Image from the Associated Press.
ORLANDO (USA TODAY) - Honesty may boost your health, suggests a study that found telling fewer lies benefits people physically and mentally.
Each week for 10 weeks, 110 individuals, ages 18-71, took a lie detector test and completed health and relationship measures assessing the number of major and minor lies they told that week, says lead author Anita Kelly, a psychology professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. She presented findings at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, which ended Sunday.
"When they went up in their lies, their health went down," says Kelly. "When their lies went down, their health improved."
Researchers instructed half the participants to "refrain from telling any lies for any reason to anyone. You may omit truths, refuse to answer questions, and keep secrets, but you cannot say anything that you know to be false." The other half received no such instructions.
Over the study period, the link between less lying and improved health was significantly stronger for participants in the no-lie group, the study found. When participants in the no-lie group told three fewer minor lies than they did in other weeks, for example, they experienced, on average, four fewer mental-health complaints and three fewer physical complaints. Mental health complaints included feeling tense or melancholy; physical complaints included sore throats and headaches.
Linda Stroh, a professor emeritus of organizational behavior at Loyola University in Chicago, says findings are consistent with her own research on trust. "When you find that you don't lie, you have less stress," she says. "Being very conflicted adds an inordinate amount of stress to your life."
Evidence from past research suggests that Americans average about 11 lies a week. Kelly says the no-lie group participants were down to one lie, on average, per week. For both groups, when participants lied less in a given week, they reported their physical health and mental health to be significantly better that week.
"It's certainly a worthy goal to have people be more honest and more genuine and interact with others in a more honest way," says psychologist Robert Feldman of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. "That would be ultimately beneficial. I'm a little skeptical that it makes us all healthier, but it may make us healthier in a psychological way."