Meeting new people can spark nervousness and dread in some individuals; it can elicit eagerness and enthusiasm in others. Most of these folks share a surprising trait, however: they lie. According to study results detailed in the current issue of the Journal of Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 60 percent of the participants lied at least once during a 10-minute conversation, and most fibbed two or three times. Furthermore, when confronted with their falsehoods, many subjects did not even realize that they had been telling tall tales.

To probe this form of social lying, Robert S. Feldman of the University of Massachusetts and his colleagues directed 121 pairs of undergraduates to engage in 10-minute conversations. Telling the students only that the study analyzed how people behave when meeting someone new, the team instructed some subjects to appear likable, some to appear competent, and gave no direct instruction to others. The researchers videotaped the subsequent interaction between each pair of students and then showed them the tape individually, asking both to identify any inaccuracies or lies in their speech. Subjects exhibited surprise at their own dishonest behavior. "When they were watching themselves on videotape, people found themselves lying much more than they thought they had," Feldman notes. The investigators also discovered that women and men seem to tell different sorts of fibs. "Women were more likely to lie to make the person they were talking to feel good, while men lied most often to make themselves look better," Feldman remarks.

Researchers found that untruths ranged from harmlessly agreeing with a partners views to outrageously claiming to be a rock star. "Its so easy to lie," Feldman says. "We teach our children that honesty is the best policy, but we also tell them its polite to pretend they like a birthday gift theyve been given. Kids get a very mixed message, and it has an impact on how they behave as adults." From stroking egos to puffing oneself up, it seems that as peoples social competence grows, so do their noses.