Honestly: Study shows that lying is harmful to your health

Lara Abramov

| 3 min read

I was 6 years old when I got caught in a terrible lie. I had not only stolen a small figurine of a dog that belonged to someone else, I had lied about doing it. I was punished, had to return the dog statue and apologize to the victim of my crime. I was humiliated and felt terrible about myself. The experience has never left me; instead it helped shape some of my very basic ideas about right and wrong and about the repercussions of lying.
We live in a culture saturated in dishonesty. Research reveals that Americans, on average, tell about 11 lies per week. Many believe that lying is a necessary part of everyday life, yet we expect honesty in our relations with others and are often disappointed when we find out we’ve been lied to. Yet a sense of honesty between human beings is essential to our existence and is rated as one of the most positive of all human traits.
Don't be like Pinocchio.
Reading about the detrimental effects of lying documented in a recent University of Notre Dame study entitled “The Science of Honesty” was no shocker. I’ve always believed that lying does something to one’s overall mental and physical health, that a little bit of your spirit rots away with every lie uttered. Call it my belief in karma, but I feel that speaking an untruth purposefully can open one up to increased negative outcomes. Does anyone disagree with that?
What is a “lie,” anyway? The definition used in the Notre Dame study contends that the speaker purposely tries to deceive the listener and knows that the content of what they are saying is false.
More than 100 individuals participated in the 10-week study. Half were asked to stop telling lies altogether and were only able to:
  • Omit truths
  • Refuse to answer questions
  • Keep secrets
They weren’t able to make any statements that were knowingly false. The other half of the group was not given those instructions. Both the control group and the “no lie” group had to report to a lab every week, take a polygraph test and submit information on what type of lies, if any, they’d told.
After the data had been collected and crunched, members of the “no lie” group reported improvements in their physical and mental health and in their personal interactions and relationships with others. Researchers were able to draw clear connections between lying, health and well-being, such as:
  • Telling fewer lies leads to an improved idea of self.
  • Conscious efforts to stop lying can increase health benefits.
  • Building trust by not violating it improved relationships and subsequently, health.
I’d be lying to you if I said it didn’t sound corny, but the results of this study reinforce what I’ve always believed: Lying begets further harm. So, if you’re looking at ways to feel better on many different levels, take a close look at the things you say and how you say them, otherwise, you could be making yourself sick!
Photo credit: mnwatts

A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
No Personal Healthcare Advice or Other Advice
This Web site provides general educational information on health-related issues and provides access to health-related resources for the convenience of our users. This site and its health-related information and resources are not a substitute for professional medical advice or for the care that patients receive from their physicians or other health care providers.
This site and its health-related information resources are not meant to be the practice of medicine, the practice of nursing, or to carry out any professional health care advice or service in the state where you live. Nothing in this Web site is to be used for medical or nursing diagnosis or professional treatment.
Always seek the advice of your physician or other licensed health care provider. Always consult your health care provider before beginning any new treatment, or if you have any questions regarding a health condition. You should not disregard medical advice, or delay seeking medical advice, because of something you read in this site.