Honesty is the best policy. and now, it seems, the healthiest as well. Scientists at the American Psychological Association’s 120th Annual Convention discussed a study of 110 people, half of whom were instructed to completely stop lying for 10 weeks. The other half, who received no instructions in regards to truthfulness, served as a control. All participants were assessed weekly on health and relationship measures and with a polygraph test assessing the number of major and minor lies they had told that week.
Even Research Shows Honesty is the Best Policy
In a presentation, entitled “A Life Without Lies. How Living Honestly Can Affect Health,” Anita E. Kelly, Ph.D. and professor of psychology at Notre Dame, reported that all participants reported fewer mental-health complaints, such as feeling tense or melancholy, and fewer physical health complaints, such as sore throats or headaches, in weeks where they lied less. Subjective reports of physical and mental health were also significantly better, as were evaluations of quality of personal relationships and social interactions. Statistician and study co-author, Lijuan Wang, Ph.D., says that statistical analyses demonstrated that this improvement in relationships significantly accounted for the improvement in health that was associated with less lying.
The effect was strongest in the group who had been instructed not to lie. In weeks where they told three fewer lies than in other weeks, they reported an average of four fewer mental-health complaints and three fewer physical complaints.
“Recent evidence indicates that Americans average about 11 lies per week,” said lead author Anita E. Kelly, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame. “We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies, and that in turn was associated with significantly improved health.”
At the conclusion of the study, participants in the group that had been asked to stop lying described their efforts. Some said they realized they could simply tell the truth about their daily accomplishments rather than exaggerate, while others said they stopped making false excuses for being late or failing to complete tasks, while still others learned to avoid lying by responding to a troubling question with another question to distract the person, Kelly said. The no-lying group told, on average, just one lie per week.
Linda Stroh, a professor emeritus of organizational behavior at Loyola University in Chicago, told USA Today that the findings are similar to 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.”
It is easy to see how lying can have such a profound effect, especially when considering the stress factor. Stress is often viewed as one of the main contributing causes to disease, and has been shown to increase mortality rates significantly. Additionally, it leads to a decline in gut health, and poor gut health has been shown to have a direct negative effect on mental health – leading to more stress and disease. Of course there are ways to naturally reduce life-crushing stress, as well as many foods to reduce stress.
But remember: honesty is the best policy.