Being honest may actually improve your health suggests a study that found that telling fewer lies benefits people physically and mentally.For this ‘honesty experiment’, research from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, studied 110 individuals aged 18 to 71 over a 10-week period.
Each week, the participants visited a laboratory to complete health and relationship measures and to take a polygraph test assessing the number of major lies and white lies they had told that week.
“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,” Sydney Morning Herald quoted lead author Anita Kelly, a psychology professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, as saying.
“We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies, and that in turn was associated with significantly improved health,” she said.
Researchers instructed half the participants to stop telling lies for the 10 weeks. The instructions said
“refrain from telling any lies for any reason to anyone. You may omit truths, refuse to answer questions, and keep secrets, but you cannot say anything that you know to be false.”
The other half – who served as a control group – received no such instructions. Over the study period, the link between less lying and improved health was significantly stronger for participants in the no-lie group, the study found.
As an example, when participants in the no-lie group told three fewer white lies than they did in other weeks, they experienced, on average, about four fewer mental-health complaints and about three fewer physical complaints. For the control group, when they told three fewer white lies, they experienced two fewer mental-health complaints and about one less physical complaint. The pattern was similar for major lies, Kelly said.
For both groups, when participants lied less in a given week, they reported their physical health and mental health to be significantly better that week. And for those in the more truthful group, telling fewer lies led them to report improvements in close personal relationships. Overall, they reported that their social interactions had gone more smoothly, the study found.