Why we lie and the challenge of being honest

honestynudge web
Credit: Character Lab

We lie when we think we can get away with it. We lie more in groups, especially if we see other people lying, or we’ve been exposed to a bribe… We lie less if we’re reminded to be honest or if we have high moral character or score highly on measures of guilt-proneness or honesty-humility.

“There is so much opportunity for more research about honesty,” [researcher Christian] Miller says. “And it’s not just an academic matter. There is an obvious real-world relevance and need.”

This is exactly what’s behind the Honesty Project, a $4.4 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to study honesty that Miller and a team of researchers (including Cohen) at Wake Forest and Carnegie Mellon were awarded in August. The project has a three-year timeline that involves funding competitions for Ph.D. academics studying the philosophy and science of honesty, and a conference at the end of the project.

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The hope is that through this more specific focus on the virtue of honesty—the virtue we hold as one of the most important virtues, or even the most important one—we can learn more about what motivates people to be honest, how honesty impacts relationships, groups and institutions, and how we can better cultivate honesty as individuals and members of groups and families.

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