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No Lie – Truth Telling Improves Your Health

“It’s not a lie, I crossed my fingers…” photo credit: Creative Commons – mndcpr

It’s something we all do and, according to recent studies, most of us do it 11 times a week.

This frequently practiced act is the act of lying.

Lying is almost universally unavoidable as humans living within close proximity and contact with others.

While we all do it, we rationalize away our own personal pack of lies we peddle to others, yet lose all semblance of civility if someone lies to us.

Some researchers at Notre Dame University hypothesized that such emotional mood swings and internal turmoil to protect ourselves cannot be good for our physical health.

The study lead was Anita E. Kelly, PhD, professor of psychology at Notre Dame and her research had some interesting results.

“We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies, and that in turn was associated with significantly improved health.”

Kelly and co-author Lijuan Wang, PhD, also of Notre Dame, conducted the honesty experiment over 10 weeks with a sample of 110 people, of whom 34 percent were adults in the community and 66 percent were college students. They ranged in age from 18 to 71 years, with an average age of 31.

Roughly half the participants were instructed to stop telling white lies as well as whopper lies for 10 weeks. No special directions about lying or not lying were given to the other half of the study participants who served as a control group.

For the duration of the study, each group visited the lab to complete health and relationship assessments. Ironically, they also took a lie-detector test to determine the number of major and white lies they had told that week.

Here are some of the highlights from the study:

  • Over the course of 10 weeks, the link between less lying and improved health was significantly stronger for participants in the “no-lie” group.
  • When participants in the no-lie group told three fewer white lies than they did in other weeks, they experienced on average about four fewer mental-health complaints, such as feeling tense or melancholy, and about three fewer physical complaints, such as sore throats and headaches – those results did not hold for the “lying” control group.
  • However, when participants across both groups lied less in a given week, they reported their physical health and mental health to be significantly better that week.
  • Additionally, when participants told fewer lies, they reported that their close personal relationships had improved and that their social interactions overall had gone more smoothly that week.

“Statistical analyses showed that this improvement in relationships significantly accounted for the improvement in health that was associated with less lying,” said Wang.

Examples of things that the participants admitted to lying about included: not exaggerating about accomplishments; not making false excuses for being late or completing a task. The results will be submitted for peer-review publication later this year and was funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

Some may disagree, but this was a fascinating study. It makes me more mindful of my own peccadillo of lies I try to ply, and instills in me a need to better control the words that proceed from my mouth.

It seems the author of the book of Exodus might have been on to something thousands of years ago.

Question: Is lying a pattern that you’ve noticed in your life or that of a friend or family member?

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  1. I can attest to the fact that living your life in hiding and not being who you are definitely impacts and heightens the stress level in your life. I lived that way for years. Lying is a lot of work..it takes a toll on you mentally, physically, and spiritually.

  2. Don’t you wonder where the 11 times a week statistic comes from? Are they lying? :-)

    But, as an avid Notre Dame fan, I believe in their study. :-) I think of lying and anger in terms of energy. The amount of energy it takes for either is not worth it. Of course, weigh the energy of the “white lie” against telling the truth. Hmm. I’m interested in reading more about the study. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Lianda Ludwig says:

    Tor- You’ve written about such an important and hidden area. When we lie, it’s because we are ashamed. Shame is negative self judgment which is never good for one’s health because we are Mind/Heart/Body systems. You always get a “bad feeling” – sometimes in your chest, your belly, that gives you the message that lying causes stress. What’s the alternative? Be genuine, show your vulnerabilities and see how you not only feel better, but your relationships improve. http://www.Heartfelt-Stress-Relief.com

  4. I’m glad I read the other comments first- because Cathy Miller managed to express one of the thoughts I had upon reading about this study. The expenditure of energy required to remember and manipulate one’s life to accommodate the lies is amazing.
    And, I also wonder if there is an age related issue here. (Since 2/3 of the participants are university related- i.e., younger) and 1/3 are community based- i.e., older?) I look forward to seeing this study in print (which seems to be about a year away) so that one can discern the details of the situation.

  5. Lying causes stress. In my opinion stress is the most common reason for bad health. So this makes a lot of sense.

  6. I have something to add- mostly because I didn’t check your reference for the “author of Exodus”, thinking incorrectly you were referring to Leon Uris.
    I am not going to quibble (here, at least) with your statement of who wrote (or dictated) the second book of the bible (Shmot or Exodus).. but there is a vast difference between offering false testimony and lying. Yes, providing false testimony is lying. But, lying is not necessarily involved with providing false testimony.

  7. It reminds me of the movie with Jim Carey “Liar Liar.” How everything changed for him when he learned…or was forced to tell the truth about everything. This is such a major challenge! Thank you for sharing!

  8. I wonder how they figured we lie 11 times a week. Wouldn’t that require us to tell the truth about how much we lie? :)

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