White lies intended to be innocent still have potential to harm


Many people will answer that they are “fine” when their mother asks how school is going. But, the truth is, school usually isn’t “fine.” Many times, the student actually has two “Cs,” countless sleepless nights and aren’t prepared for their calculus exam that’s the next morning.

Telling what may seem to be “innocent” white lies, like that school is going fine or that you like someone’s haircut, has the potential to lead to more habitual lying, if not closely monitored by the individual.

“Some might define a ‘harmless’ lie as one that is not likely to be recurrent and does not affect an important relationship,” Deirdre Lee Fitzgerald, assistant professor of psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University, said in an “Everyday Health” article. “But people tell white lies for the same basic reasons that they tell other lies, and the results can be similar. Even white lies can lead to a cycle of bad consequences.”

By this evidence, a white lie could be considered, to use popular phrasing, a “gateway” behavior. When this type of behavior leads to larger-scale dishonesty, negative health-related side effects can develop.

“Research has linked telling lies to an increased risk of cancer, increased risk of obesity, anxiety, depression, addiction, gambling, poor work satisfaction and poor relationships,” Fitzgerald said.

Despite this, white lies seem to be commonplace in some people’s lives. Even further, it has been discovered that some people make an effort to fib, not in order to avoid distress or embarrassment as a “white lie” is defined, but with a mission.

Carol Kinsey Goman, author of “The Truth About Lies in the Workplace,” wrote in a 2013 Forbes article that “in the workplace, people fib, flatter, fabricate, prevaricate, equivocate, embellish, ‘take liberties with,’ ‘bend’ or ‘stretch’ the truth. They lie in order to avoid accepting responsibility, to build status and power, to ‘protect’ others from hearing a negative truth, to preserve a sense of autonomy, to keep their jobs, to get out of unwanted work, to get on the good side of the boss and be perceived as ‘team players’ when their main interest is self-interest.”

And with “self-interest” as the main goal, many times white lies will be different between ages, genders and situations.

“Sometimes I’ll say I have homework or something, just so I don’t have to go hang out with someone,” Katie Tieben, junior in family studies and human services, said.

Women also have an idea of what types of white lies men may say to them.

“‘You look good’ or ‘you’re the prettiest one here,'” Anne Elpers, junior in family and consumer science education, said are just a couple lies men typically tell.

This is in contrast to what men think women tell white lies about.

“(Women) normally talk to their friends like they’re not mad at them, when they are,” Robert Erickson, senior in business management, said.

A Yahoo article by Kristi Dosh said men and women lie about similar things on online dating profiles. The top 10 lied about subjects are height, weight, physique, age, income, job type and title, hobbies and interests, connections to celebrities and photographs.

In the article, Catalina Toma, University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant professor of communication science, conducted a 2012 study at Wisconsin-Madison and Cornell University that said, “people lie to embellish themselves, but not be liars.”

It may not be that people intend to practice a behavior that could lead to more intense dishonesty or negative health-related, side effects, but more that people simply tell white lies because, according to Elpers, “the truth it too brutal.”