What “Harmless Little Things” Do We Love to Lie About?


Although lying is universally viewed as abhorrent behavior, it’s not a stretch to say that nearly everyone has lied at least once in their life. A University of Massachusetts research team wanted to find out exactly how much an average person tells a ‘white lie’, and their results were surprising.

According to their study, the average person told two to three lies in a 10-minute conversation. What makes people so prone to lie? The truth is, lying isn’t always done to deceive or be hurtful. Sometimes people lie to protect their loved ones or others. Lying and the reasons for it are complicated, and here at Top Tenz, we wanted to break it down a little.

10. “Nothing’s wrong, I’m fine.”

An Australian study has found that the most frequently told lie by both men and women is “nothing’s wrong, I’m fine.” While not exactly a white lie, the mischaracterization of one’s feelings or emotions displays a willingness or need to hide their true emotional state. Experts have suggested that one of the major reasons people lie is from fear of disappointing others – the idea being that if they tell the truth, they risk being shamed, ostracized, or rejected for having such thoughts.

The fundamental reason for the deceit is the need to be valued and respected. By saying “nothing’s wrong, I’m fine,” the individual is protecting themselves from possible judgment. It’s a lie of insecurity and self-preservation; a lie to protect themselves from judgment.

9. “I have a headache.”

Plenty of us have heard this one before. In studies comparing the lies told by women versus men, men were found to tell mistruths that would benefit only themselves. Women, however, were more likely to lie if it protected someone else’s feeling. Studies of social media interactions have also found that women are far more likely to misrepresent the truth… if they believe it’s going to protect someone from being hurt.

This altruistic tendency seemingly extends to the bedroom, where women are more willing to say they “have a headache” than reveal the truth that they’re just not interested or in the mood. By not telling the truth, they’re protecting their significant other’s feelings and getting their intended result.

8. “My battery died.”

One of the major reasons for lying is the result of pressure, perceived or otherwise. The need to remain in control of a situation or relationship leads to a deceit that protects the liar. An Australian study found that “my battery died” was the fifth most told lie by males while the female alternative, “sorry, I missed your call” was tenth.

Both lies demonstrate a need by both sexes to be in control of the narrative and not let a significant other or friend develop a negative view of them.

7. “It was on sale.”

The connection between approval and deception is best demonstrated in this white lie. Ranked at number five in that same Australian study, women seemingly have a need to disguise or downplay their shopping habits. Again, the lie rests in the need not to disappoint, while the ability to be convincing rests somewhere else entirely.

Studies have found that individuals who are the most skillful liars are extroverted, sociable people who are self-confident and also boast physical attractiveness. Those people tend to be able to lie under pressure without the other party becoming aware that they’re being lied to. So next time your significant other flashes a beautiful smile and tells you it’s on sale, better check the tag.

6. “I’m on my way.”

Have you ever made an appointment to meet someone, only for them to keep you waiting? “I’m on my way” is the most common refrain for individuals who have forgotten or made a mistake only to realize it and attempt to cover their tracks. Sometimes the person will claim to be on their way even if they haven’t left their doorstep yet.

Why not just tell the truth? Psychologists have come to understand that people can reinvent meanings or ideas to make it reconcilable to their actions. For example, texting back “I’m on my way” when you’re in the bathroom getting ready is seen by many as the truth. They’ve converted a lie into a truth, based on their own vantage point.

5. “This will be my last drink.”

Not surprisingly, alcohol consumption is a topic that has led to quite a few misstatements and deceits. Men and women tend to grossly understate how much alcohol they consume. A recent study of alcohol consumed in London showed that people were unwilling to accurately state how much they drank.

After polling consumers, the research team compared the results to alcohol sales, which revealed a massive shortfall. Half of the alcohol sold was unaccounted for, meaning people were lying. It turns out, nobody wants to come to the realization that they’re an alcoholic or may have a drinking problem. So what do you do? You lie to yourself. The great tragedy in this form of deceit is the ultimate victim is you.

4. “No, your bum doesn’t look that big in that.”

To every woman but the Kardashians, this little white lie would be much appreciated. Studies have shown that dishonesty pervades relationships with couples lying to one another in nearly a third of their interactions. The most likely topic to bring about deceit is past relationships.  

Nearly 85% of couples in college admit lying about their sexual history and, naturally, their indiscretions. There is some good news, though: for those in a relationship, tie the knot. The same study found that married couples lie to one another far less frequently, and do so for mostly trivial matters. Like, y’know… telling your wife that her butt looks great in those new mom jeans in the hopes that she’ll just leave you alone to watch your TV show.

3. “I’ll call you soon.”

Have you ever been on the other end of one of these lines? After calls, and texts, the dreaded, “I’ll call you soon.” If you’re like us, there’s a good chance you never got that call back. (We’re not very popular.) The tactic has become so common that a slang word was developed to encapsulate it: “ghosting.”

The reality is that the false words of assurance are used to avoid difficult conversations. And while it’s off-putting and upsetting, in this case, it may be for the better. To all those thinking, “I’d rather hear the truth”… would you really, though, when there’s a solid chance whatever is being left unsaid could absolutely crush you?

2. “It’s just what I’ve always wanted.”

Your poor mother. She works so hard to knit that perfect Christmas scarf only to receive a fake smile and “It’s just what I’ve always wanted” in return. Both sexes have been shown to lie to the their mothers the most out all of their deceitful interactions. The reason children lie to their poor moms the most is because, in most cases, nobody cares more than her.

As we’ve mentioned, lying is caused by fear of disappointment, fear of giving up control, and the snowball effect of telling a mistruth. The close relationship most have with their moms then leads to the propensity to tell falsehoods. Don’t feel bad, though; they did it to their old ladies, too.

1. “You’ve lost weight.”

This is a staple of many a family gathering. An aunt or uncle enters the living room and someone declares “You’ve lost weight!” to smiles and nods. In most cases, there hasn’t been a bit of weight loss, and yet it’s said almost as fact. The reason for this behavior is just one more example that lying can be for good reasons.

Research has shown that that “the closer we are to someone, the more likely it is that the lies we tell them will be altruistic ones.” So don’t feel bad about a little white lie from time to time. You’re not alone, and your deceit might actually help someone feel better, even if it’s for a passing moment.

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