Cognitive Neuroscience

How often does the average person tell a lie?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Some people lie all the time -- for compulsive liars, telling a falsehood is a default action. But for a stab at a more reasonable number, we can look at a study conducted by University of Massachusetts researcher Robert Feldman, which demonstrates how reflexive the act of lying is for many people. In the study, which was published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology, Feldman and his team of researchers asked two strangers to talk for 10 minutes. The conversations were recorded, and then each subject was asked to review the tape. Before looking at the footage, the subjects told researchers that they had been completely honest and accurate in their statements, but once the tape rolled, the subjects were amazed to discover all the little lies that came out in just 10 minutes. According to Feldman, 60 percent of the subjects lied at least once during the short conversation, and in that span of time, subjects told an average of 2.92 false things.

    Just as interesting as how often we lie is the question of why we lie in the first place. We tell untruths for several reasons. Sometimes we actually lie to gain others' respect. For example, maybe a coffee-fetching intern tells friends he's a "research assistant." Other fibs help stave off the consequences of making a mistake. Still others, a great many people, perhaps, will lie to spare someone's feelings. While their hearts might be in the right place, and diplomacy may best trump the absolute truth, technically they're still telling a lie. Want more reasons? Some men and women may lie to each other to present a better first impression. (So much for a good foundation for a relationship!) Clearly, there's no end to the reasons people lie.

    It doesn't take long for children to learn they can manipulate their parents -- many children begin to lie at the age of 2 or 3. Though it may be troubling to hear a toddler telling a tall tale, lying is actually proof of cognitive development, and children often learn how to excel at the act from their parents themselves. After all, what parent hasn't told a child to be polite and say thank you after receiving a less-than-perfect gift? A child's main motivation for lying is to avoid punishment, though a wee one will also lie to impress the other kiddies on the playground. In studies in which children have been observed in social interactions, 4-year-olds fibbed at least once every two hours, while six-year-olds could only make it 90 minutes before spinning a falsehood.

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