Category: Lying

Women Are More Likely Than Men To Be Told “White Lies” In Performance Reviews

By Emily Reynolds

It’s not uncommon to tell a white lie at work: why you took a slightly too-long lunch break or how much you’ve really done on that big project. Often, white lies are socially useful — telling someone that you like what they’re wearing is probably a kinder option than admitting that you hate it, for example.

When it comes to performance reviews, however, white lies are less beneficial. The whole point of such a review is to help improve how someone is working and identify and mitigate potential problems, so lying defeats the object. And according to a new study from Cornell University’s Lily Jampol and Vivian Zayas, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, it’s women who most often bear the brunt of untruthful performance reviews.

Continue reading “Women Are More Likely Than Men To Be Told “White Lies” In Performance Reviews”

Here’s How Good Liars Get Away With It

Businesswoman with crossed fingers behind her backBy Emily Reynolds

Being able to get away with a few white lies can be a useful skill. Giving your boss a plausible explanation as to why you’re late to work, for example, can be fairly handy — why do they have to know you just pressed snooze a few too many times?

Some of us get better results than others, of course, when we tell fibs. But those who think they’re better at lying than average seem to have a few things in common, according to new research published in PLOS One.

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Lying To Your Kids Could Make Them More Dishonest And Less Well-Adjusted As Adults


By Emily Reynolds

Telling white lies to children can be somewhat par for the course when you’re a parent: “I’ve got Santa on the phone and he says he’s not coming unless you go to bed now,” is particularly useful during the festive season, for example.

It can seem like nothing: just another tool to improve your child’s behaviour. But don’t get too attached to the technique — telling too many white lies to your children may have more far-reaching consequences than you might have hoped, according to a new study, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

Continue reading “Lying To Your Kids Could Make Them More Dishonest And Less Well-Adjusted As Adults”

Why We Continue to Believe False Information Even After We’ve Learned It’s Not True


By guest blogger Rhi Willmot

Is your mental library a haven of accurate and well-informed facts, or are there mistruths hiding on the shelves? It’s natural to assume that we update our beliefs in line with the most recent and well-established evidence. But what really happens to our views when a celebrity endorses a product that becomes discredited by science, or when a newspaper publishes a story which is later retracted?

A recent paper from the Journal of Consumer Psychology presents a novel take on this topic, by investigating the continued influence effect. Anne Hamby and colleagues suggest that our likelihood of continuing to believe retracted information depends on whether or not it helps us to understand the cause-and-effect structure of an event. Crucially, the team proposes, we would rather have a complete understanding of why things happen than a perspective which is more accurate, but less complete.

Continue reading “Why We Continue to Believe False Information Even After We’ve Learned It’s Not True”

When People Close To Us Behave Immorally, We Are Inclined To Protect Them — Even If Their Crimes Are Particularly Heinous


By Matthew Warren

If you saw a stranger break into someone’s house in the middle of the night, you’d probably call the police. But what if it was a friend or family member who was committing the crime? A new study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin looks at the tension between wanting to punish people who commit immoral acts and protecting those with whom we have close relationships. And it turns out that if someone close to us behaves immorally, we tend to err on the side of protecting them — even if their crime is especially egregious.

Continue reading “When People Close To Us Behave Immorally, We Are Inclined To Protect Them — Even If Their Crimes Are Particularly Heinous”

Acting Dishonestly Impairs Our Ability To Read Other People’s Emotions


By guest blogger Rhi Willmot

Can a lie still be harmful if it’s never found out? New research on the relationship between dishonesty and social understanding may unsettle the fibbers amongst us. In a multi-study investigation with a total of 2,588 participants, scientists have found Pinocchio isn’t the only one to experience a few personal problems after telling lies.

Continue reading “Acting Dishonestly Impairs Our Ability To Read Other People’s Emotions”

Using the truth to mislead (paltering) feels less bad than lying, but will cost you in the long run

Sneaky scheming young man plotting somethingBy Alex Fradera

Work is getting stale, and you’ve recently been courted by an exciting new company for a great role, the one drawback being a slight pay cut. Before you’ve made up your mind, your manager asks you whether you have plans to go elsewhere. If you wanted to avoid showing your hand, you could lie blatantly. You could change the topic. Or, you could palter: use a truthful statement to create a misleading impression.

“Financially, you’re treating me really well and I don’t think there’s anything out there that could match that.”

Paltering is the topic of a new paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The authors, Todd Rogers and others at Harvard University, focused on negotiation situations, where access to accurate information had concrete consequences. They found that paltering is fairly common – real-life negotiators reported doing it more frequently then telling a lie, and as commonly as neglecting to share information – and that one reason for this is that they believed it wasn’t such a big deal as lying. In this, they were sadly mistaken.

Continue reading “Using the truth to mislead (paltering) feels less bad than lying, but will cost you in the long run”

Teenage offenders are highly adept at spotting when their peers are lying

Most people are poor at detecting whether someone is lying, at least partly because most people think mistakenly that things like shifty eye movements and fidgeting hands are reliable signs of deception.

However, it’s emerged in recent years that not everyone is equally bad at lie detection. In fact, people who themselves are skilled at lying tend to have quite a knack for spotting when someone else is telling a fib. Now a study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology makes a similar observation in teenagers. Teens with a record of criminal activity showed an enhanced ability to detect whether their peers were lying.

Louise Jupe and her colleagues at the University of Portsmouth recruited 16 teenage offenders – their average age was 15, and 8 of them were female – who’d committed a range of crimes including battery, theft, racial assault, arson and criminal damage; and a control group of 36 teenagers with no record of criminality and with an average age of 16 (and 24 of whom were female).

The participants watched 12 video clips, between 78 to 90 seconds in duration, of teenagers aged 14 to 18 answering questions about whether or not they were concealing in their clothing a digital music player. The participants’ task was simply to say whether they thought each of these teenagers was lying or not, and at the end to say what behavioural cues they’d used to make their judgments.

The researchers had recorded the video clips earlier with 12 teenagers who were not participants in the study. Half of the videoed teenagers were given a digital music player to hide in their clothing, and they were instructed to lie and say they didn’t have the device. The other half were not given the music player and they were told to tell the truth about not having it.

The participants with no record of criminality were hopeless at telling whether the teens in the videos were lying or telling the truth – in fact, they achieved an average of 50 per cent correct judgments, which is no better than if they’d just guessed. In contrast, the teenage offender participants managed an overall accuracy rate of 67 per cent (they accurately identified 60 per cent of truth tellers and 73 per cent of liars).

This the first time that lie detection abilities have been studied in teenage offenders, and the result extends to the teenage age group the earlier observation that adult prison inmates are more skilled than average at lie detection. The authors of the current research believe that the superior lie detection abilities of teen offenders (and adults) likely comes from the fact that they’ve had practice at lying in interrogation situations, which has given them insight into the “tells” that reveal when someone is not being honest.

Intriguingly, however, the behavioural cue that the teen offenders said they used to spot lying (shifty eyes) was not actually displayed by the liars in the videos – making this just the latest study to debunk the popular misconception that lying is revealed in the eyes. Rather, the main tell-tale behaviour shown by the liars was keeping their hands and feet unusually still, which wasn’t mentioned as a give away by the teen offenders. The researchers think this suggests that the teen offenders’ lie detection ability is based on intuition and on automatic cognitive processes that they can’t easily describe to others.

Apart from the small sample size, it’s worth noting that this study, like much research in this area, has some weaknesses that make it unrealistic. For example, the lies were inconsequential and the participants couldn’t interact with the teens in the videos. However, both these facts would likely make lie detection more difficult for the participants, so the teen offenders’ deception detection ability might be even more impressive in real life.


Jupe, L., Akehurst, L., Vernham, Z., & Allen, J. (2016). Teenage Offenders’ Ability to Detect Deception in Their Peers Applied Cognitive Psychology DOI: 10.1002/acp.3214

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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How to get kids to tell the truth? It’s not all about carrot or stick

By guest blogger Dan Jones

All parents have to come to terms with the fact that their little angels will, from time to time, act like little devils. They’ll throw tantrums over trivial issues, or they’ll push, hit, bite or scratch other kids. And at some point they’ll start lying about what they’ve done.

Lying is perfectly normal among children, not a sign of a sociopath in the making. Many kids start telling the odd fib around their second birthday, and by the time they’re 4 or 5 they’re even better at the art of manipulating the truth, and keeping it from us. So how can parents help their kids internalise the lesson that honesty is the best — or at least the socially preferred — policy?

A team of educational psychologists led by Victoria Talwar recruited 372 children aged between 4 and 8 years old, and put them through a “temptation resistance” task in which they were left alone in a room for one minute with a toy placed behind them and out of sight, and told not to peek at it. When the experimenter returned, the kids, who were being filmed by a hidden camera, were asked whether they looked or not.

Previous studies using this set up found that 72–93 per cent of children under 8 years of age looked at the toy and then lied about it. Out the 372 children in this new study, 251 (67.5 per cent) looked at the toy, though older kids were less likely to peek. Of the peekers, 66.5 per cent lied about doing so, again with older kids being less likely to lie about it.

The new study, however, didn’t just look at levels of lying, but also at how appeals to honesty influenced lying, and whether the threat of punishment promoted or hindered truth-telling. To probe these questions, kids were split into six groups who were told different things when the experimenter returned to ask whether they had snuck a look — and in one group the peekers showed an impressively low rate of lying of just 35 per cent.

What was the secret? The researchers encouraged honesty in these children with a two-pronged pronouncement. First they told the children “If you peeked at the toy, it does not matter” (the no-punishment condition), and then they gave them an explicit “external” reason to be truthful (“If you tell the truth, I will be really pleased with you. I will feel happy if you tell the truth”). In the absence of punishment, an alternative, “internal appeal” for honesty (“It is really important to tell the truth because telling the truth is the right thing to do when someone has done something wrong”) was not quite so effective — lying rates only dropped to 45 per cent.

It might seem that the increase in honesty was driven by the absence of punishment — after all, if you won’t get in trouble, why bother lying? Yet this can’t be the whole story, as kids in a no-punishment condition that did not include any kind of appeal to truth-telling still lied more than 85 per cent of the time, showing that appeals for honesty had a powerful effect.

At the same time, the threat of punishment worked against both kinds of appeal: when kids were told they would get in trouble for lying, and were then given either an external or internal reason to tell the truth, lying remained high, at 60 and 86 per cent, respectively.

So while many parents looking to increase their children’s honesty might opt for one of two diametrically opposed options — the carrot of reward, or the stick of punishment — this new research shows there’s an important third route to take: appealing to the better angels of kids’ nature, and encouraging honesty because it will make others happy.

These findings also have obvious relevance for people who work with children in a range of professional roles and who want or need to encourage honesty and accurate reporting of events. “Positive consequences resulting from truth telling should be emphasized and negative consequences for transgressing should be avoided in order to promote honesty in young children,” the researchers write. Looking to the future, they suggest that further studies should explore whether the same dynamics apply to children when it comes to telling the truth about the transgressions of other people, and also whether adolescents are susceptible to the same appeals to honesty and threats of punishment.


Talwar, V., Arruda, C., & Yachison, S. (2015). The effects of punishment and appeals for honesty on children’s truth-telling behavior Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 130, 209-217 DOI: 10.1016/j.jecp.2014.09.011

further reading
Shock result! Asking children and teenagers to promise to tell the truth actually works
When we lie to children, are we teaching them to be dishonest?

Post written by Dan Jones (@MultipleDraftz) for the BPS Research Digest. Dan Jones is a freelance writer based in Brighton, UK, whose writing has appeared in The Psychologist, New Scientist, Nature, Science and many other magazines. He blogs at