Study: We All Tell Lies Over the Phone

Of course, it's also easy to disguise your identity in e-mail, but college students who are communicating with acquaintances usually have no reason to do that.

Sex, Lies and Videotape

Incidently, college students are not necessarily like all the rest of us, being subjected to social tortures like dating, so they may be inclined to lie a bit more. Another study by Hancock supports that, showing that older persons also lie often, and they do it most often over the phone, but less frequently than college students.

Even after leaving college and assuming more routine lives, we continue to lie frequently, according to various studies.

Psychologist Robert Feldman of the University of Massachusetts conducted one study in which 60 percent of the participants lied, usually two or three times, during a 10 minute conversation. What they didn't know was that their lies were being captured by a hidden video camera.

Interestingly, that study showed no difference between men and women in the frequency of lying, but it did find a difference in subject matter.

"Women were more likely to lie to make the person they were talking to feel good, while men lied most often to make themselves look better," Feldman says.

In an earlier study, Feldman found that good liars tend to be more popular. Not only do they avoid hurting other's feelings, they have mastered certain social skills or they wouldn't be successful liars.

Long-Distance — From Fibbing Discomfort

It isn't always easy to tell a lie, which brings us back to the telephone.

"When we lie, we experience discomfort, and we do as much as we can to reduce discomfort," says Cornell's Hancock. One way to do that is to use a "more socially distant media" to transmit our untruth. That nasty device known as the telephone lends itself well to that. Nobody can see us when we tell that fib, and there's no paper trail.

It's a dream machine for everyone who, from time to time, has to tell a little white lie. Only to protect someone else, of course.

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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