windowthroughtime

A wry view of life for the world-weary

Motivated By Curiosity And A Desire For The Truth – Part Twenty Five

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How embedded is lying in Britain today?

It is a regrettable fact but most, if not all, of us have been guilty of lying at some stage in our life. We might tell lies or at least be economical with the actualite to spare someone’s feelings like when we comment on someone’s new hairstyle or clothing.  We might term these as white lies. On the other hand we might tell a whopper, perhaps we should term this sort a big lie, if we want to deflect attention from ourselves or get ourselves out of a hole. As the referendum campaign last year was based on both sides on a tissue of half-truths and downright falsehoods, the question that pops into the enquiring mind is how embedded is lying in Britain today.

Fortunately, some research has been conducted into the subject including an online survey conducted by the Science Museum in London in 2010. Nearly 3,000 responded to the survey, of whom 51% were female and the average age was 44.5, in which they were asked to reveal how often they told little white lies and how often whoppers. 9.7% of the sample categorised themselves as prolific liars, telling 6.32 little white lies and 2.86 big ones a day. The majority of the respondents – only 24.4% said that they didn’t lie in a typical day – owned up to 1.16 white lies a day and 0.15 whoppers, suggesting that the prolific liars tell on average 19 big lies to every one told by the everyday liars.

Profiling the responses of those surveyed, the prolific liars were most likely to be at the younger end of the age scale, male and working in more senior occupational roles. They did not see their mendacious trait as one that they would grow out but recognised that it could and had landed them in deep do-do, costing them their relationships or their jobs. This is not too surprising as they would most likely try to pull the wool over the eyes of their partners and children whereas everyday liars were more likely to lie to their mothers.

Further light was shone on the propensity to lie by research undertaken by the Science Centre NEMO in Amsterdam and published in the ever popular Acta Psychologica. Surveying some 1,005 people, aged between 6 and 77, they tested the ability to and frequency of lying across the age groups. Overall, the ability to lie convincingly improved through childhood, peaking in early adulthood, categorised as aged between 18 and 29, and gradually declined as the age profile increased. As to frequency, teenagers admitted to telling more lies than any other age – are you surprised? – and there was a similar inverted U-shape in the age distribution with the old fogies lying as infrequently as those at the younger end of the age spectrum.

Worryingly, the figures for British lying compare adversely with comparable statistics from the United States. There, only 5% of the respondents were responsible for more than 50% of the lies and 59.9% claimed that in a typical day they didn’t lie. What the surveys can’t tell us is whilst there appears to be a definite pattern to lying frequency and proficiency whether people increase and then lose their ability as they age or once they are a prolific liar or an everyday liar, that is what they are for the rest of their natural.

My biggest problem with surveys and research such as this is how much credence we should place on responses from self-confessed liars. Of course, a liar rarely lies all the time and therein lies our problem.

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