Lying and Truthfulness

People tell lies about virtually everything: their true feelings, their income, their achievements and accomplishments, their sex life and in some cases even their ages. In modern society, lies have become more frequent in many circumstances than telling the truth. In some cases, telling a lie is considered best for all concerned in order to spare the feelings of the other party.

People lie about their sex lives in the hope of having more sex. The most frequent lie told is the number of sexual partners that a person has had, sometime to appear more innocent and sometimes to appear more experienced. People often lie about whether they are in love, not necessarily to increase the chances of having sex, but rather to spare the other person's feelings. People also frequently lie about whether they have had an extramarital affair, though it could be argued that lying in this situation could be better than telling the truth, if telling the truth is merely a way of appeasing the guilty conscience or hurting their partner, rather than a way to improve communication and help resolve the underlying problems. Even in "open" marriages, which are not monogamous, failing to tell the partner about whom one slept may be more damaging than the affair itself.

Unsurprisingly, given increased competition in the workplace, the amount of lying in order to get a job has doubled since the mid-1970s. It has been estimated that one out of every three people either varnish the truth or outright lie when seeking employment. The lies may be relatively small, like expanding periods of employment in order to cover up periods of unemployment, but the lies can be as big as claiming to have a college or university degree that does not exist. Lies don't stop in the work place after hiring. People continue to lie to protect their own position, but sometimes the lies are for the greater good when trying to resolve problems or when managers give two conflicting demands. Lying in the workplace also extends to the management level. Managers may lie about forthcoming support to overworked employers or about the chances for advancement. It has been found that in companies where lying is ubiquitous, this adversely affects the company's ability to fulfill its aims and objectives.

Lying is not just limited to work and home. It is spread throughout wider society as well, with advertisers among the biggest culprits. Television advertising is especially guilty of taking liberties, misrepresenting and exaggerating the true benefits of the products offered for sale to potential customers.

Probably the most infamous liars of all in society are politicians. However, whether politicians actually lie more than "normal" people is certainly up for debate. The difference between politicians and regular people may simply be the amount of media attention they are subject to, which makes lies much harder to cover up in the long run. There are four main types of lies in politics: Lies to gain a publicly elected office or to win re-election, lies to pursue political policies, lies to protect national security or operations and finally, lies to protect personal honor.

Even though we teach our children that lying is wrong, we often encourage them to lie in social situations. It is not surprising that children decide follow the example set by their parents in such situations, even though people still moralize about lying and frown upon others who tell lies. Many people would rather hear a well-spoken, soothing lie than a truth that is hard to accept. Truth has become just one choice in a society where lying is implicitly sanctioned used for multiple reasons, whether to flatter, get ahead at work, take someone to bed or sell products.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Lies!, Lies!!, Lies!!! The Psychology of Deceit
Charles V. Ford.
American Psychiatric Press, 1996
Freedom, Fame, Lying, and Betrayal: Essays on Everyday Life
Leszek KoŁakowski; Agnieszka Kołakowska.
Westview Press, 1999
Memory for Everyday and Emotional Events
Nancy L. Stein; Peter A. Ornstein; Barbara Tversky; Charles Brainerd.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 14 "Lying and Deception"
Cognitive and Social Factors in Early Deception
Stephen J. Ceci; Michelle DeSimone Leichtman; Maribeth Putnick.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Children's Lying and Truthfulness: Implications for Children's Testimony"
Soul Searching: Why Psychotherapy Must Promote Moral Responsibility
William J. Doherty.
Basic Books, 1995
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Truthfulness"
Plagues of the Mind: The New Epidemic of False Knowledge
Bruce S. Thornton.
ISI Books, 1999
Applications of Nonverbal Communication
Ronald E. Riggio; Robert S. Feldman.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Police Use of Nonverbal Behavior as Indicators of Deception"
The Politics of Lying: Implications for Democracy
Lionel Cliffe; Maureen Ramsay; Dave Bartlett.
Macmillan, 2000
Truth and Falsehood in Visual Images
Mark Roskill; David Carrier; Mark Roskill.
University of Massachusetts Press, 1983
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