I attended an interesting talk yesterday by Dr. Edward Lemay and his colleagues about how people use deception in their relationships. He wanted to know what motivates people to lie when their girlfriend or boyfriend asks how they look. For example, if you don’t think they look very physically attractive, do you tell the truth? He proposed that there are two motives operating in such situations; caring, in that people may lie to their partners to protect the partner’s feelings, and commitment, in that people want to be honest with their partner to show continued investment in the relationship. Lying and deception can undermine commitment in the long-term if a partner one day uncovers the truth. In two studies, one using a survey and another using an experiment, he found support for his hypotheses:
1) People who are high in commitment but lower on caring are least likely to lie to intimate partners about their physical attractiveness in order to be authentic in the relationship.
2) People who care a lot about their partner but have lower levels of commitment are more likely to lie in order to protect their partner’s feelings.
People who fall in between on both motives are considered ambivalent – they are often torn about what to do or say, so their lying behaviors are more difficult to predict. What I like about the data he presented is that people don’t always lie to their intimate partners for negative, self-preservation or egoistic reasons. It will be really interesting to see his future work on how those ambivalent people manage day to day communication with their partners.
Dr. Jennifer Harman – Adventures in Dating… | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Harman’s research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.