truth is out
fibs in private to bare-faced deceit in public, we are all telling
more lies than ever before. But, asks Hugh Wilson, is there any
advantage to saying what you mean?
published Lies and The Lying Liars Who Tell Them is an attack on
right-wing propagandists in the US, but the title could just as
easily apply to... well, the rest of us.
are not born liars, but the moment we can form complete sentences
we begin lying to protect the feelings of others, to avoid punishment
and confrontation, and, most frequently, because lying confers advantages
the truth wouldn't get a sniff at. Lying gets results.
evolved for the same reasons as any other ability,' says Professor
Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire.
'It gives us a competitive edge, providing we get away with it.'
Which might explain why evidence suggests we are lying more, on
a regular basis.
by Bella DePaulo, a professor of psychology at the University of
Virginia, required participants to keep diaries of their social
interactions. Every one of the 147 participants lied, and three-quarters
of their lies were self-serving - designed to enhance status or
avoid embarrassment, disapproval or conflict. Lies played a part
in 30-38 per cent of their social interactions. Such research only
serves to confirm the suspicion of Sissela Bok, author of Lying:
Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, that, 'We are all on the
receiving end of a great many more lies than in the past.'
general reasons why this might be true. 'I think that people are
seeing more authority figures and institutions lying - thus giving
the message that it's OK to do so,' says Professor Wiseman.
Ford, author of Lies! Lies! Lies! The Psychology of Deceit, points
to 'a correlation between narcissism and deceit'. Others detect
the pernicious influence of the media at work, in both its routine
portrayal of successful liars and its barely disguised disdain for
the honest confession-fixated losers paraded on Jerry Springer.
But DePaulo's research suggests the media may have got it right.
Socially skilful people, she discovered, told a lot more lies than
their clumsier counterparts. Many experts are agreeing with Dr Ford.
Lying, it seems, is becoming an acceptable and even admirable social
is this more obvious than on the singles scene. First dates have
always involved a certain amount of self-aggrandisement, but some
singles now regard out-and-out deceit as a legitimate tactic.
uses internet dating services and has lied regularly. 'Why? Because
a lot of potential dates seem to be in the market for perfection.
I think they use any perceived fault or personality clash to whittle
down the list.'
show newly dating couples lie - or heavily exaggerate - about two-thirds
of the time,' says relationship expert Tracey Cox, author of Superflirt.
'They're trying to present themselves in the best possible light
- and given the number of singles out there now, you can understand
believe that increased competition and the higher expectations among
singles - with more and more happy to remain unattached, rather
than settle for second best - along with the popularity of internet
dating (where fabrications can be on a spectacular scale, and can
also remain unchallenged), are encouraging increasingly rabid outbreaks
of deceitfulness. 'We're so emotionally and intellectually evolved
now,' says Cox. 'We all go to shrinks and grow up on a diet of self-help
books; we've done our soul-searching and have our partner check
lists ready and waiting. Can you really blame someone for lying
to score a few more ticks in the right boxes?'
is that many singles are presenting images of themselves that are
impossible to live up to, and scuppering their already limited chances
of long-term love in the process. They either deter potential lovers
by asking for too much, or they invite lies that will be discovered
had mentioned solvency as a necessity,' says David, of one internet
date. 'So I invented a level of financial security that I didn't
have. If it had worked out, I could hardly have kept my poverty
a secret. But sometimes you think you have to tick all the boxes
to have a chance of a date in the first place. After that, you hope
that charm will maybe paper over the cracks.'
long-term lovers aren't immune to the conflict-avoiding, problem-burying
lie either. Once again, a buoyant singles scene coupled with unrealistic
expectations has put new pressure on less-than-faultless relationships
and tempted many into more serious deception. A study last year
by Cahoot found that a majority of partners lie to each other about
their personal financial situation. Other studies have found that
women appreciate judicious fibs about their weight, or looks, or
ability in bed.
Cahoot research also showed that lying is on increasingly difficult
ground. In this context, might a policy of honesty at all costs
upset the delicate balance of deceit that we've stumbled into over
the past few years? Could lying be little more than the latest social
art, as Charles Ford et al suggest?
After all, few of us feel that lying is inherently wrong any more.
A lie is only wrong, general consensus runs, because it might be
discovered, and cause hurt and upset. But then that, of course,
is the real issue. We might be great and prolific liars these days,
but we're not any better at recovering or forgiving, if we discover
that we've been lied to.