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Do men lie more than women?

Chronicle of Higher Education (06/06/2004)
By JEFF ELDER

Researchers say no. Some believe women lie more than men.

So why are there a half-dozen books specifically about men lying to women?

Why is this the topic of countless afternoon talk shows? Why did many of the women who read the first line of this story probably think to themselves, "Whatever you try to tell me, buddy, the answer is yes."

Because men and women lie in very different ways. They even have different definitions of what lying is.

And that can make the game of "he said/she said" very dicey indeed.

First, here's the truth on lying: Almost all people of both genders get the ol' polygraph jumpin'.

A 2002 study at the University of Massachusetts found that 60 percent of people tested lied at least once during a 10-minute conversation and told an average of two to three lies.

In a study at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, college students admitted lying to their boyfriends and girlfriends in about one-third of their interactions with each other. They lied to their moms in about one-half of their interactions.

"We're just not practiced at telling the truth," said psychologist Dory Hollander, who interviewed more than 100 men and women for her book "101 Lies Men Tell Women: And Why Women Believe Them."

"We see the truth as brutal. A lie is an easy way out, rather than risking offending someone," Hollander said.

Researchers have found some people who always tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, regardless of the outcome. They tend to have limited and difficult social lives.

Almost everyone lies. But how they lie - especially how the different genders lie - is what can make personal communication so difficult.

How a woman lies: "Oh, I love your hair! No, I don't think you went too far. I might have to get that done myself."

How a man lies: "I'm a millionaire. I'd like to marry before I turn 25. I like your cat."

Hollander and other researchers found that women tend to lie to spare someone's feelings or to avoid conflict. Men tend to lie to make themselves seem more impressive, or to get something (like sex).

Hollander's research found that the two sexes are even different in how they define lying. Women said a lie is an intentional untruth "that hurts someone." Men said a lie was a misstatement of the facts. Not mentioning something was not a lie, many men said.

"Women's lies are not that sexy," Hollander said. "Men's lies can be very creative."

In fact, many researchers have found that women lie to under-report the number of sexual partners they've had.

Women certainly lie to men. But the overall pattern of deception in relationships goes something like this:

Some men lie to make themselves seem more impressive when approaching women. They see the dating game as a competition and think they have to outdo rivals. So they self-aggrandize.

Some men then go on to lie about wanting a lasting, intimate relationship. They assume women want this, and that only by hinting at a relationship can they get love, sex and companionship.

Then they find themselves trapped in a relationship they didn't want, pretending to be someone they're not. So they lie to get space from their partner. Or they lie and cheat on that partner. And finally, they lie to escape.