Why Nice People Are Usually Liars
New psychology research has found that compassion can sometimes be associated with dishonesty. The study, published May 11 in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, suggests that compassion can lead individuals to tell lies that are intended to benefit others.
“I have always been interested in prosocial lies because of their ethical ambiguity,” explained Matthew J. Lupoli of the University of California, San Diego, the study’s corresponding author. “The opportunity to tell a prosocial lie presents a conflict between two moral values: honesty, and harm prevention.
“Surprisingly, there has been little research investigating the factors that influence people’s behavior in the face of this conflict,” he told PsyPost. “Given that the emotion of compassion involves being motivated to alleviate others’ suffering, we thought that this emotion would be a likely candidate as a driver of prosocial lying.”
Lupoli and his colleagues conducted three separate experiments with about 1,000 participants in total. The study examined two types of prosocial lies: those that prevent emotional harm and those that promote positive outcomes for others.
In the first two experiments, the researchers investigated how compassion influenced giving feedback to the writer of a poorly written essay. In the third experiment, the researchers investigated how compassion influenced lies that procure financial gains for a charity. Across all the experiments, more compassionate people were more likely to lie.
“The most interesting part of this research for me is that it provides a view of compassion that people don’t typically consider,” Lupoli told PsyPost. “In two of our studies we investigate lies that are intended to benefit others — not lies that necessarily do help others. There are many situations in life where an individual might lie with genuine intention to help another, but honesty might be what is ultimately most beneficial for that person.”