Pants on Fire: Advising Students Who Lie to Themselves and Others


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  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/20/13 22:48) -----Welcome. This morning I’m going to talk with you about lies and liars. I passed out a slip of paper with my contact information, as well as the url for the presentation, which I put on slideshare. Slideshare is great because it allows you to post comments and download a copy of the presentation in different formats. Let’s start today by turning to your neighbor. Introduce yourself and for the next few minutes, discuss two questions:What kind of lies have students told you? How do you react or feel when students lie to you?Anyone want to share?
  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/20/13 22:48) -----The origins of this presentation
  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/20/13 22:48) -----Went home and tried to see what I could find about lying to doctors.
  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/20/13 22:48) -----I started to think about lying and academic advising. That's because I've been having a lot of conversations with students, many of them on probation or who have struggled in the past, that I call "Everything's Roses Checkups". They go like this....
  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/20/13 22:48) -----I looked up phrases in Google and on academic search sites. But not much came back. So I started to read what I could find about lying, and the more I read the more I wanted to share what I was learning with other advisors. Much of it comes from Social Psych, but there is some from ....I'm going to review statistics about lying, lie detection, and then strategies for working with students. I'm also going to save time at the end for questions and discussion.
  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/20/13 22:48) -----Just so we're all on the same page, lying is ….." This includes lies of omission, exaggerations, lies about ourselves, lies for the sake of others...and lies both of word and action.
  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/20/13 22:48) -----How old do you think we are when we start to lie?First we lie to avoid punishment, then to gain rewards, then for others' sake. Small children will categorize any spoken words that equal punishment as "lies" (even swearing), because they just know that lies equal punishment. But it doesn't take long for us to learn the moral ambiguity around lying. In one study I read, a researcher tells small children that if they perform well on a task they will win a prize. After doing well on the task the child is handed a bar of soap. About a quarter of preschoolers can lie that they like the gift — by elementary school, about half. Telling this lie makes them extremely uncomfortable. The researchers press further, asking the child to give reasons that they like the soap. Most children really struggle. Parents watching their children in the study will often smile and even cheer when their kids can come up with a reason they like the soap. The researcher says they see their kids as polite....."they don't see that it's also a lie."
  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/20/13 22:48) -----How often do we lie? Do students lie? (stats)High socialability correlates with more lying. Extroverts lie more than introverts, even when controlling for their increased social interactions.
  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/20/13 22:48) -----People tend to lie less to people they're close to. One exception, which seemed especially important for our work, is that undergrads lie in almost half the conversations they have with their mothers.
  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/20/13 23:06) -----Now I want to highlight a few specific types of lies that seem to come up often in advising. The first is the false excuse - for example, a student rationalizes failing an exam, justifies missing class to his professor, or blames a roommate for losing her paper. (quote)
  • Self-Deceptive ExcuseIn light of this, many recent philosphers and psychologists have defended limited self-deception as a natural, moral, and even indispensable means of maintaining positive self-image. However, one author argues that while self-deceptive excuses minimize the immediate sting of our own moral failings, they also prohibit moral growth. By not acknowledging our shortcomings, we are not able to conceive of and commit to corrective action.
  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/20/13 23:06) -----And, is lying always bad? "Future truth" is my favorite find of the research. It surprised me. (stats)Sometimes lies of exaggeration are just our clumsy way of projecting positive goals for the future.
  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/20/13 23:06) -----We've talked about lies and liars, now let's talk about how to catch a lie. Help me can you tell when someone is lying?Okay, remember that I read a lot of research for this…so here’s what I found out about how we can tell…
  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/20/13 23:06) -----Yeah...we can't.Really! For every study that shows fidgeting correlates with lying, there are just as many saying that lack of fidgeting correlates with liars are aware of this and correct for it.
  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/20/13 23:06) -----A big reason that we aren't good at detecting lies is that there is a truth bias to our everyday interactions with others.
  • “Not a single nonverbal, verbal, or physiological response is uniquely associated with deception…”
  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/20/13 23:06) -----First, and I'll start things off with a caveat...the skills of lying are the same skills required for excellent interpersonal communication. “To lie, a person needs three things: to be able to think strategically and plan her moves ahead of time, like a good chess player; to read the needs of other people and put herself in their shoes, like a good therapist; and to manage her emotions, like a grown-up person.” That’s not to say that lying is good, but I just want us to acknowledge that lying requires intelligence, empathy, and maturity…all things we value. I also want us to reflect on the times that we actually wish a student would lie. Or maybe the fairer statement is, sometimes the truth is a burden, and our students are smart…they know that. For a student in an advising appointment, a lie could easily seem like the best way to save everyone some work. Or at least a long conversation.
  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/20/13 23:06) -----We're not police officers - and good thing, as all the research shows that even if we were tasked with it, we wouldn't be able to suss out who is lying and who isn't. So let's not task ourselves with that responsibility. If a student is highly motivated to lie to tell an outright and planned lie for personal gain, odds are they can. We should focus our attention on students prone to lying out of embarrassment or shame...who want some help but are nervous about being judged, or punished, or telling us something that we won't understand. Or students telling self-deceptive excuses…who because of those excuses are going to academically stagnate…if they don’t recognize where they can grow and make changes. Remind students of your role. To many of them, it can be a new role. Clarify that you’re like an academic coach, and that if they bring questions or puzzles to you you can help them with a solution. Say outright….college can be tough and it can be messy…you will not disappoint or upset me if you’re honest about things that aren’t working. That’s why I’m here, to help you work through those challenges.
  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/20/13 23:06) -----For students prone to lying by omission, I suggest something called, "What else?" This comes from a study about doctor/patient communication. We know the students who come in asking about a math major and after 45 minutes of planning, as they are walking out the door, say, "Um so is it possible to drop two classes this late?" Doctors know this phenomenon too. And in this study, doctors who asked, "What else?" at the start of an appointment had much more success getting to the root issue that brought someone in, whether or not they were too nervous to lead with it. Explain
  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/20/13 23:06) -----This was not an academic study, but something anecdotal about medical school training.
  • What’s written on the screen here is fairly obvious, but it’s important to remember. Self-deception works most of the time through blaming someone else. For example, a student last week told me that he was skipping most of his classes because the professors were boring and he didn’t like how they teach. I acknowledged this feeling but then redirected him….”Okay, so there is a month left of school. We know that in that time, your classes won’t change and let’s be honest, neither will the professor’s teaching style. You told me you want to stay in these courses. What then can YOU control to make this situation better?” I’m calling the student out without using the word lie, deception, etc. The student ended up telling me that the other reason he skipped class was because he stayed up all night with his friends and slept through them. This touches on something that my reading about lying clarified for me…I actually really don’t like using the word “lie” with students. It feels very parental, and I think it can trigger a lot of feelings of shame or embarrassment.
  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/20/13 22:23) -----We get frustrated by lying. We still will. This won't solve our issues with feels personal. I have a student I work with frequently who continues to lie to me, his friends, his professors. One of the things I discovered, esp with students prone to lying, is that one lie is propped up by five others. It's a web. Lies can be very inter-connected and pulling on them can quickly shake a person’s identity and dignity. Remember to approach students who lie with empathy and support, which is not often how we approach liars in almost all other areas of our lives (friends, coworkers, partners).
  • Pants on Fire: Advising Students Who Lie to Themselves and Others

    1. 1. Pants on Fire: Advising Students Who Lie to Themselves and Others Katie McFaddin Brandeis University
    2. 2. 1500 people responded to a survey on in 2004 44% of them admitted outright lying to their doctor or “stretching the truth”
    3. 3. 38% - following drs' orders 32% - diet or exercise 22% - smoking 17% - sex 16% - alcohol 12% - recreational drug use 7% - getting a second opinion 1500 people responded to a survey on in 2004 44% of them admitted outright lying to their doctor or “stretching the truth”
    4. 4. 50% - didn't want to be judged 31% - truth was just too embarrassing 21% - doctor wouldn’t understand 9% - none of their doctor's business 1500 people responded to a survey on in 2004 44% of them admitted outright lying to their doctor or “stretching the truth”
    5. 5. Social Psychology Criminology Parenting Physician/Patient Relationships Therapist/Patient Relationships
    6. 6. LYING & ACADEMIC ADVISING Psychology Criminology © hebedesign via flickr Lie: A successful or unsuccessful deliberate attempt, without forewarning, to create in another a belief which the communicator considers to be untrue. – Vrij, 2008
    7. 7. Lying is a developmental milestone of childhood. A child who is going to lie must recognize the truth, intellectually conceive of an alternate reality, and be able to convincingly sell that new reality to someone else. Therefore, lying demands both advanced cognitive development and social skills that honesty simply doesn't require. Bronson & Merryman, 2009 © pfig via flickr
    8. 8. In a 1996 study, 77 American college students were asked to keep a diary for one week and record all lies told in social interactions that lasted longer than 10 minutes. The undergraduates lied to 34% of the people they interacted with over the course of a week. 50% of the lies were self- serving and around 25% were told in the interest of others. Participants overwhelmingly reported that their lies were not serious. DePaulo, Kashy, et. al, 1996
    9. 9. People tend to lie less to those with whom they feel close. In a notable exception, one study found that undergraduate students lied in almost half of the conversations they had with their mothers. DePaulo & Kashy, 1998 © opacity via flickr
    10. 10. © hebedesign via flickr False Excuse: A lie of self-defense. A common protective method used by people to get out of any major or minor trouble that is thought to have unpleasant consequences. - Hsieh, 2004 “We tell false excuses to others largely for fear that knowledge of our wrongdoings will damage the good opinion in which others hold us. We do not want our friends to think us inconsiderate, our family to think us ungrateful, our coworkers to think us lazy, or the police to think us criminal.” Hsieh, 2004
    11. 11. © hebedesign via flickr Self-Deceptive Excuse: Not simply an erroneous internal explanation of our actions, but an erroneous explanation that we know or suspect to be false. - Hsieh, 2004 “When coupled with lies to other people, self-deceptive excuses reinforce the corresponding other-deceptive excuses by rendering them more plausible, consistent, and sincere.” Hsieh, 2004
    12. 12. © mcdlttx via flickr Future Truth: An exaggeration that reflects the deceiver’s positive goals for the future. - Carey, B. (2008) In a 2009 study, researchers found that college students exaggerated their GPAs a significant amount, but that exaggeration correlated with improved academic performance in subsequent semesters. Willard & Gramzow, 2009 Similar studies have shown that when reporting exaggerated GPAs, students are calm and positive. They do not display any of the physical indicators typically associated with lying. Carey, 2008
    13. 13. LYING & ACADEMIC ADVISING Psychology Criminology © ATENCION via flickr How can we tell when someone is lying?
    14. 14. LYING & ACADEMIC ADVISING Psychology Criminology We can’t. © ATENCION via flickr
    15. 15. LYING & ACADEMIC ADVISING Psychology Criminology Truth Bias We encounter more truths in a day than lies People lie most often about feelings and opinions, which are hard to disprove Disbelief requires more effort Social conversation rules discourage suspicion Vrij, 2008 © ATENCION via flickr
    16. 16. Lie-Detection Myths Meta-analyses show minimal correlation between beliefs and reality regarding non- verbal signs of deception. - Vrij (2008) In a meta-analysis of 206 documents and 24,483 individuals, the average accuracy rate in separating truths from lies was 54%. - Bond & DePaulo (2006) © ATENCION via flickr
    17. 17. Strategies for dealing with students who lie
    18. 18. Lying requires intelligence, empathy, and maturity. © lovelornpoets via flickr
    19. 19. We are not police officers. Explain this to advisees.
    20. 20. Ask “what else?” to help students avoid lies of omission.
    21. 21. “Double the number of drinks” (i.e. signal a range of answers). © rofltosh via flickr
    22. 22. Help students focus on what they can control.
    23. 23. Deceptions are often propped up by more self-deceptions. Questioning one can disrupt others.
    24. 24. Barrier, P., T.C. Li, J., & Jensen, N. (2003). Two Words to Improve Physician-Patient Communication: What Else? Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 78, 211-214. Retrieved from Bond, C. F., Jr., & DePaulo, B. M. (2006). Accuracy of deception judgments. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10, 214– 234. doi:10.1207/s15327957pspr1003_2. Carey, B. (2008, May 6). I’m Not Lying, I’m Telling a Future Truth. Really. The New York Times. Retrieved from DeNoon, D. (2004, September 21). WebMD Survey: The Lies We Tell Our Doctors. Retrieved from DePaulo, B.M., & Kashy, D.A. (1998). Everyday lies in close and casual relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 63-79. DePaulo, B.M., Kashy, D.A., Kirkendol, S.E., Wyer, M.M., & Epstein, J.A. (1996). Lying in everyday life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 979-995. Gramzow, R.H. (2006). Exaggerating Current and Past Performance: Motivated Self-Enhancement Versus Reconstructive Memory. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32(8), 1114-1125. Grohol, J. (2008). 10 Common Reasons to Lie to Your Therapist. Psych Central. Retrieved from Henig, R. M. (2006, February 5). Looking For the Lie. New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from
    25. 25. Hsieh, D. M. (2004). False Excuses: Honest, Wrongdoing, and Moral Growth. The Journal of Value Inquiry. 38, 171-185. Retrieved from Leach, A. M., Lindsay, R. C., Koehler, R., Beaudry, J. L., Bala, N. C., Lee, K., & Talwar, V. (2009). The reliability of lie detection performance. Law and human behavior, 33(1), 96-109. Liu, D. (2011, January 26). Patients Lie. The Health Care Blog. Retrieved from National Public Radio. (2009, August 27). Parenting Tips: Praise Can Be Bad; Lying is Normal. NPR Books. Retrieved from Raymond, J. (2009, January 7). Little White-Coat Lies. Newsweek. Retrieved from Reinhard, M., Dickhauser, O., Marksteiner, T., & Sporer, S. (2011). The Case of Pinocchio: Teachers’ Ability to Detect Deception. Social Psychology of Education, 14, 299-318. Vrij, A. (2008). Detecting lies and deceit: Pitfalls and opportunities. England: John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Willard, G., & Gramzow, R. H. (2009). Beyond oversights, lies, and pies in the sky: Exaggeration as goal projection. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35(4), 477-492.