Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Making your bed and lying in it

Bulletin from the Boys are Different from Girls Bureau:
The news is in! Men lie more than women!

We're not talking about couch potatoes during the football season. No, a report just in from the Highly Precise Statistics department (of the British Science Museum) finds that men lie a whopping 3 times a day, while women only a measly 2. Lying to your Mum is one of the commonest offenses (assuming something as common as 3 lies per day still means they count as offenses), while lying about how much you had to drink is right there in second place.

Gifts: Apparently when she says "It's just what I've always wanted," she doesn't mean it. This is reported as a lie, but probably it is a nice (if quietly patronizing) way of saying how much she appreciates the thought. Since most men wouldn't know a good gift from a white elephant, she's just being nice and shouldn't be blamed for her euphemism.

Our every move is under the scope of social survey researchers, who tirelessly scour the landscape for anything they can think of to get a grant to study. Now, according to the BBC story, at least, we don't know how the surveyer knows who's lying to her and who isn't. Is admitting to lying about how much one drank, a euphemism for not admitting who one was drinking with?

Westerners often say that in the very polite society of Japan, 'yes' means 'no'. Cultural conventions can blur the meaning of 'lie' in the context of western social surveys. If the lawyer for someone who's suing you for hitting their car says "Dear Mr. X" is that 'dear' a lie? Perhaps the 'yours sincerely' is true (since he's sincerely demanding damages).

Of course in the daily mail we get letters of offers 'for you only!', and we know those are lies. But we excuse the advertising industry because they're paid intentional and habitual liars. And we excuse politicians because they're often not intelligent enough to know the difference--or they'd say they knew they were lying but, if elected, they would do so much noble good for the public that the lies are justified.

And, as it turns out, according to yet more social scientists, toddlers who lie do better in life! We teach our kids to tell the truth, but perhaps they quickly cotton on to the fact that we don't follow our own precepts.

Nature or nurture? Does the Science Museum know or doesn't it?
Katie Maggs, associate medical curator at the Science Museum, says the jury's out as to whether lying is a result of our genes, evolution or our upbringing.
"Lying may seem to be an unavoidable part of human nature but it's an important part of social interaction," she says.
The museum in west London is launching a gallery called "Who am I?" which makes sense of brain science, genetics and human behaviour.

At least someone there thinks they can tell us what it all means! Unless they're lying....


Steve Bates said...

Men lie more than women? I know I do; indeed, I am lying this very moment!

Holly Dunsworth said...

The gene for lying more must be on the Y chromosome and the gene for lying less must be is elsewhere.

Makes total sense to me.

Is sarcasm classified under lying?