Who Lies the Most? 2016’s Ig Nobel Prize in Psychology

One recipient built himself prosthetic goat limbs and spent several days grazing among a herd of goats. Another investigated the perceived personality traits of rocks.

Surprising as it may be, I’m not listing Nobel Prize winners. Rather, these are recipients of the 2016 Ig Nobel Prize, an award for “achievements that make people laugh, and then think.”

This year’s winner in the field of psychology is an international team of researchers who published a paper titled From Junior to Senior Pinocchio: A Cross-Sectional Lifespan Investigation of Deception. According to the Ig Nobel committee, the researchers were selected “for asking a thousand liars how often they lie, and for deciding whether to believe those answers.”

Specifically, the researchers surveyed 1005 people between the ages of 6 and 77, asking them how often they lied and testing how well they lied. The goal was to see whether people in different age brackets lied more often or more skillfully than others.

Overall, teenagers turned out to be the biggest liars, with children and the elderly the most honest. Lying frequency increased during childhood, peaked in adolescence, and then decreased over the course of adulthood.

Meanwhile, young adults were the most proficient liars. Lying ability increased over the course of childhood, peaked in young adulthood, and again declined progressively throughout adulthood.

Interpreting these results, the researchers point to a possible association between lying and the ability to inhibit involuntary responses. Like lying ability, this type of self-control improves until young adulthood, then begins to decline again.

Although this study was honored with the special distinction of an Ig Nobel Prize, previous research has found similar patterns. For example, research published in 2011 found that children and teenagers with better executive functioning tell more sophisticated lies. Other research published last December also suggests a link between lying and inhibition.

Maybe what made the Ig-winning study stand out, though, was its scope. By including a thousand participants of all ages, the researchers showed that lying fluctuates significantly across the lifespan. Essentially, teenagers are the most enthusiastic liars and young adults are the most skillful – and that’s the truth!

Image: Flickr/comeonandorra