Why telling the truth is good for your health

There are mental health benefits to telling fewer lies, new research has suggested. Presented recently at the American Psychological Association's 120th Annual Convention, the study also revealed there are physical advantages to telling the truth.

Funded by the John Templeton Foundation, the investigation showed individuals enjoy improved personal relationships and more rewarding social interactions when they fib less.

Anita Kelly, a Psychology Professor at the University of Notre Dame, noted: "We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies and that in turn was associated with significantly improved health."

The investigation saw participants instructed to stop lying for a period of ten weeks - and many said they were able to do so by being truthful about what they achieved each day, as opposed to exaggerating about it.

Others revealed they resisted the urge to make excuses for their failings, while some attempted to avoid lying when asked a difficult question.

Chartered Psychologist John Cooper comments:

"This is interesting work in an important but underresearched area of psychology. The moral dilemmas and issues of telling or not telling the truth have challenged every parent, child, school teacher and boss at one time or another.

"At a macro level, alleged ‘lies’ have haunted Western culture –  in the UK there are benefit cheats who defraud the DWP, tax dodgers who lie to the HMRC,  MPs and their expenses.

"Whilst most lay people would agree that ‘truth’ is a hot and controversial topic, as psychologists it may be difficult to decide where it best sits in our discipline.

"The best definitions of truth that I have come across are embodied in the little known but scientifically underpinned eclectic work from Dr Will Schutz. from the 1950s through to about 2000.  Schutz was a well know psychologist and pioneer of encounter groups.  He is best known as the creator of FIRO theory. In the body of work called the Human Element, truth is operationalised as a problem-solving tool to increase health, joy and productivity both personally and interpersonally. 

"One thing that does seem to be clear is that telling or not telling the truth rests on levels of self awareness and can lead to an exaggerated emotional state which can lead to consequences.  There is good evidence from the emotional intelligence field to show that negative emotions (and by implication lying, withholding and distorting ) negatively affect the human physiology, reduce resilience and diminish mental functioning. The field of psychoneuroimmunology provides evidence that the immune system is actually suppressed by prolonged  negative emotion."