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Mind

Lies and Nothing but the Lies

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Our penchant for bending truth is so pervasive that we delude even ourselves, says Robert S. Feldman, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He and his colleagues videotaped 121 pairs of unacquainted college students during 10-minute introductory conversations. The researchers then asked one student from each pair to watch the tape and report every instance in which he or she had lied. Before viewing the tapes, most of the subjects said they had been completely honest. But faced with the evidence, 60 percent realized they had fibbed at least once. Those who lied did so three times per conversation, on average, with one subject squeezing in 12. "We were surprised that the level of lying was quite high—and so were the students," Feldman says. He also found that men and women lied at roughly the same rate but apparently for different reasons. "Women tended to lie in order to make the people they were talking to feel better about themselves. Men tended to lie to make themselves look better," he says. One male student told a woman he was the lead singer in a rock band that had just signed a recording contract, although the band did not exist. The research has made Feldman wary of day-to-day conversation: "I'm more skeptical about what I hear, and I'm much more sensitive to what I say."

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