The damage that can be caused by lying may extend beyond burning pants. Anita Kelly, a psychologist at the University of Notre Dame who studies secrecy, self-disclosure, and self-presentation says in her research that telling lies—no matter if they are little “white lies” or major deceptions—may affect both our psychology and physiology.
Kelly and her collaborators spent 10 weeks with 110 subjects of various ages and backgrounds. While half of the subjects were instructed to stop telling lies, both big and small, for the duration of the study, the other half was given no special instructions. Every week, both groups came in for tests that assessed the frequency of the lies they had told in the past week and measured their well-being.
The results showed that those who lied less not only had better mental health (feeling less tense, for example), but they also had less physical problems like headaches.
According to Kelly, compared to the control group, the subjects in the more truthful group told quite fewer lies during the 10-week experiment, and by the fifth week, they thought themselves to be more honest. When subjects across both groups lied less in a given week, they said that their physical health and mental health had improved substantially. The experiment also showed positive results in participants’ personal relationships, as those in the no-lie group noticed that relationship and social interactions as a whole were going more smoothly when they told no lies.
What is interesting is the fact that the people in the group who were asked not to lie at the outset benefited from lying less much more. That’s probably because their lying less was a deliberate effort and not just random variation.
So why does lying is so good for us? According to Kelly, by trying to lie less, the test subjects “realized they could simply tell the truth about their daily accomplishments rather than exaggerate… [or stop] making false excuses for being late or failing to complete tasks.” Maybe we can assume that by trying not to lie to others, these people also got more honest with themselves. And that’s just one of the conditions for clear-eyed living.