Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

The Ancient Art of Lying

We’ve come a long way since the Garden of Eden, the parabolic birthplace of deception. Because now you hear anywhere from 10 to 200 lies a day.

Lying—a trick that 90 percent of 4-year-olds have figured out—may range from a harmless white lie to grand White House lies, but most are told with the same intention: to make oneself look better.

A UMass study found that 60 percent of participants told two to three lies within a 10-minute conversation, from merely faking agreement with the other person to pretending to be the star of a rock band. While men and women lie at approximately the same rate, women tend to do so to make the other person feel good, whereas men lie to make themselves look better.

And online dating profiles are the Mecca of image-boosting tweaks. One survey revealed that 53 percent of people admit to lying on their profiles. Dropping a few pounds (32 percent), using an old photo (18 percent), or glamorizing a job (40 percent of men; a third of women) are among the most common fibs used on dating sites, though not entirely challenging to figure out within seconds of meeting.

Résumés have also proved to be rich with deceit. One recruitment firm estimates that about 40 percent of résumés aren’t totally truthful, which, in the past three years, have human resources departments dramatically increasing time spent toward checking out references. The most common lie on résumés involves playing with job dates, whether it’s to mask job-hopping, being fired, prison time, or—common among women—time recently taken off for family. Applicants also embellish accomplishments, increase previous salaries, swell GPAs and honors, fake language fluency (a bold move, no doubt), and blur “familiarity” with “proficiency” regarding computer skills. Fear of ageism tends to promote lying by omission, such as graduation dates. The easiest lie to check out? Diplomas and degrees.

Hearing a lie in person, however, requires detection more acute than a 30-second, first-date conversation or brief follow-ups with employers. The conscious mind only controls 5 percent of communication; the rest is beyond awareness, allowing signs of dishonesty to slip into body language and word choice. The four most common qualities of a lie include minimal self-referencing (such as speaking in third person or using pronouns to create distance from the lie), a tendency to employ negative words out of guilt, overly simplistic explanations of a situation, and convoluted sentence structures that help pad the lie.

This video breaks down these giveaways through “linguistic text analysis”: