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Acceptable Lies

 

Explanations > Behaviors > Lying > Acceptable Lies

What makes lies acceptable? | Acceptability classification | So what

 

Sometimes we accept lies and other times we are disgusted by them. So what is the difference?

What makes lies acceptable?

To answer this, consider what makes a lie unacceptable. It is generally considered bad when people lie to help themselves, and particularly when, in doing so, they harm others.

Acceptable lies, often called 'white lies', are those that help others. Such white lies are required in many cultures, where saving face is important, and not telling lies to protect others is considered a bad and selfish thing.

Lies are also more acceptable from those who are less likely to know the rules for not lying, most notably young children.

We all make the lies we tell acceptable to ourselves, often saying to ourselves that they are 'white lies' and done for expediency or to save face (whether or not this is true).

Acceptability classification

Linskold and Walters (1983) demonstrated a set of classifications of lie acceptability. Going from the most acceptable to the least acceptable, these are:

  • Saving others from minor hurt, shame and embarrassment.
  • Protecting yourself or another from punishment or disapproval for a minor failing or blunder which hurts nobody.
  • Making yourself appear better than you really are or to protect some gain, acquired some time ago, to which you were not really entitled.
  • Lies that could make others do something that would benefit you while, at the same time, harming themselves or causing themselves a loss.
  • Lies that hurts someone else so that you can gain.

Older people were more accepting than students with regard to lies on tax returns, to religious officials or to a partner. Students were more accepting of playing sick to avoid work or exams. There was no significant difference in gender scores.

Note that this research was in America. In other countries the order may be different.

So what?

Generally, avoid lies, but when you use them know how others will perceive them. Understand the lies that others make and why, and you may be better able to change their minds.

See also

Social Proof principle

 

Linskold, S. and Walters, P.S. (1983).

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