60-Second Science

Big Liars Are Truthful about Lying

Frequent fibbers, who tend to get high scores on tests measuring psychopathic traits, openly admit their untrustworthy tendency. Sophie Bushwick reports

Most of us are pretty truthful—and even tall tale tellers tell the truth about lying. Wait, what?

In a survey, more than 500 Amsterdam psychology students reported how often they lied. Forty-one percent said they told no lies, 51 percent told one to five lies per day, and eight percent told six or more lies a day. All told, a mere five percent of the students were responsible for 40 percent of the lies.

The study is in the journal Human Communication Research. [Rony Halevy, Shaul Shalvi and Bruno Verschuere, Being Honest About Dishonesty: Correlating Self-Reports and Actual Lying]

Ah, but how can we be sure the participants were honest about lying?

The researchers asked some of the students to play games for a cash reward. Lying could earn them extra money. But they did not know that researchers could tell when they cheated.

And the big cheaters were the liars who admitted that they fibbed. Their honesty suggests they feel little remorse about lying. Which jibes with tests that find that liars tend to get higher scores for psychopathic traits. And that’s the truth.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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