Studies Say We Learn to Fib While Young

Hippel lined up 71 undergraduates, none of them Asian, and told them they were going to study the impact of different food chemicals on memory. Of course, that was a big fat lie. What they were really going to study was "verbal and nonverbal blurting."

The participants were given several tests to determine which ones were more socially inhibited, or which ones could keep their emotions in check so they could avoid a socially unacceptable blunder.

They were then divided into two groups. One was greeted by a pleasant Chinese lady who told them they were lucky. They were going to taste what many regard as the national dish of China, and her personal favorite. The other group was greeted by a Caucasian lady who told them simply that they were going to eat a Chinese dish.

"In both conditions, the experimenter then placed a container in close proximity to the participants' faces and opened it to clearly reveal a chicken foot. Participants' facial reactions and utterances were recorded by a hidden video camera.

"At this point, some participants expressed a desire not to eat the chicken foot," the study says.

But surprisingly, many of them did eat it, toes and all. Especially those in the group served by the Chinese lady.

"Participants were more likely to eat the foot when the experimenter was Chinese (52.6 percent) than when she was white (27.3 percent)," the study says.

But there's more. Some participants were also subjected to tests that left then fatigued, or distracted. And they were far more likely to blurt out an inappropriate response to the meal, even if served by the Chinese lady.

Result: We're more likely to blow it if we're distracted, or tired, because our inhibitions are less in check.

Or as Hippel puts it, we're more likely to put our own foot in mouth, not the chicken's, if we're stressed.

Lee Dye's column appears weekly on A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.

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