White Lies and Your Health

By: Jenna Savage

It may seem as though little lies are harmless. If no one is getting hurt, does it matter that you invented an excuse to get out of doing homework? If it keeps you from hurting another person’s feelings, does it matter if you say you like a particular piece of clothing, even if you don’t? You may think that the answer is no — after all, the lies are small and relatively benign — but the reality may surprise you. It turns out that white lies are bad for your health. The more you lie, the more likely it is that you will feel bad, both physically and emotionally, according to a recent article by U.S. News & World Report.

Researcher and University of Notre Dame psychology professor Anita Kelly conducted a study of 110 adults. Half of the participants were required to stop lying — as in making false statements and claims — while the other half was allowed to keep lying. Both groups recorded how many lies they told each day. They were also subject to lie detector exams and questionnaires regarding health and relationship quality.

Kelly found that when the groups were made to be more contentious of their lying habits, both lied less frequently than they did before the study. However, the lying group found that their health declined. Compared to the group that did not lie, liars had more mental and physical ailments. Meanwhile, the non-liars found that having to tell the truth improved their relationships and kept them from having too many physical and mental health complaints. This is because lying causes stress, the article reports, which in turn leads to health problems.

According to Linda Stroh, an organizational behavior professor at Loyola University, lies are physically draining. She told U.S. News & World Report that they take a lot of energy to plan out and remember, which in turn can lead to tension and anxiety.

Of course, always telling the truth can be tricky. White lies are everywhere, and difficult to overcome. The key to cutting back on lying without hurting anyone’s feelings or indicting oneself is to be creative. If you don’t like the outfit your significant other is wearing, you don’t have to say that you do. Instead, compliment something else, like other physical features. Be vague without being dishonest, and you can save both yourself and others from being subject to the effects of lying.

Ultimately, the benefits of learning to be truthful outweigh the side effects of lying. If you cut back on mistruths, you may find yourself feeling much better in the long run.