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The Science Behind the Little White Lie

We all lie at one time or another. Whether you are embellishing stories about your crazy college adventures, or telling your significant other how wonderful her (or his) meatloaf is, little white lies are something we are so good at many times we aren’t even fully aware that we are doing it. So, is there really any harm to these tiny fibs?

Stick to the Truth

According to a brand new study, it might be better to stick to the truth, at least for your health.  The “Science of Honesty” study, which was presented by researchers of the University of Notre Dame at the American Psychological Association’s 120th Annual Convention in Florida, found a link between telling the truth and gaining better overall physical and mental health.  
On average, Americans tell “little white lies” around 11 times each week.  If we all made the effort to lie less and tell the truth more often, would there be any benefits, aside from being an Honest Abe?  That’s what the study set out to find out.

Details of the Study

The team of researchers enlisted 110 people for the study, from all walks of life. Subjects included 63 percent women, 87 percent Caucasian, four percent African-American, four percent Hispanic, and three percent Asian-American.  Thirty-four percent of the group was comprised of adults, with the rest being college students.  The average age of the entire study sample was 31, but the ages ranged between 18 and 71. Regardless of income situations, almost everyone consistently told white lies.  

Stretched out over the course of 10 weeks, the 110 people were split into two even groups. One group was told to stop telling all lies for the entire duration of the 10 weeks, while the other half was not given any special instruction.  Each week, the groups completed health and relationship measurements, and took a polygraph test at the laboratory to find out how many lies (both major and minor) they told that week.  

What Did They Find?

At first, results were hard to notice.  After a few weeks though, the no-lying group was experiencing a distinguished, significant improvement in mental and physical health. This group was telling at least three lies less than they used to, and they had fewer complaints regarding tension, stress, and melancholic feelings.  Interestingly, they also experienced fewer headaches and sore throats than their counterparts in the lying group.  

By the end of the study, the participants in the no-lie group were seeing improvements in their personal relationships and social interactions and found it easier to be more honest.  

Certainly, more research needs to be done to determine conclusively what effect lying has on a person’s mental and emotional health. In fact, this study is so new that it hasn’t even been submitted for scientific review, though publication is expected later this year.  

Regardless, the lesson learned here can be valuable. Next time you’re on the verge of telling a mis-truth, you might want to think twice – if not in regards to your health, then in respect for the person on the receiving end.

Cited Sources

"Lying Less Linked to Better Health." ScienceDaily.com. ScienceDaily, 4 Aug. 2012. Web. 23 Aug. 2012. <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120806093944.htm>.

Blanchard, Kathleen, RN. "What Does Telling Lies Have to Do With Health?" EmaxHealth.com. N.p., 7 Aug. 2012. Web. 23 Aug. 2012. <http://www.emaxhealth.com/1020/what-does-telling-lies-have-do-health>.

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