TORONTO -- Lizzo sang that “truth hurts.” But what might hurt more is being seen as a liar.

A new study from the American Psychological Association found that people ended up lying if they felt telling others the truth made them appear dishonest. If events that worked out in people’s favour and seemed too good to be true, researchers found that people would lie.

“A concern about appearing honest may outweigh our desire to actually be honest even in situations where it will cost us money to lie,” lead researcher Shoham Choshen-Hillel said in a press release.

“Our findings suggest that when people obtain extremely favorable outcomes, they anticipate other people’s suspicious reactions and prefer lying and appearing honest over telling the truth and appearing as selfish liars,” she added.

The senior lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem believes the findings, published online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, would apply in the real world.

“While our findings may seem ironic or counterintuitive, I think most people will recognize a time in their lives when they were motivated to tell a lie to appear honest,” she said.

“Many people care greatly about their reputation and how they will be judged by others,” explained Choshen-Hillel, who teaches at the university’s School of Business Administration and Center for the Study of Rationality.

The findings were based on two separate experiments with lawyers and college students in Israel and another online experiment with people from the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

In one experiment, 115 lawyers were told to imagine working on a case costing between 60 and 90 billable hours. Their clients wouldn’t actually know how long they’d worked on the case.

Half of the lawyers were put in the 60-hour group and reported an average of 62.5 billable hours, with 17 percent lying to inflate their numbers. But more interesting, researchers say, is that the lawyers in the 90-hour group actually reported an average of 88 billable hours, with 18 per cent lying to decrease the actual number.

When researchers asked the lawyers in the 90-hour group why they lied, they said they didn’t want their clients to think they’d been cheated.


In the second experiment, 149 undergraduate students were asked to play online dice-rolling and coin-flipping games in private, which, unbeknownst to them, were rigged. For half of the participants, the computer program manipulated the results to give out perfect scores, while the other half had random outcomes based on chance.

Participants would then report their results to the researchers -- receiving 15 cents for every successful coin flip or dice roll. And around 24 per cent of those with the rigged perfect scores ended up underreported their number of wins -- even if it cost them money.

“Some participants overcame their aversion toward lying and the monetary costs involved just to appear honest to a single person who was conducting the experiment,” Choshen-Hillel said.

The third, online experiment involved people being told to pretend/assume? that their company compensated them for the mileage used during work trips -- with a maximum monthly compensation of 644 kilometres.

Researchers told them most employees reported between 450 kilometres and 514 kilometres.

The first half of the participants were told they’d driven three-quarters of the maximum distance and the average person reported the truth. The other half were told they’d driven the maximum distance compensated by the company, yet 12 per cent of them lied and underreported their mileage.

Similar findings were seen among the 201 people in the U.S. and 544 in the United Kingdom who participated in the experiment.