Lying In Relationships Common, Difficult To Detect

Aug. 17, 2004

by Judy Long

Lying, cheating and possibly murdering partners are making headlines these days. While lying to make oneself seem more exciting or to cover up character flaws is common in the dating world, the type of lies that accused murderers Scott Peterson and Mark Hacking told are rarer and more antisocial, says Dr. Wade C. Rowatt, a Baylor University psychology professor and an expert on the psychology of lies.

In a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships ("Lying to Get a Date: The Effect of Facial Physical Attractiveness on the Willingness to Deceive Prospective Dating Partners"), Rowatt uncovered the garden-variety lies people tell to make themselves appear more similar to the desired date. (He also found the more attractive the dating prospect, the more bald-faced the lies become!)

"These everyday lies were more pro-social in nature, in that they might have a positive effect on a relationship," Rowatt says. "These everyday kinds of lies, like feigning a more exciting personality than one really possesses or covering-up mild character flaws, probably aren't that dangerous."

However, Peterson and Hacking appear to have engaged in much more rare, pathological forms of lying and deceit aimed at covering up bad behavior like infidelity and poor academic records, Rowatt says. And, it's much harder to see through these lies.

"There's good scientific evidence that it is very difficult for even trained professionals to detect deception," Rowatt says. "Most people have a truth-bias that works against thinking a spouse could lie or cheat. Unfortunately, without verification, it's very difficult to tell when a person is lying, especially the sociopaths."

Contact: Wade C. Rowatt, associate professor, department of psychology and

neuroscience, Baylor University; (254) 723-8200 or Wade_Rowatt@baylor.edu.

Looking for more news from Baylor University?