Book: We Are All Liars


lieBy Michelle Burford

On average, people tell three lies every 10 minutes — from “I was just about to call you” and “You’ve lost weight!” to “Your secret is safe with me.” Think this claim is a bit of an exaggeration? University of Massachusetts psychology professor Robert Feldman, Ph.D., has spent the last 25 years proving it. In his book entitled “The Liar in Your Life: The Way to Truthful Relationships,” Feldman presents evidence on why we lie, just how often we stretch the truth and the costs and benefits that come with such fibbing — whether it’s the so-called “little white lie,” a Madoff-style whopper or something in between. “The most surprising finding of my research is how ubiquitous lying is,” says Feldman. “It occurs at a rate far greater than I ever expected to find. In fact, lying is so frequent that we don’t even register that it’s happening.”

Lying also begins early: Feldman says that we learn to weave these tangled webs during toddlerhood, at around age two or three. The older children get, the more sophisticated their lies become. In a sense, they’re training for survival in the adult world, since Feldman’s research shows that popular, socially successful people tend to be good liars. Yet even with the social advantages that come with fudging, Feldman contends that all lies exact a toll – on both the person who delivers the fiction and the one who is duped by it.

Why do we lie?

Robert Feldman, Ph.D.: We lie because it works. And it works because other people want to hear lies about themselves — that they’re looking good or that we agree with them. In some cases, we lie because it gives us an advantage over others — we lie to convince people of what we want them to believe. There are a lot of reasons, but the bottom line is that lying is a social tactic that we use to get what we want.

Have humans evolved as liars because some lying is actually necessary for survival?

Feldman: Though we certainly learn to lie as we grow up, lying also has evolutionary roots. You can look throughout the non-human animal kingdom and see that animals lie in simple ways, like through camouflage. They also lie in more intricate ways: A firefly emits a signal to attract fireflies and other species, and the one that’s attracted is eaten in the end. Animals with more sophisticated cognitive levels, like chimps and apes, use all sorts of deception. It’s an effective means for survival.

If lying gives us a social advantage, what’s so great about telling the truth all the time?

Feldman: Apart from the moral question, lying as a tactic often backfires. If a relationship begins with a lie — and my research has shown that people lie, on average, three times within the first 10 minutes of getting to know each other — the connection is built on falsehood. From there, the lies can snowball, leading to larger and larger lies. Dishonesty leads to a kind of inauthenticity — and I think most of us want more authentic relationships. We want to be honest with others, and we want to know where we stand with them. If we’re constantly being lied to, we have a false impression of what the relationship is all about. And in some ways, we never really understand who we are as people, because we get social feedback from others about what our capabilities are — “You’re doing a great job!” It’s not necessarily true, so we can never really assess ourselves accurately.

What kinds of lies do we most commonly tell?

Feldman: When we lie to other people, we’re usually trying to make them feel good about themselves — “I agree with you” or “That’s a wonderful new tie.” We also lie to make the conversation go more smoothly. So when someone mentions a restaurant or a book, you say, “Yes, I’ve been there” or “I’ve read that.” Or you say you liked a book when you really didn’t. Then there are the self-oriented lies. To make ourselves look better and to puff ourselves up, we claim “I’ve traveled to Europe” or “I was in the National Honor Society in high school.” Most of us think that we’re above average, and we lie to reinforce our belief that we really are smarter, more capable, a better driver, you name it. This inflated view of ourselves is basically what allows us to get through the day. It’s a mechanism we use to enhance and protect our self-image.

{AOL Health/Noam Newscenter}


  1. I would hope that the nation that was told ‘midevar sheker tirchok’ is more truthful than this book claims.

    We have to remember how much our Torah teaches about the importance of emes and the genai of sheker. With no other mitzvoh does the Torah tell us ‘tirchok’, that not only should we not do it, but that we should stay far away from it as well.

  2. The story begins “On average, people tell three lies every 10 minutes” but’s that’s not what Dr. Feldman said. He said “my research has shown that people lie, on average, three times within the first 10 minutes of getting to know each other” which is much different than EVERY 10 minutes. It’s not surprising that people lie when meeting someone new. It would be shocking if people actually lied about 18 times an hour.

  3. reb yaakov kamenetzky said that the emes means what one is required 2 say. therefore many nontrue things said are still in the realm of emes. Jews dont care about truth only emes!


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