As much of the United States moves toward reopening in phases, some people are enjoying little bites of pre-pandemic life, such as dining in restaurants, exercising in gyms and learning in classrooms. With the gradual return comes a set of intrusive health questions: Are you experiencing any symptoms? Have you been exposed to anyone who has tested positive for the coronavirus? Answering those questions is where it gets tricky.
People usually tell one to two lies a day, according to a 1996 university study. Consistent with the belief that lying is an everyday social interaction, participants said they did not view their lies as serious and did not worry about being caught, the researchers said.
Incidents in which people were dishonest about their health have been well documented over the last several months. In March, a New York man lied about his Covid-19 symptoms to gain access to a maternity ward to see his wife, who later developed flulike symptoms. The same month, a woman who flew from Massachusetts to Los Angeles and then to Beijing was placed under investigation after she was accused of lying about her symptoms. In August, a woman in Washington State was shamed for lying to her manicurist about testing positive for the virus.
Robert Feldman, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the author of “The Liar in Your Life: The Way to Truthful Relationships,” said that his research showed that people typically tell three lies within the first 10 minutes of meeting someone else.
“It’s part of what we do as members of society,” Professor Feldman said. “We tell people that we’re feeling well when we’re not feeling so well.”
Another common example of lying, he said, is saying that you liked a gift you didn’t like.
“Society operates on lies in many ways,” Professor Feldman said. “Most of these lies are probably fairly trivial in the grand scheme of things, but they are lies.”
Professor Feldman said that he believed the number of lies people tell had gone up during the pandemic and that there were incentives to being dishonest.
“It’s important, during the course of this pandemic, to be honest, stay at home and to wear a mask, to do social distancing,” he said. “But I also think there are a lot of subtle pressures that push people to not be totally truthful.”
When people do lie, he said, they sometimes give themselves excuses that it’s OK because they’re just trying to cope with the pandemic.
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