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7 August 2012
Fewer fibs leads to better health

When people reduced their lie-telling over a 10-week period, they reported significantly improved physical and mental health, say researchers at the University of Notre Dame. The intriguing findings were presented recently at the American Psychological Association's 120th annual convention.

"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 Anita Kelly, a Notre Dame psychology professor.

Kelly and co-researcher Lijuan Wang conducted the honesty experiment over 10 weeks with a sample of 110 people, ranging in age from 18 to 71. Half the participants were instructed to stop telling both major and minor lies for the duration of the 10-week study. The other half served as a control group that received no special instructions about lying.

Both groups came to the lab every week to complete health and relationship surveys and to take a polygraph test assessing the number of major and white lies they had told during that week. According to Kelly, Americans average about 11 lies per week.

Over the course of 10 weeks, the link between less lying and better health was significantly stronger for participants in the no-lie group, said Kelly. For example, when participants in the no-lie group told three fewer white lies than they did in other weeks, they experienced on average about four fewer mental-health complaints, such as feeling tense or melancholy, and about three fewer physical complaints, such as sore throats and headaches.

In contrast, when control group members told three fewer white lies, they experienced two fewer mental-health complaints and about one less physical complaint. The pattern was similar for major lies, Kelly said.

The study also revealed positive results in participants' personal relationships, with those in the no-lie group reporting improved relationship and social interactions overall going more smoothly when they told no lies. "Statistical analyses showed that this improvement in relationships significantly accounted for the improvement in health that was associated with less lying," noted Wang.

How difficult was it to keep from lying in day-to-day interactions? Kelly said the participants realized they could simply tell the truth about their daily accomplishments rather than exaggerate, while others stopped making false excuses for being late or failing to complete tasks. Others said they learned to avoid lying by responding to a troubling question with another question to distract the person.

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Source: University of Notre Dame

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