Truthfulness is good for mental health
By William Smith
Have you ever felt good about telling the truth when it would have been easier to tell a lie? New research suggests that telling the truth when tempted to lie can improve both mental and physical health.
Researchers from the University of Notre Dame evaluated 110 people for a 10 week period. The participants were divided into two groups with one group asked to stop telling major or minor lies for the ten weeks. The other group was not given any specific instructions about telling lies. The participants had an average age of 31 and were randomly selected from the community and colleges.
‘Recent evidence indicates that Americans average about 11 lies per week. We wanted to find out if living more honestly can actually cause better health’ said Anita E. Kelly, Ph.D., the lead author 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,’ she added.
Each week the participants from both groups attended a laboratory to complete questionnaires about their health and relationships and to take a lie detector test (polygraph). This was to assess the number of major lies and little white lies that they had told that week. The researchers found that over the duration of the study the link between less lying and improved health was much stronger for the participants in the ‘no-lie’ group.
When the participants in the truthful group told three less white lies than they did in other weeks, they suffered from about four fewer mental health complaints such as feeling tense or sad. They also experienced about three fewer physical complaints like headaches and sore throats.
The participants in the other group who told three less minor lies in a week experienced two fewer mental health problems and around just one less physical complaints. Kelly explained that the health improvements experienced for fewer major lies was similar. She also said that the truthful group told significantly fewer lies across the 10 week study and that by the fifth week they say themselves as more honest.
After the study was completed the people in the truthful group explained how they had kept from lying to others. Some realised that they found it easy to tell the truth and not the exaggerate, other said they stopped making excuses for being late or other minor shortcomings, whilst others said that they deflected questions that they did not want to answer honestly by asking a question in return.
The study findings will be published later this year but were presented at the American Psychological Association’s Annual Convention.
Perhaps Grandma was right when she said ‘Honesty is the best policy’!