Want to be more popular? Lie

The Washington Post's Shankar Vedantam had a very interesting article about lying earlier this week in the context of Scooter Libby's perjury trial.  According to psychological research, we lie all the time:

Experiments have found that ordinary people tell about two lies every
10 minutes, with some people getting in as many as a dozen falsehoods
in that period. More interestingly — and Libby might see this as the
silver lining if he is found guilty — Feldman also found that liars
tend to be more popular than honest people…

“It is not that lying makes you popular, but knowing when to say
something and not be completely blunt is in fact a social skill,”
Feldman said. “We don't want to hear hurtful things, so a person who is
totally honest may not be as popular as someone who lies. This is not
to say lying is a good thing, but it is the way the social world
operates.”…

“We want everyone to be honest, but it is not clear what to do when
honesty bumps up against other values — caring about another person,
their feelings,” said Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist at the
University of California at Santa Barbara. “People say they want to
hear the truth, but that is in the abstract. Would you tell someone,
'Tell me all the things about me you don't like, all the things that
annoy you'?”

Of course, every husband/boyfriend understands that lying is a key to a happy relationship– “do these jeans make me look fat?”  David's favorite cartoon, Lilo and Stich, had a great episode where the evil genuis scientist created a lie detector that made a noise when anyone lied.  The original purpose of this creation was to undermine an enemy society.  Why?  “Because lies are the fabric that hold society together.” 

The fact that liars tend to be more popular also reminds me of one of the more intriguing theories I learned about way back in my Intro to Social Psych class: Self Monitoring Theory.   Basically, there is considerable individual variation on how closely we monitor ourselves and adjust our behavior to fit into different social situations.  Not surprisingly, high self monitors tend to be more socially successful.  I've always liked this theory because I had a real light-bulb moment when I learned about it.  My childhood best friend, Stanley Bean (who I sure hope is not reading this entry), accused me of being a hypocrite for my different actions/statements in different social settings.  When learning of this theory in class, I realized that I was a classic high self monitor and to a classic low self monitor like Stanley, I just appeared like a big hypocrite.  It really explained a lot.  So, maybe I am a hypocrite, but at least I am a socially well-adjusted one. 

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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