It might seem weird to lie in order to appear more truthful, but in some cases, people are doing it anyway, according to a new study.
In some events, people are lying to make themselves seem more honest even if’s not the truth because of a fear of appearing dishonest. New research published by the American Psychological Association in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General aimed to figure out why people would lie in situations because the truth might seem too good to be, well, true.
“Many people care greatly about their reputation and how they will be judged by others, and a concern about appearing honest may outweigh our desire to actually be honest, even in situations where it will cost us money to lie,” Shoham Choshen-Hillel, PhD, a senior lecturer at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said in a press release.
“Our findings suggest that when people obtain extremely favorable outcomes, they anticipate other people’s suspicious reactions and prefer lying and appearing honest over telling the truth and appearing as selfish liars.”
Through a series of interviews with lawyers and college students in Israel, with participants in the United States and the United Kingdom, researchers said they found similar findings across the board of people lying to appear more honest.
The study, which included leading University of Chicago psychologist Alex Shaw and UCLA’s Eugene M. Caruso, first asked 115 lawyers in Israel to imagine giving a client an estimate for 60 to 90 hours. From the responses, half were told they worked 60 hours and the other half was assigned to 90 hours.
Researchers found that from the 60-hours group, on average participants said they worked 62.5 hours, with 17% of respondents incorrectly inflating their work time. From the 90-hours group, respondents went on to say they worked 88 hours. Eighteen percent falsely underreported their hours.
In the experiment involving college students, 129 undergrads played online dice-rolling and coin-flipping games in private, where they were to report their scores to a researcher.
As an incentive, participants were given 15 cents for each successful flip or coin roll. Researchers rigged the computer program so that half the students received perfect scores and the other half had randomized scores.
The results found that 24% of participants in the perfect-score group underreported their scores, while 4% did the same in the randomized group.
“Some participants overcame their aversion toward lying and the monetary costs involved just to appear honest to a single person who was conducting the experiment,” said Choshen-Hillel.
In the final experiment, more than 200 adults from the US took part in a fake scenario where they were told to imagine taking work trips for a company. That company allocated 400 miles per month. Participants were told that most employees got to about 280 to 320 miles per month.
As with the other experiments, the grouping was split — one group was told they had driven 300 miles a month and the other, 400 miles. When it came to reporting, the 300-mile group reported an average of 301 miles. But the 400-mile group’s responses averaged to around 384 miles, with 12% lying.
Researchers said it was a similar trend when the experiment was run in the UK.