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What does telling lies have to do with health?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Stop telling lies and enjoy better health.

We’re all guilty of telling so-called little white lies that don’t seem to hurt anyone. But a new study shows people who stop telling lies are healthier than their counterparts who, for example, tell lies when they exaggerate their accomplishments or make false excuses for being late. It seems not lying can lead to better mental and physical health.

Fewer sore throats and headaches from telling the truth

In the study, researchers from University of Notre Dame found out that reducing the number of lies people told– both minor and major – was associated with better health.

The investigators tested two groups of people – about half were asked not to lie and the other was given no special instructions about telling the truth.

Both groups completed health and relationship measures in the laboratory once a week and took a polygraph test to find out how many major and white lies they had told during that week.

People in the study who were asked to stop telling even small lies had fewer sore throats, headaches, felt less tense, happier and had fewer mental health complaints than the control group.

"We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies, and that in turn was associated with significantly improved health," says lead author and psychology professor Anita Kelly in a press release. According to Kelly, the average person tells about 11 lies a week.

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During the 10-week study, the researchers found telling fewer lies equaled fewer physical complaints.

For example, when the group that was asked not to lie told 3 fewer lies, they had 4 less mental health complaints and 3 fewer physical complaints than in weeks when they fibbed more frequently.

As the weeks went on in the study, participants in the truthful group found themselves telling fewer lies and feeling physically and mentally healthier. The same was true in the control group – when they lied less they reported fewer physical symptoms.

An added perk to telling the truth is better health from improved relationships and social interaction. According to study co-author Lijuan Wang, also of Notre Dame, "Statistical analyses showed that this improvement in relationships significantly accounted for the improvement in health that was associated with less lying."

As far as how hard it is it to avoid lying? If you can’t pull it off, take a cue from some of the study participants who said when they were asked a question; rather than lying, they responded with another question for distraction. Most people learned it’s easy to tell the tell the truth, shown in the study to lead to better health and relationships. The "Science of Honesty" study was presented recently at the American Psychological Association's 120th annual convention.

Notre Dame News
August 4, 2012

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