Most people in the UK tell very few lies, according to new research. But among those who do fib are a subset of “prolific liars,” who tell six “white lies” (those they consider harmless) and three “big lies” each day. And in the UK, that subset may make up as much as 9.7% of the total population.
So who are these big liars? In the UK, the researchers found, they were most likely to be young, male, and have higher occupational status.
The study (paywall) is the latest to distinguish between “typical” and “prolific” liars. The authors—Kim Serota, a special lecturer in marketing at Oakland University, and Timothy Levine, a professor of communication at Michigan State University—recently examined American liars (pdf) and found a similar pattern, though yanks were ever so slightly more honest, with 1.6 lies a day on average, compared with around two a day in the UK.
But in both regions, looking at the average number of lies is misleading, the authors write, because recent studies have shown that the data is skewed by a few people who lie quite a lot. Most, they write, are fairly infrequent liars. In fact, the authors found that “typical” liars in the UK told “no or few lies” each day—around one white lie a day and one big lie a week.
The study measured self-reported lies, so it’s possible that respondents were less-than-truthful about their fibbing habits. But according to other research (paywall) led by Shaul Shalvi, professor of psychology at Ben Gurion University, people are probably mostly honest about their dishonesty. In Shalvi’s study, participants reported on how often they lied, then played a simple game to test how often they would cheat. Those who reported themselves to be liars were more likely to cheat, too, indicating that they really were less honest than those who said they lied less.