A new study finds that people are generally willing to tell a fib if doing so protects a friend’s reputation or helps them save face in a social situation.
Canadian researchers investigated the circumstances under which people would be willing to tell a lie to manage another person’s social image.
The investigators learned that in these cases, friends often step in to provide strategic identity support.
“This is an instance when you don’t have the opportunity to make yourself look good, so somebody else does it for you,” said researcher Jennifer Argo, Ph.D.
“But you’re better off to hang out with your friends (in these situations) because your friends will look out for you.”
Argo studied the likelihood of people helping out a friend who — to his chagrin — paid more for a car than did another person for the same vehicle.
Regardless of the size of the price discrepancy, she said, friends are willing to come to the rescue. She noted that in the case of a large discrepancy, even strangers may be willing to help a person save face as a random act of kindness.
“People put themselves in the shoes of the other person and say ‘I would want someone to lie on my behalf so I wouldn’t look bad,’” she said.
A key element associated with this behavior is for the person needing help to be physically present during the conversation between the friend and the third party.
Otherwise, the only time they might be willing to fib on behalf of the absent friend is in the case of a large price discrepancy, Argo said.
“It comes down to what kind of relationship you have with the person in need. I think it is truly defined by the level of your friendship,” she said. “If it’s the best friend, I think most people would lie, even at the risk of possibly being found out.”
Argo said the wingman theory, or the role a friend takes to help provide social support, could apply to almost any situation in which there is a discrepancy that could negatively impact the social perception or impression of the friend.
She said the application works equally when applied to business settings, in which a friend may embellish a recommendation to help a pal get a job. It may also apply at a party, where embroidering the truth could get a pal a first date with a potential partner.
“Based on the findings, it would seem reasonable to expect that people who understand their friends should be willing to step in as a wingman in a number of different contexts if their friends are in need,” Argo said.
Despite the altruistic action, telling a lie could place the friend’s integrity in question, especially if the lie was unsolicited.
“It does say something about that person, too. Because (as my friend), if you’re lying, and I know it, it might make me question or cause me to doubt how much you lie to me and others,” she said.
Source: University of Alberta