Sunday, February 3, 2013

Monthly Topic #7: Are you a Big Fibber?

~Image Source: US News Health~

Okay, truthfully now – do you or don't you tell fibs? If you do (no lying!) you're not alone.

Honesty is the best policy, right? Which means you've never shaved a few years off your age, a few dollars off this season's spending spree, or a few home runs off your bedpost of love. You always tell your friend when her bum looks big, when she's got lippy on her teeth or toilet paper stuck to her feet. Nor have you ever uttered: “No, I never fake it”; “This old thing? I've had it forever”; “It really suits you, I swear”; and “Of course you're the best I've ever had”. Yeah, right – and pigs are boarding the Concorde now.

Shades of the truth

But if there's one thing I know about lying, it's that I'm not alone. Studies have shown that three-year-olds lie through their teeth. And as we get older, we don't outgrow fibbling – we just stop lying to our parents and start lying to ourselves. A recent study from the University of Virginia found that we all lie at least once or twice a day. This doesn't make us bad people. Rather, we use white lies to protect other people. “No, I'm busy on Saturday”; “Yes, your haircut looks great”; “I didn't know your boyfriend was sleeping around” - and if you stopped doing it tomorrow, you'd probably wouldn't have a friend left.

Exaggerations and evasions function like a social lubricant. But the study also says that only a quarter of the lies we tell are about other people. The rest of the time, we're lying about ourselves: trying to make ourselves seem smarter, more interesting – better.

What others see

The study also found those most likely to lie are extroverts, who're more sensitive to what others think of them. They understand that lies serve a purpose, impressing or influence people. And those in their 20s told fibs twice as often as their elders. Oddly, hairdressers are probably lied to more than anyone else (except parents). You're willing to blab to your stylist the dirt on your latest break-up, but you won't admit to buying cheap shampoo?

Getting the edge

Fashion models are also notorious liars. Working in a competitive industry, they'll lie to get ahead – even when they fool no-one. For example, they'll tell you they're 175cm tall when they're visibly only 165cm. The other big area we lie about, of course, is sex. The University of Virginia study found that couples who have just started going out lie to each other one-third of the time – presumably because they are still trying to impress. (In long term relationships, it drops off radically – either you know each other too well, or you don't care enough to lie anymore.)

Of course, the most famous lie of all is, “Not tonight, I have a headache.” A sex researcher I know says the old sexual double standard still holds true: men increase the number of partners they've had; women cut it. And while everyone from condom companies to women's magazines do regular sex surveys, they rarely rely on the data.

Stirring up the pot

Ah yes, surveys. Sometimes, if you're in a bad mood, deliberately giving weird information in a survey gives you a perverse sense of satisfaction. And even if you do approach the survey seriously, your answers will depend on who's looking over your shoulder. Sometimes the thrill seems to be more about seeing how much you can get away with. Talk shows like The Oprah Winfrey Show and Ricki Lake have a register of “repeat offenders” - guests who will claim to have any problem at all, in order to get on the television show. Is it the 15 minutes of fame they're after, the thrill of living a lie, or are they so used to being deceptive that they can't stop, and look for even bigger whoppers to get away with?

One consequence of lying so much is that we've become more willing to believe that everyone else is doing so, too – whether it's the rumors that the happily married Hollywood star is gay, or the idea that AIDS escaped from a CIA laboratory. Twenty years ago, Peter Weir couldn't have made The Truman Show – a film about a man who finds out his whole life has been a lie. No-one would have believed it as a story. But these days, the whole thing rings uncannily true.

But there is an upside to all this tale-telling. Psychologically, lying can be a healthy thing. What we're doing is protecting our ego – we don't want to admit our failings. So we use lies to preserve our self-esteem, which basically means we're taking good care of ourselves. So there you have it: fibbing can actually be good for us. Would I lie to you?


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