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Telling frequent small lies affects how well one reads emotions

Schwerdhoefer | Pixabay

Lying is, in many ways, a part of being human. People have many motivations for lying such as keep others happy and safe. But lying can also harm how you interact socially. 

According to a study  conducted by the American Psychological Association, harmless lies, better known as white lies, while seemingly unimportant, can harm a person’s ability to judge others’ emotions. 

The study focused on 250 pairs where one partner would tell a lie or truth and then try to judge the other’s emotions. In order to keep their partners unaware, they would tell a story of them seeking a job. 

After telling their story, the storytellers were told to notate their emotions, and the emotions of their partners. The storytellers who lied, showed worse accuracy trying to assess their partner’s emotions. 

Afterwards, 1,879 participants were given four other scenarios. One scenario had the participants have an opportunity to cheat in a dice throwing game. 

The participants who could cheat showed higher scores in the game than those who could not which demonstrated their dishonesty. 

The participants then watched 42 video clips of actors expressing various emotions, and tried to analyze their emotions. Using an empathic accuracy test, the participants who had lied previously resulted with low scores. 

Researchers found that not only were the liars unable to tell people’s emotions, they also responded to the videos with “unethical behavior.” Participants would treat the actors as if they were less than human.      

The researchers concluded that the ability to see someone else’s emotions is associated with how relational people see themselves. If a person sees themselves as someone who can relate to others at a close level, for example a parent and child, then they are relational.

 According to researchers, being relational is what creates a better understanding of people’s emotions. Hence, lies deter from being relational because of their falsehood. The effects of lies were described as having ripple effects on people.   

For students at Baruch College, this research could help when it comes to networking. 

Telling small lies could lead to a better first impression with people, but could be harmful in the long run. If “white lies” are used frequently, it is possible that students could misinterpret things when networking, and fail at making connections.

Telling constant white lies could also take a toll on physical health. According to a 2014 article  by Forbes, a study on honesty was conducted by a team at the University of Notre Dame. 

The research group had 72 adult participants, and these participants were split into two groups, an honesty group and a control group. 

The control group was given no instructions and told to just act natural while the honesty group had to be honest during the entirety of the experiment. The latter group was told to answer every question that members got asked sincerely.

The experiment lasted for five weeks and the results showed improved physical health for the honesty group. By that, it meant that health symptoms like sore throats and headaches were less common in the group. 

Despite the many cons of telling lies, even small ones, most people tend to lie about something. A lying expert, Robert Fedman, claims that in a 10-minute conversation, 60% of people are likely to lie twice within the time frame. The lead researcher, Anita E. Kelly, stated that on average, a person lies around 11 times daily.

Not all small lies are meant to be deceitful. An article  from Greater Good Magazine titled “What’s Good About Lying?” demonstrated a study in which children lied to help others feel better, exhibiting signs of empathy.

In the study, children were presented with two artworks. One artwork was considered good and the other  one was considered bad. 

An artist would come in and show some children the artwork, and they would then judge the work. If the artist looked sad and felt bad about their art, the children would try to appease the artist and convince them that the artwork was not bad. 

While research claims that lies can ruin one’s ability to read other people’s emotions, it can also help with showing empathy. 

It is important for people to understand the consequences of things as small as white lies but also to keep a balance between lies and the truth. After all, no one is perfect enough to be honest forever. 

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