lies went down, their health improved.”
The psychology professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, further says the researchers instructed half the participants to refrain from telling lies for the 10 weeks that the study lasted.
She states that the instructions were, “Refrain from telling any lies for any reason to anyone. You may omit truths, refuse to answer questions, and keep secrets, but you cannot say anything that you know to be false.”
Also, the research indicates that the other half of the participants-who served as a control group — were not handed such instructions.
Kelly says, ‘‘The study found that over the study period, the link between less lying and improved health was significantly stronger for participants in the no-lie group. As an example, when participants in the no-lie group told three fewer white lies than they did in other weeks, they experienced, on the average, approximately four fewer mental-health complaints and about three fewer physical complaints.’’
According to Kelly, for the control group, when they told three fewer white lies, they experienced two fewer mental-health complaints and about one fewer physical complaint.
‘‘The pattern was similar for major lies. The no-lie group participants were down to one lie, on average, per week. A reduction in the lies of the participants across the 10 weeks of their participation was associated with better physical and mental health in those same weeks when those individuals had engaged in less lying,” she says.
She adds that encouraging some of the participants to lie less made them to see themselves as a more honest and responsible persons when compared to those who were not persuaded to stop lying.
Kelly further states that getting individuals to stop lying also fortifies the nexus between fewer lies and better health to be stronger.
But generally, Kelly reveals that participants in the more honest group told considerably fewer lies across the 10-week study.
The don says, ‘‘By the fifth week, they saw themselves as more honest. For both groups, when participants lied less in a given week, they reported their physical health and mental health to be significantly better that week. And for those in the more truthful group, telling fewer lies led them to report improvement in their close personal relationships. Overall, they reported that their social interactions had gone more smoothly that week.’’
The lecturer stresses that some of the participants, who were encouraged not to lie, gave an explanation on how they did it. She notes that their responses, among others, included discovering that they could just tell the truth instead of exaggerating and refraining from giving fake excuses bordering on why they were late or had failed to carry out certain tasks.
‘‘They gave others to include providing answer to answer puzzling question with another question; changed the topic or be vague; and laugh as if the questions were ridiculous.
People got really good and very proficient at thinking in advance of what they might say if presented with a direct, troubling question. They would think how they could circumvent or leave something out and still be honest without saying something hurtful.”
The study has been presented at the American Psychological Association.
An earlier research which focused on adult lying and conducted by Dr. Bella DePaulo of the University of California, Santa Barbara, had both college students and community members enter a private room equipped with an audiotape recorder.
The lecturer’s team assured them of complete confidentiality, while asking them to recall the worst lies they ever told—inclusive of their ‘scintillating’ details.
“I was fully expecting serious lies,” DePaulo says. “Stories of affairs kept from spouses, stories of squandering money, or being a salesperson and screwing money out of car buyers.”
DePaulo said then that she did not only hear that but also that of theft and even one murder.
According to her, to her surprise, a lot of the stories told were about when the subject was a mere child—and they were not, at first glance, lies of any great consequence.
“One told of eating the icing off a cake, then telling her parents the cake came that way. Another told of stealing some coins from a sibling. As these stories first started trickling in, I scoffed, thinking, “C’mon, that’s the worst lie you’ve ever told?” But the stories of childhood kept coming, and I had to create a category in my analysis just for them. I had to reframe my understanding to consider what it must have been like as a child to have told this lie,” she recalled.
She added that for young kids, their lies challenged their self-righteous concept that they were a good child, who did the right thing.
“We had some who said, ‘I told this lie, I got caught, and I felt so badly I vowed to never do it again.’ Others said, ‘Wow, I never realised I would be so good at deceiving my father, I can do this all the time. The lies they tell early on are meaningful. The way parents react can really affect lying,” she stressed.
DePaulo, however, said many of them spoke on how that momentous lie early in life established a pattern that affected them thereafter.