Want Good Health? Tell the Truth

Better mental and physical health resulted from telling fewer lies

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) People tend to lie far more than they realize, even about relatively insignificant things, according to psychological research. But these lies may contribute to poorer overall health.

An unpublished study presented at the recent American Psychological Association's annual conference found that telling fewer lies leads to fewer mental health and physical issues.

"Try to reduce the number of lies told."

Anita Kelly and Lijuan Wang, psychology professors at the University of Notre Dame, conducted a 10-week study to investigate the impact lying had on people's health.

The 110 people involved in the study were a mixture of 65 percent college students and 35 percent adults, ranging in age from 18 to 71.

During the course of the study, one half of the participants had been told to stop telling lies - big ones and little ones - for 10 weeks. The other group received no instructions about lying at all.

All the individuals came to the lab each week for health and relationship assessments and to take a polygraph test to determine how many major and white lies they told that week.

Estimates about the number of lies people tell each day or each week vary considerably. Dr. Kelly estimates that Americans average about 11 lies a week, but former CIA agents Philip Houston and Michael Floyd, authors of "Spy the Lie," have stated that research shows most people lie as much as a dozen times daily.

Dr. Kelly's study found that the people who told the fewest lies each week also had the fewest number of physical and mental health complaints - especially if they were in the group told not to lie.

One correlation found was that participants in the no-lie group had an average of four fewer mental health problems (such as tension or melancholy feelings) and three fewer physical issues (such as a sore throat or headache) if they told three fewer white lies that week.

There was a reduction in the mental and physical health complaints for those in the control group with fewer lies, but the difference was not as large. Those who told three fewer white lies had two fewer mental health complaints and one less physical complaint.

Dr. Kelly reported that telling fewer major lies had similar correlations to fewer mental and physical complaints.

During the course of the study, the no-lie participants did tell fewer lies and perceived themselves to be more honest by the half-way point of the study.

"We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies, and that in turn was associated with significantly improved health," said Dr. Kelly.

The less participants lied each week, the researchers reported, the better they reported feeling mentally and physically and the better their personal relationships and social interactions were that week.

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

The individuals involved in the study reported that they started telling the truth about daily accomplishments rather than exaggerating them and told the truth for tardiness or not completing something instead of providing false excuses.

Others said they avoided lying by addressing a difficult question with another question to distract the person they were talking to.

The study was presented at the American Psychological Association's 120th annual convention in Orlando, August 2-5. Because the study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, its results should be regarded as preliminary and still require review by researchers in the field.

The research was funded by the John Templeton Foundation. No information was available regarding author disclosures of conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 6, 2012
Last Updated:
April 2, 2013