A Few Prolific Liars Give the Rest of Us a Bad Name

November 11, 2021 – Zero. That’s the number of lies many of us tell in a typical day, according to a new study published in Communication Monographs.

The average of two daily lies is severely distorted, scientists say, because a handful of people seem to be lying every time they open their mouths. The rest of us are honest Abes.

Much of the research into our ways of lying has been based on snapshots of dishonesty at one point in time. This result can be seriously distorted by unusual circumstances that cause us to be abnormally truthful or misleading. For a clearer picture of our honesty – or dishonesty – scientists asked 632 students to keep a daily diary for 3 months, recording every lie they told.

Overall, participants recorded a total of 116,366 lies, with the daily number of lies ranging from 0 to 200.

Investigators examined these lies in several different ways. The main question asked by the researchers is how many times the participants lied in the past 24 hours. On any given day, 63.4% of students faced at least one lie, but 36.6% of them reported not lying at all.

An elite group of liars, in the top 1% of lies, also had the most day-to-day variation in the number of lies they told. For these elite liars, the variation around their daily averages was 22.8 lies, compared to 1.5 for most people in the study who typically only told one or two lies per day.

Most students have had a handful of bad days telling more lies than usual. And most of the weeks during the study, the day with the highest average number of lies fell on a weekend. Taken together, these results suggest that lying is situational and that most of us can avoid whenever we want.

College students tend to be less honest than older adults, the study team notes. But the results still suggest that most people caught up in a lie can have the day off – and not necessarily dishonest as the obvious.

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