Why be Skeptical? Reason #1 (Lying Cheating College Students)

If most people lie and deceive, and if people often lie and deceive,  then we have good reason to be skeptical.  We have seen in previous posts that most children lie and lie frequently,  and that most teenagers lie and cheat and do so frequently; it is now time to take a look at the behavior of college students.

A study of lying in everyday life was conducted in which one group consisted of college students and a second group consisted of community members (ranging from 18 to 71 years old).  The participants each kept a  journal for one week in which they were to write down each social interaction and each lie they told.

The results of the study were summed up this way [emphasis added]:


Lying Is a Fact of Daily Life

The studies reported here provide some of the first data, and by far the most extensive data, on some of the most fundamental questions about lying in everyday life. As we expected, lying is a fact of daily life. Participants in the community study, on the average, told a lie every day; participants in the college student study told two. One out of every five times that the community members interacted with someone, they told a lie; for the college students, it was one out of every three times. Of all of the people the community members interacted with one on one over the course of a week, they lied to 30% of them; the college students lied to 38% of the people in their lives. (p.991)

“Lying in Everyday Life”

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

1996, Vol. 70, No. 5, 979-995

Bella M. DePaulo – University of Virginia

Deborah A. Kashy – Texas A&M University

Susan E. Kirkendol – Pfeiffer College

Jennifer A. Epstein – Cornell University Medical College

Melissa M. Wyer – University of Virginia


viewed 11/25/14


Only one of the college students claimed to go a whole week without ever lying.  That one student, of course, might well have been lying in claiming to have never lied that week.  If the students in this study are representative of college students in general, then ALMOST ALL  college students lie, and MOST college students lie on a DAILY basis.

Another study compared a group of high school students with a group of college students.  In this study, the students were asked (in questionnaires) if they had lied to their parents on various topics (friends, alcohol/drugs, parties, money, dating, and sex) at least once in the past year.  Here is a summary of the results [emphasis added]:


Lying to parents was indeed a frequent behavior among the adolescents and emerging adults. Figure 1 shows the percentages of students who had lied to their parents about 6 different issues at least once within the past year. As can be seen, the percentage of high school students who had lied about the different issues ranged from 32 to 67% whereas for college students the range was 28–50%. Eighty-two percent of all students indicated that they had lied to their parents about at least 1 of the 6 issues during the past year. (p.105)

Lying to Parents graph2

[The white bars represent high school students, and black bars represent college students] It is worth noting that although college students in this study were less likely than high school students to report lying to their parents, a notable proportion of college students had lied to their parents at least once in the past year (ranging from 28 to 50% for the different issues). (p.109)

“The Right to Do Wrong: Lying to Parents Among Adolescents and Emerging Adults”

Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 33, No. 2, April 2004, pp. 101–112

Lene Arnett Jensen,  Jeffrey Jensen Arnett,  S. Shirley Feldman,  and Elizabeth Cauffman


viewed 11-26-14


The above study lumps the high school students together with college students to report that 82% of the students lied to their parents on at least one of the six topics in the past year.   That means that MORE than 82% of high school students lied on at least one of the six topics, and that LESS than 82% of the college students lied on at least one of the six topics in the past year.

We know that 50% of the college students lied to their parents just on the topic of money alone.  So, it is virtually certain that some significant portion of the the remaining 50% of college students lied on one or more of the other topics.  Thus, although we cannot arrive at a specific number, it is very likely that somewhere between 60% and 70% of the college students lied to their parents about at least one of the six topics in the past year.

Another study of college students looked into how often such students lied on their Resumes:



This study explores how Linkedin shapes patterns of deception in resumes. The general self-presentation goal to appear favorably to others motivates deception when one’s true characteristics are inconsistent with their desired impression. Because Linkedin makes resume claims public, deception patterns should be altered relative to traditional resumes. Participants (n = 119) in a between-subjects experiment created resumes in one of three resume settings: a traditional (offline) resume, private Linkedin profiles, or publicly available Linkedin profiles. Findings suggest that the public nature of Linkedin resume claims affected the kinds of deception used to create positive impressions, but did not affect the overall frequency of deception. Compared with traditional resumes, Linkedin resumes were less deceptive about the kinds of information that count most to employers, namely an applicant’s prior work experience and responsibilities, but more deceptive about interests and hobbies. The results stand in contrast to assumptions that Internet-based communication is more deceptive than traditional formats, and suggests that a framework that considers deception as a resource for self-presentation can account for the findings.


On average, participants lied 2.87 (median = 3.00, SD = 1.79) times in their profile with a total of 341 lies. The frequency of deception was normally distributed.  One hundred and six participants (92.4 percent) reported at least one deception; the greatest number of lies was 8. There were no gender differences in deception frequency, t(117) = 0.53, p = 0.60.

“The Effect of Linkedin on Deception in Resumes”

Jamie Guillory, M.S., and Jeffrey T. Hancock, Ph.D.


Volume 15, Number 3, 2012


viewed 11-26-14


92% of the college students in this experiment lied on their resumes.  There was an average of three lies in each resume.  So, if these students are representative of college students in general, then ALMOST ALL college students lie on their resumes, and MANY (perhaps MOST) lie multiple times on their resumes.

In conclusion,  there is scientific evidence that indicates that MOST college students lie on a DAILY basis, that MOST college students lie to their parents on one or more important topics each year, and that ALMOST ALL college students lie on their resumes.

In the next installment, we will see evidence that college students cheat about as often as they lie.