Has your friend ever gotten a bad haircut and they ask you if you like it? If you tell them you like it when you really don’t, you are telling a “white lie.” A “white lie” is a name people give to small lies. People tell white lies for a lot of different reasons, whether it is it spare your friend’s feelings or get a day off of work, white lies are commonplace in today’s society. For this blog post I am doing something a little different by not presenting a hypothesis, My sole intention is to gain knowledge on white lies and find out a little more about them. Some initial questions I can think of would be, how does a white lie differ from a normal/big lie? Why do people tell white lies? How often do people tell white lies?
The first study I found examined the difference between altruistic white lies and Pareto white lies. The study describes altruistic white lies as lies that may hurt the teller of the lie, but benefit the receiver. For example, if I said I spray painted graffiti on a wall when in reality my friend did it, I would be hurting myself so my friend would get the benefit of not getting in trouble. It then describes Pareto white lies as lies that benefit the teller and the receiver. For example, let’s say my girlfriend asks me if her new jeans looks good. I say they look fantastic when they really look mediocre. This lie benefits both me and her because she is more confident in her appearance and I don’t get yelled at for telling her they look mediocre. The findings of the study concluded that 76% of people were willing to tell a Pareto white lie, but only 43% were willing to tell an altruistic white lie. It also found that women were more likely to tell an altruistic white lie while men were more likely to tell a Pareto white lie (Erat). The study does not provide an explanation as to why that is, but I wonder if it has something to do with their consciouses. Maybe women are more likely to tell an altruistic white lie because they would want somebody to tell them the truth if the situation was reversed. As for men, maybe they are more willing to tell white lies on the whole, but are less willing to display themselves in a negative light. An experimental study conducted by Dr. Warneken set out to find if children would tell lies to make others feel better. This study had children show their artwork to another child and ask them if they like it. The study found that children were more likely to tell a white lie by saying they liked the artwork to visibly sad children, while they would tell the truth to a neutral or happy looking child (Warneken). This result is very heartwarming because even as children, we see people telling lies for the pure benefit of others. From a scientific perspective, I wonder if you could infer that humans are, at least somewhat, innately considerate of other peoples’ feelings.
A third study also conducted a study on the white lies of children. The study had children take a picture with a man that had an obvious mark on his nose and ask “do I look okay?” Fifty-five out of the sixty-five children (ages 3-7) confirmed he looked fine. Like the previous study, this study also found that a majority of children will tell a white lie to spare a person’s feelings (Talwar). This again provides further evidence that children are innately sensitive to people’s feelings and are willing to tell a white lie to avoid making another feel bad.
After deciding to not rely on a specific hypothesis, I went into my research looking for general “truths” about white lies. I found that there are different sorts of white lies (altruistic and Pareto), men generally lie more often than women, and children do not have an issue lying if it is to increase/maintain the happiness of someone else. Maybe white lies are not as bad as I initially thought.
Erat, S., and U. Gneezy. “White Lies.” Management Science, vol. 58, no. 4, 2012, pp. 723-733. doi:10.1287/mnsc.1110.1449.
Warneken, Felix, and Emily Orlins. “Children Tell White Lies to make Others Feel Better.”British Journal of Developmental Psychology, vol. 33, no. 3, 2015., pp. 259-270doi:10.1111/bjdp.12083.
Talwar, Victoria, and Kang Lee. “Emergence of White-Lie Telling in Children between 3 and 7 Years of Age.” Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 2, 2002., pp. 160-181doi:10.1353/mpq.2002.0009.
Pictures (in order of appearance):