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A few productive liars give the rest of us a bad name

11 Nov. 2021 – Zero. This is the number of lies many of us tell on a typical day, according to a new study published in Communication monographs.

The average of two lies a day is severely distorted, scientists say, because it seems like a handful of people lie every time they open their mouths. The rest of us are honest Abes.

Most research on our lies is based on snapshots of dishonesty in a single moment. This outcome can be severely distorted by unusual circumstances that encourage us to be unobtrusively true or deceptive. For a clearer picture of how honest – or dishonest – we can really be, scientists asked 632 college students to keep daily journals for 3 months, and record every lie they tell.

In total, participants recorded a total of 116,366 lies, with the daily number of falsehoods ranging from 0 to 200.

Investigators have investigated these lies in different ways. The main question researchers asked was how many times participants had lied in the past 24 hours. One on any given day, 63.4% of students encountered at least one lie, but 36.6% of them recorded that they did not tell lies at all.

An elite group of liars, in the top 1% for falsehoods, also had the most variation from one day to the next in the number of lies they told. For these elite liars, the variation around their daily averages was 22.8 lies, compared to 1.5 for most people in the study who typically told only one or two lies a day.

Most of the students had a handful of bad days when they told more lies than usual. And most weeks during the study, the day fell with the highest average number of lies on a weekend. In summary, these findings suggest that lying is situations, and something most of us can avoid whenever we want.

College students tend to be less honest than older adults, the study team notes. But the results still suggest that most people caught in a lie can have a day off – and not necessarily dishonestly as a matter of fact.

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