How lies breed lies

Lies breed because we’re more likely to tell lies to people who have lied to us. That’s according to James Tyler and colleagues who found telling multiple lies of exaggeration (e.g. “I got a first class degree at university”) is more likely to mean you will be lied to in return, distrusted and disliked, than if you tell lies of underestimation (e.g. “Berlusconi only gifted me £150,000”).

Tyler’s team showed 64 undergrads a video of another student being interviewed. The participants were given a sheet of facts about the student (presented on university headed paper, and ostensibly gathered from the student’s admission interview to the university) so they could tell whether he was lying on not in the video. In fact the student in the video was a confederate of the researchers, and five versions of the video were made, featuring varying levels of honesty.

Afterwards each participant was secretly filmed while he/she briefly met the student who they’d just watched being interviewed. Then the participants were debriefed and asked to point out any lies they had told to the interviewee student.

Participants who’d watched a version of the video in which the interviewee had told several lies of exaggeration were more likely to report having lied to him when they subsequently met, than were participants who watched a version of the video in which the interviewee always told the truth, only told lies of underestimation, or only told one lie of exaggeration.

Unsurprisingly, participants who watched a version in which the interviewee told multiple lies of exaggeration also tended to say they liked him less and found him less trustworthy.

“When people are lied to they may consider a requisite amount of reciprocal deception as a legitimate and called for response”, the researchers concluded. They said this finding could be interpreted in support of the negative norm of reciprocity “in which people tend to ‘reciprocate in kind’ to others who mistreat them”, or it might instead reflect a form of the chameleon effect “in which people non-consciously alter their behaviours to match those of interaction partners”.

Tyler, J.M., Feldman, R.S. & Reichert, A. (2006). The price of deceptive behaviour: Disliking and lying to people who lie to us. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 69-77.
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