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Why Do People Lie?

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Do you think you are an honest person? What makes you that way? Colin Lowther and Liz Waid look at the reasons people are honest and why people lie.

Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Colin Lowther.

Voice 2

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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Voice 1

Imagine you work at a hotel. You answer phones and show people to their rooms. You meet a lot of interesting people at your job. And you have seen some strange things.

Voice 2

One day, someone comes into the hotel. They walk up to your desk and tell you they found a wallet outside. It was lying on the sidewalk. They ask if you would return the wallet to its owner. Then, they leave.

Voice 1

You look through the wallet. You are hoping to find something to identify its owner. Instead, you find a key, a list for shopping, and money. The money is worth 100 US dollars. There is a telephone number on the list. You stop for a moment and think. Only one person knows you have the wallet. It would be very easy to take the money. No one is watching.

Photo by Andres Siimon on Unsplash
Voice 2

What would you do? Would you take the money? Would you return the wallet? Would you be honest? Today’s Spotlight is on honesty and why people lie.

Voice 1

This example was part of a real experiment. All over the world, researchers entered hotels. They went to police stations and banks. They turned in wallets. Some wallets had more money, and some had less. The goal was to see when people returned the wallets and why. Researchers dropped over 17,000 wallets in 40 different countries. Then they waited for the results.

Voice 2

Before the study, most researchers believed that people would take the wallets with more money. More money would give people more reason to steal. But this did not happen! Instead, people were more likely to turn in the wallets with more money. This was true in almost every country. More people also returned the wallet if there was a key in it.

Voice 1

Researchers believe that there are two reasons for their results. First, people do not want to believe that they are bad. Stealing is illegal in almost every country. When there was more money in the wallet, it felt more like they were stealing. They returned the wallets because they did not want to seem like bad people.

Voice 2

Dan Ariely is an economist who studies dishonesty. He talked to NPR news. He said that the study showed that people choose to be honest because it is more socially acceptable. He says:

Voice 3

“This study shows in a very natural way that our choices about dishonesty are not rational. We do not think in terms of costs and benefits. We think about what we feel comfortable with socially.”

Voice 1

The second reason researchers believe people returned wallets with more money and items is because they felt bad for the owner of the wallet. Everyone knows what it feels like to lose something. You become panicked or distressed. You search and do not stop. This is especially true if you lose something important to you.

Voice 2

Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s experiences. We think about how we might feel if we lost a wallet full of money. This also affects situations where we lie. It is easier to lie when the lie is small or if we think what we do will not change anything. But if we think about how we feel when someone lies, we may not do it. In this way, honesty depends on empathy.

Voice 1

How honest we are also depends on our own needs. A person may be more willing to lie if they need something very badly.

Voice 2

How honest we are also changes when dealing with different people. Stereotypes are beliefs we have about people without really knowing them. These beliefs about groups of people shape our behavior. They make it more difficult to feel empathy. Imagine that you believe that all people from a particular country lie. You may dislike them, even though you do not know much about them. You may be honest toward everyone else. But you may not believe that people from this country deserve honesty. You may not be honest, because you do not believe those people will be honest.

Voice 1

But how honest you are also can also depend on where you are from. David Hugh-Jones is a researcher at The University of East Anglia. In 2015, he decided to study what honesty looked like in different countries. He created an experiment. He asked people from many different countries to report the results of a coin flip. The person in the experiment would throw the coin in the air. If the coin landed on heads, the person would get money. If it landed on tails, they got nothing. Hugh-Jones also had people answer questions about music. Correct answers would also get a reward. People in the study could easily cheat. But the questions were very difficult. Almost no one would know them. So Hugh-Jones would know when they were honest or not.

ICMA Photos, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Voice 2

Hugh-Jones found that the U.K. was the most honest in the coin flip. But Japan was the most honest in the music quiz. And other countries had different levels of honesty. The two different tests showed that people were honest about some things, but not honest about other things. This could have to do with cultural differences about honesty.

Voice 1

Almost every culture values honesty. But it is not always easy to be honest. Telling the truth can be difficult. Most of the time, we lie to stay safe. Judi Ketteler is a journalist who reports on honesty. She wrote for Scientific American:

Voice 4

“In relationships, we lie to make people feel better or to avoid awkward situations. But we also do not like it when our romantic partner lies to us. We lie to ourselves as well, believing that we are smarter than we are. Children will lie more often if other people have lied to them. We even lie if we are afraid the truth will look like a lie. And of course, we also lie on social media.”

Voice 2

These lies can keep us happy. They help us avoid difficult situations. But lying also causes negative emotions like worry. It can make you think everyone else is lying too. And most of the time, lying is not even necessary. Ketteler says:

Voice 4

“We often think being honest will be more difficult than it is. In fact, people find that being honest makes relationships better. It improves social connections more than they expect.”

Voice 1

So, how can you be more honest? Ketteler offers this advice: A good start is to watch when you lie. Why are you not being honest? What will happen if you speak the truth? Try to stop the small lies first. You may find the bigger lies will also stop soon after.

Voice 2

How honest do you think you are? Have you ever tried to be more truthful? What was it like? You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at contact@spotlightenglish.com. You can also find us on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Voice 1

The writer of this program was Dan Christmann. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again on our website at www.spotlightenglish.com. This program is called: Why Do People Lie?

Voice 2

Visit our website to download our free official app for Android and Apple devices. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Do you think you are an honest person? How often do you lie?

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9 comments
  • I don’t like lying because when I lie I feel a negative emotional like intense anxiety , also when I lie to people I think people lying to me, however I always like to tell the truth .

  • Sometimes I’m lying in Situations not danger to lie because i feel in the comfort zone but in the same time in any things is seriously i try not lying because i hate the lying and i hate any person lying me and i think who is lying is become not strong character

  • I’m trying to he honest as possible as i can but sometimes i have to lie especially when my dad come sooo late to take me home and i’m like : no it’s ok it didnt happen always but it is

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