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Can honesty improve your health?

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It is suggested by lying expert Robert Feldman that ‘the average person lies about 11 times a day, and will slip in at least two dishonesties in a 10-minute conversation; and further research added that this widespread insincerity is taking a toll on more than just your good reputation and, in fact, may play a significant role in your health (Eurek, 2002).{{more}}

Going as far back as 1904, Sigmund Freud’s presented as his Fundamental Rule of Psychoanalysis, that complete honesty was required from patients for their cure. In 2014, the American Psychological Association presented a research which was carried out by two University of Notre Dame professionals as part of their “Science of Honesty” project; they followed 72 adults for five weeks. The participants were broken into two groups, a control group and a sincerity group that was told to speak only the truth. Members of the sincerity group were told:

“Throughout every day of the next five weeks, you must speak honestly, truthfully, and sincerely – not only about the big things, but also about the small things, such as why you were late.

You must always mean what you say in situations where your statements are to be taken seriously, as opposed to when joking or obviously exaggerating. While you certainly can choose not to answer questions, you must always mean what you say.”

By the end of the study, significant health differences were reported among the two groups. Those in the sincerity group had an average of seven fewer symptoms, such as sore throats, headaches, nausea, and mental tension, than the control group.

Five ‘Versions of the Truth’ that are really Lies

It makes sense that lying would negatively impact your health and emotional well-being, as negative thoughts of all kinds have been shown to do just that. In the case of lying, however, many people do it without even thinking about it, which means, in order to protect your health, you’ve first got to identify what constitutes a lie. Here are five examples that might surprise you:

  • Controlling a Response: Let’s say you’re telling a friend about an argument you had with your spouse. If you shade the truth by only telling your side of the story, or altering the way in which you actually behaved to reflect more favourably on yourself, it’s lying. You are, in fact, altering or controlling your friend’s response, perhaps to get them to say what you want to hear.
  • Lying by Omission: Intentionally leaving out significant or relevant details is a form of lying and will not promote mutual trust or honest communication.
  • Exaggerations: Embellishing on your resume, exaggerating your skills, or inflating events when you tell a story are all examples of lies that will eventually deem you untrustworthy.
  • Self-Protection: This is a form of lying in which you put a guard up so as to feel less vulnerable and avoid getting hurt. It often involves downplaying your emotions or pretending you’re not interested or involved in order to protect yourself.
  • Gossip or Covert Communication: If you talk about someone behind their back, it will usually involve lying at some point (often by denying the gossip to the person being gossiped about). It’s better to only engage in open, honest communications that you don’t feel you have to cover up after the fact.

Protect Your Health by Being Honest

  • Honesty really is the best policy, and you can take the five-week sincerity challenge to see if it makes a difference in your health and well-being. If you find lying has become a habit, you can break it by prominently displaying your new moral code: honesty is the best policy.

“Being sincere brings you closer to the decent people you know, pushes away the naysayers, and allows you to feel a certain hopefulness about the world. To the extent that you experience these, I believe you too will have profound health benefits.”

References:

  • ‘Eurek Alert’ June 6, 2002
  • APA Annual Convention 2012, “A Life Without Lies”

Prepared by Dr Jozelle Miller Health Psychologist

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