We’re all guilty of telling the occasional little white lie. We tend to fib to avoid getting in trouble or hurting someone else’s feelings, so the motivations aren’t always malicious. Still, while it may seem like an innocent enough habit, telling lies—no matter how big or small—can actually be bad for your relationships and your health.
University of Notre Dame professor Anita Kelley studied the lying habits of 110 people over 10 weeks. The group was a mixed bag comprised of 65% college students and 35% adults with ages ranging from 17 to 81. Half of participants were chosen randomly and instructed not to tell any lies, while the other half weren’t given any particular instructions. Everyone came in for weekly polygraph testing, during which they were questioned about their lying habits as well as their health and relationship status. The results? The fibbers weren’t doing so well.
“We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies, and that in turn was associated with significantly improved health,” Kelley said.
While Kelley estimates that the average American tells roughly 11 lies a week, she was amazed to see how well the 50% who were instructed not to lie felt and fared in their lives throughout the experiment. The majority reported fewer physical or mental health issues as well as less friction in their relationships.
“Statistical analyses showed that this improvement in relationships significantly accounted for the improvement in health that was associated with less lying,” she explained.
The takeaway? Even if you’re lying because you’re trying to be nice, it might be worth thinking twice about being untruthful in the future. After all, honesty is the best policy, and telling people how you truly feel will not only build a better rapport between you in the long run but also ensure your desires and needs are being clearly communicated, leading to greater overall happiness. That can only be a good thing, right?