A new study suggests honesty really is the best policy when it comes to your health. Researchers found those telling lies experienced more negative health effects than those who told the truth. They also say lying can put strain on relationships.
The study, titled "Science of Honesty”, was presented this past weekend at the American Psychological Association’s 120th annual convention, reported PhysOrg.com. The study was led by Anita E. Kelly, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame and co-authored by Lijuan Wang, PhD, also of Notre Dame.
“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 Kelly in a press release about 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.”
The experiment lasted over 10 weeks with 110 participants. According to researchers, 34 percent were adults and 66 percent were college students. The subjects were aged 18 to 71 years (average age 31). The study sample was made up of 63 percent women, primarily white females ─ 87 percent, the researchers said. The subjects' financial status ranged in annual family income from $25,000 to over $160,000.
One half of the group was told to tell no lies, and the other group was given no instructions.
Researchers gave polygraph tests once a week and with each visit, gave the participants a questionnaire, reported CBS News. They looked at both 'white lies' and more serious lies, and found when the truth was told, the individual experienced less physical and mental health complaints.
Kelly noted the relationship between good relationships and better health. She said the researchers' findings "support the notion that lying less can cause better health through improving relationships. Improvements in the relationships accounted for a significant improvement in health."
“Statistical analyses showed that this improvement in relationships significantly accounted for the improvement in health that was associated with less lying,” said Wang, who is a statistician.
Kelly noted the link between better health with less lying was seen in both groups, but the "no-lie" group was clearer.
"The connection between lying less and improved health, following the people over 10 weeks, was amplified by being in the no-lie group,'' she says. "The connection was even stronger."
This study was shared at a medical conference this past weekend, and has not yet been peer reviewed or published, thus are only considered to be preliminary findings. Although, these findings echo earlier findings, reports WebMD.
Sally Theran, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass. had conducted previous research on the issue. "My research on girls and boys ... indicates that the process of being authentic, or being honest and open in meaningful relationships, is significantly related to feeling less depressed and having higher self-esteem," Theran said.
U.S. News reported Dr. Bryan Bruno, of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who was not affiliated with this research said, "People might recognize the more devastating impact lying can have on relationships, but probably don't recognize the extent to which it can cause a lot of internal stress."