Honesty may boost health, study finds

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — People who tell fewer lies experience improved health, such as less stress and fewer headaches, according to research presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

"Recent evidence indicates that Americans average about 11 lies per week. We wanted to find out if living more honestly can actually cause better health," lead author Anita Kelly, professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame, said in an APA August news release.

"We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies, and that in turn was associated with significantly improved health," Kelly said.

The study, which has not yet undergone peer review, followed 110 people for 10 weeks. Sixty-six percent of the participants were college students, and 34 percent were adults in the community. About half of the participants were told to stop telling lies for the duration of the study, and the rest were given no special instructions.

Both groups reported to a lab each week to answer questions about their health and relationships and to take a lie detector test regarding the number of lies they had told that week.

Those who told fewer lies experienced fewer mental health complaints such as feeling tense or melancholy and fewer physical complaints such as sore throats and headaches, the study found. Participants also reported their personal relationships and social interactions went more smoothly when they told fewer lies.

Some said they realized they could simply tell the truth about their daily accomplishments rather than exaggerate, and others said they stopped making false excuses for being late or failing to complete tasks, Kelly said, according to the news release.

"When you don't lie, you have less stress. Being very conflicted adds an inordinate amount of stress to your life," Linda Stroh, professor emeritus of organizational behavior at Loyola University, told USA Today.