Liars Go Shopping with Pants on Fire

Sorry Virginia, people sometimes lie. And, at least according to a study from the University of Sydney, retailers should consider letting shoppers who lie during a service encounter get away with it.

The researchers said existing research shows us that people tell an average of one to two lies per day, and their study, to be published in the October issue of Journal of Consumer Research, found that participants were more ready to lie in a business encounter than generally assumed for a material award. Complicating matters further, the study found that liars are more pleased than truth-tellers with the shopping experience if the lie leads to a successful outcome and more disappointed with a negative outcome.

In a series of lab experiments, participants either told the truth or lied during conversations with service providers in order to pursue a material reward. In one experiment, participants responded to a number of questions that resulted in their ineligibility for a prize. After being told they were ineligible, the participants were given a chance to lie to the study administrator in order to acquire the prize. Around 50 percent of participants were prepared to lie.

But the results also showed that liars reported "more extreme evaluations" of the outcomes than truth tellers with their hopes rising higher on a positive outcome.

"Although we might expect that a positive outcome would be 'tainted' for liars as they would feel guilty about their actions, liars are significantly more satisfied than truth tellers," wrote professors Christina Anthony and Elizabeth Cowley, in a statement from the University of Sydney.

The authors believe the reason is that lying is hard work.

"Because liars are busy lying, they have fewer mental resources available for other tasks. One such important task involves using feedback from the listener to update one's expectations about how the conversation is progressing," the authors wrote. "Consequently, liars are more surprised by the final outcome than truth tellers, which, in turn, results in a stronger reaction to it."

The study first concludes that retailers should perhaps not over-zealously pursue deceptive consumers because the staff may end up accusing some truth-tellers, leaving them "feeling overly scrutinized and angry."

But the more complicated reason is that letting people periodically get away with lies in a business encounter increases the consumer's satisfaction level and enhances goodwill. Perhaps more critically, being caught in a lie greatly diminishes that consumer's satisfaction levels. Said Prof. Anthony, "Because a successful lie may increase satisfaction with a transaction, if the marketer does not have too much to lose it may be wise to let the consumer get away with the lie."

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