You might think lying less is a good policy in general, but you’ve probably never thought about a relationship between lying and your physical health. A new research study, presented at the American Psychological Association annual meeting in Orlando on August 4, suggests a surprising relationship.
The researchers, led by Dr. Lisa Kelly, professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame (Indiana, USA) studied a group of 110 men and women, age 18 to 71, over a period of ten weeks. Half of the people were given the following instruction: “refrain from telling 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 of the group was given no instructions about lying, so they were considered the “control” group. Every week of the study, all the participants were given lie-detector tests to determine how many minor or major lies they had told the previous week. The “control” group averaged a total of about 11 minor or major lies per week, but the “no lying” group told an average of only one lie per week.
Every week they were questioned about their health, if they had experienced any symptoms of any illness during the previous week such as sore throat, headache, excessive nervousness, and so forth.
They found that the “no lying” group had significantly fewer symptoms of disease. The people who continued their usual practice of telling “white” or little lies during the week complained of an average three to four more symptoms weekly than the people who were trying to be more truthful.
A professor of organizational behavior at Loyola University (Chicago, USA), Linda Stroh notes “When you find that you don’t lie, you have less stress…Being very conflicted adds an inordinate amount of stress to your life”. And Dr. Bryan Bruno, chairman of psychiatry at Lennox Hill Hospital (New York City) says “I think lying can cause a lot of stress for people, contributing to anxiety and even depression….Lying less is not only good for your relationships, but for yourself as an individual….people probably don’t recognize the extent to which lying can cause a lot of internal stress.”
In the Notre Dame research, the group who told fewer lies found they could just tell the truth when they were late, or when they didn’t finish a task. Or they just avoided the question, or asked another question back so they didn’t have to tell a lie. Whatever, they found ways not to tell the little lies that are common to most people.
Concludes Dr. Kelly: “The goal doesn’t have to be the absolute absence of lies . . . the goal would be a reduction in lies. What people can do is to commit themselves to lying less”. For less internal stress, and your better health…try it for a week and see what happens!
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