ADULTS ARE DISHONEST
In general, studies of lying behavior indicate that college students lie more frequently on average, than the general adult population. However, based on recent studies with larger sample sizes, the difference in average number of lies per day is fairly small between college students and the general adult population:
College students and adults
A common source of fascination is in the similarities and diﬀerences between college student samples and representative adult samples. As mentioned in the introduction, the general trend is that lying increases with age through childhood, peaks during the teen years, and then declines gradually with age. Despite maturation, the positive skew is maintained (Debey et al., 2015; Serota et al., 2010). Understanding the size and nature of these trends, however, requires considerable nuance. The diﬀerence was the largest in the original DePaulo et al. (1996) study where adults lied once per day and stu- dents twice per day. Depending on how one frames the results, this is a small diﬀerence of one lie per day or a diﬀerence of 100% with students lying twice as often as adults. If we rely on the much larger samples in the current study compared to Serota et al. (2010), the mean diﬀerence is more modest; 2.03 for students compared to 1.65 for adults.
Kim B. Serota, Timothy R. Levine & Tony Docan-Morgan (2021): “Unpacking variation in lie prevalence: Prolific liars, bad lie days, or both?“, Communication Monographs, DOI: 10.1080/03637751.2021.1985153
Thus, since I have already shown that college students are LIARS, it follows that adults, in general, are LIARS. There is only a modest difference between how often college students lie and how often adults in general lie.
Here is a nice summary statement about an important psychological study on this topic [emphasis added]:
For example, during a bogus experiment on ESP (a mind-reading task), people are presented with an opportunity to cheat in order to win a $50 prize. When people are placed in such a situation, almost everyone cheats (90%) and then when confronted about their behavior, few tell the truth; only 9 to 20% of the individuals in these studies confess when questioned (see, Miller and Stiff, DeTurck and Miller).
What is really interesting about these findings is that the same results are obtained by different researchers working in different parts of the country.
Overall, the experimental evidence shows that when placed in the right (or wrong) situation, people are prone to lying, a behavior that starts at an early age, and people are very good at it.
“Experiments Show How Readily Adults and Children Will Lie When Given the Chance To Do So”
Miller, G. R., & Stiff, J. B. (1992). Applied issues in studying deceptive communication. In R. S. Feldman (Ed.), Applications of nonverbal behavioral theories and research (pp. 217-237). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Miller, G. R., & Stiff, J. B. (1993). Deceptive Communication. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
deTurck, M. A., & Miller, G. R. (1985). Deception and arousal: Isolating the behavioral correlates of deception. Human Communication Research, 12, 181-201.
deTurck, M. A., & Miller, G. R. (1990). Training observers to detect deception: Effects of self-monitoring and rehearsal. Human Communication Research, 16, 603-620.
A large study of lying in the U.K. produced some useful information about the dishonesty of adults:
I will focus on the telling of “Big Lies” and ignore the telling of “White Lies”. [ NOTE: there was a good degree of agreement between the various people who participated in this survey as to what sorts of lies would count as “Big Lies” and what sorts of lies would count as “White Lies”, so this was NOT a purely subjective distinction.]
The study is based on a survey of people in the U.K. ages 18 and older: “After eliminating responses from 16- and 17-years-olds, the reanalysis” (in the article containing the above chart) “included 2,980 subjects.”
On the positive side 80.3 % of the people in this study indicated that on average they tell ZERO “Big Lies” per day.
However, on the negative side, that means that about 20% of the people in this study indicated that on average they tell 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 or more “Big Lies” per day. In my view, someone who tells a Big Lie on average once per day is clearly a DISHONEST person. So, this study indicates that AT LEAST 20% of adults are DISHONEST.
However, the question that was asked of the subjects introduces a bias. If the question had been “How many times do you tell a Big Lie on average over the course of one week?” then a person could have answered “1 per week” which would be equivalent to telling a Big Lie at a rate of about 1/7 per day or .14 Big Lies per day, or a person could have answered “2 per week” which would be equivalent to telling a Big Lie on average at a rate of about 2/7 per day or .29 Big Lies per day. But there was no option to indicate that one told Big Lies on average about once or twice every week.
The relevant options confronting a person who tells a Big Lie once or twice per week are either “0” Big Lies on average per day or “1” Big Lie on average per day. Someone who only tells a Big Lie once or twice per week, will probably thus answer that, on average, they tell 0 Big Lies per day, because saying that they tell 1 Big Lie on average per day would significantly exaggerate how frequently they tell Big Lies.
That means that it is very likely that MANY of the people who claimed to tell a Big Lie on average 0 times per day believe that they tell one or two Big Lies on average each week. The focus of the survey on Big Lies per day thus hides the fact that MANY of the 80% of subjects in this study who claimed to tell 0 Big Lies on average per day, believe that they in fact tell one or two or three Big Lies each week. It seems to me that someone who tells a Big Lie on average each week is NOT a very honest person. That means telling over 50 Big Lies in one year. I would consider such a person to be DISHONEST.
Furthermore, people tend to LIE about how much and how often they do things that are considered to be wrong or bad. People tend to UNDERESTIMATE and UNDERREPORT how much and how often they do things like telling Big Lies. So, MANY people who report that they tell a Big Lie on average 0 times per day, might well IN FACT tell a Big Lie on average 1 time per day. If just half of the 80% of subjects who reported telling 0 Big Lies on average per day actually tell 1 Big Lie on average per day, then that means that 40% of the people in this study should, in reality, be categorized as being just as DISHONEST as the 20% of people who admitted they tell at least 1 Big Lie on average per day. In that case, 60% of the subjects in this study would be clearly DISHONEST people.
If we simply assume that ALL of the subjects in this study answered the question honestly and accurately, then the conclusion would be that about 20% of adults tell AT LEAST 1 Big Lie on average per day, and it seems to me that means that one in five adults is clearly a DISHONEST person. But presumably a large portion of the 80% of people who claimed to tell 0 Big Lies on average per day believe that they tell one (or two or three) Big Lies each week, making them DISHONEST too.
However, it would be NAIVE to simply accept that ALL of the subjects in this study answered the question honestly and accurately. People tend to have a bias against remembering their bad behavior, and people tend to have a bias against honestly reporting how often they engage in behavior that is viewed as bad behavior. So, we have good reason to believe that a significant portion of the people who were subjects in this study UNDERREPORTED the actual frequency of their telling Big Lies, and that a significant portion of the 80% of people who estimated that they tell 0 Big Lies on average per day, actually tell 1 or 2 Big Lies on average per day.
This study tells us what people REPORT about the frequency of their own lying, especially how frequently they tell “Big Lies”. But since, at least in my view, telling 1 Big Lie on average per week is sufficient to consider a person to be DISHONEST, we really want to know what portion of adults tell at least 1 Big Lie on average per week. The data in the graph from this study indicate that MORE THAN 20% of adults tell AT LEAST 1 Big Lie on average each week. But the ACTUAL portion of adults who tell AT LEAST 1 Big Lie on average per week might well be much larger.
For example, if half of the 80% of subjects who claimed to tell an average of 0 Big Lies per day actually tell an average of 1 or more Big Lies per day, then we could add another 40% of the people in this study to the 20% who admit they tell AT LEAST 1 Big Lie on average per day (and thus are clearly DISHONEST), so that the conclusion would be that 60% of the people in this study are in fact, clearly DISHONEST people. And if just half of the remaining 40% of people who claimed to tell an average of 0 Big Lies per day are people who actually tell an average of one or more Big Lies per week, then we could add another 20% of the subjects to the category of being DISHONEST people. In this scenario, 80% of the people in this study would be reasonably considered to be DISHONEST people.
Granted that people who tell one or two Big Lies on average per week are LESS DISHONEST than people who tell one or two Big Lies on average per day, this is only a matter of degree, and telling about 50 Big Lies in one year is sufficient reason for considering a person to be DISHONEST. In my view it is unreasonable to call a person “honest” when he or she tells one or two Big Lies per week on average.
The truth of the matter is very likely to be somewhere in between those two estimates. It is very likely that SIGNIFICANTLY MORE THAN 20% of the people in that study are DISHONEST (i.e. tell a Big Lie on average at least once per week), and it is also likely that less than 80% of the people in that study are DISHONEST (i.e. tell a Big Lie on average at least once per week). In any case, a large portion of adults (25-45%), and quite possibly the majority of adults (60-70%) are DISHONEST, based on this large study of people in the U.K.
Serota, Kim & Levine, Timothy. (2014). A Few Prolific Liars. Journal of Language and Social Psychology. 34. 10.1177/0261927X14528804.
ADULTS ARE CHEATERS
Although adults in the USA appear to be fairly honest about paying their taxes, and not cheating on taxes (compared with adults in other countries), adults in America often cheat on their spouses and lovers.
The most consistent data on infidelity come from the General Social Survey, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and based at the University of Chicago, which has used a national representative sample to track the opinions and social behaviors of Americans since 1972. The survey data show that in any given year, about 10 percent of married people — 12 percent of men and 7 percent of women — say they have had sex outside their marriage.
“Love, sex and the changing landscape of inﬁdelity” NY Times, Oct. 28, 2008
There are two important qualifications to note about these statistics. First, infidelity or “cheating” is considered bad behavior, and so people are biased against honestly reporting that they have engaged in such behavior, and against honestly reporting how often they have engaged in such behavior. This is especially true when questions are asked of people in an interview, which is how the General Social Survey has been conducted:
Surveys conducted in person are likely to underestimate the real rate of adultery, because people are reluctant to admit such behavior not just to their spouses but to anyone.
In a study published last summer in The Journal of Family Psychology, for example, researchers from the University of Colorado and Texas A&M surveyed 4,884 married women, using face-to-face interviews and anonymous computer questionnaires. In the interviews, only 1 percent of women said they had been unfaithful to their husbands in the past year; on the computer questionnaire, more than 6 percent did.
“Love, sex and the changing landscape of inﬁdelity” NY Times, Oct. 28, 2008
So, AT LEAST 5% of women who were interviewed in the above study LIED and claimed they had NOT been unfaithful in the past year, when in fact they had been unfaithful in the past year. Women were more honest on anonymous computer questionnaires, but who is to say that they were fully and completely honest on those computer questionnaires? The fact that MORE women were honest on computer questionnaires does not mean that ALL women were honest on the computer questionnaires.
The second qualification to keep in mind is that these statistics are about how many people were unfaithful or “cheated” in the previous year. Each year about 10% of married people CHEAT on their spouse. But most people are married for many years. With each passing year one has more opportunities to CHEAT. So, a spouse who is faithful for the first two years of marriage might well CHEAT during the third year of marriage. So, the 10% figure is only a bottom-level baseline. Since most marriages last for many years, the percent of spouses who CHEAT over the course of a marriage that lasts ten, twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty years is bound to be GREATER THAN just 10%!
…University of Washington researchers have found that the lifetime rate of infidelity for men over 60 increased to 28 percent in 2006, up from 20 percent in 1991. For women over 60, the increase is more striking: to 15 percent, up from 5 percent in 1991.
The researchers also see big changes in relatively new marriages. About 20 percent of men and 15 percent of women under 35 say they have ever been unfaithful, up from about 15 and 12 percent respectively.
“Love, sex and the changing landscape of inﬁdelity” NY Times, Oct. 28, 2008
In recent studies 20% (or 1 in 5) married men under 35 REPORT that they have been unfaithful at some point in their marriage, and 28% of men over 60 REPORT having been unfaithful to a spouse at some point in their lives. So, over the course of a lifetime, we can expect about 25 to 30% of men to be unfaithful to at least one spouse.
It appears that young women are now REPORTING being unfaithful almost as much as young men (15% vs. 20%).
So, in the future, we can expect 25% to 30% of women over 60 to REPORT having been unfaithful to a spouse at some point in their lives, like men over 60 now REPORT.
So, between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 adults will CHEAT on a spouse at some time in their lives, if they get married and live to be 60 years old. That is a significant portion of married people who will REPORT CHEATING in their marriages. It is reasonable to believe that the ACTUAL portion of married people who CHEAT is larger than what people REPORT, so the reality is probably more like between 1 in 3 and 1 in 2 adults will CHEAT on a spouse at some time in their lives, if they get married and live to be at least 60 years old.
It is NOT just college students who are LIARS and CHEATERS. Adults, in general, are LIARS and CHEATERS. Virtually ALL adults tell lies from time to time, and somewhere between 25% and 75% of adults are DISHONEST because they tell Big Lies on a regular basis (one or more times per week).
When put in a situation where it is tempting to lie and cheat (for personal gain) with little chance of being detected ALMOST EVERYONE will lie and cheat, and then when questioned about this ALMOST EVERYONE will LIE and hide the fact that they lied and cheated. This is virtually the SAME way that four and five-year-old children behave in similar experiments.
Also, a large portion of married people CHEAT on their spouses over the course of a lifetime, somewhere between 25% and 50% for those who marry and live to be at least 60 years old.
Adults in general are LIARS and CHEATERS, just like college students, just like high school students, just like children.