Moms, keep this in mind: The next time the kids call home from college, there’s about a 50-50 chance they’ll tell you a lie.
A study of University of Virginia college students found that when they talk to their mothers, they lie about once in every two conversations.
But there’s a consolation: They lie even more to strangers.
The study was based on diaries that 77 students who live away from home were asked to keep. University of Virginia researcher Bella DePaulo also asked 70 people in the Charlottesville area to do the same thing.
The college students didn’t talk enough with their dads to permit a separate analysis of those conversations, DePaulo said.
She found that the closer her research subjects felt to the person they were talking to, the less they told lies about everyday things such as money and study habits.
Other research has shown that real whoppers--such as lying about an affair--are more likely to be told to people the liar is closest to.
In explaining why her study suggests people may be more truthful in close relationships, DePaulo speculated that it may be harder to get away with lying when somebody knows you well. Or maybe people are wary of starting a tit-for-tat battle of lies, she said.
DePaulo presented the results recently at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Assn.
Study participants recorded every conversation they had and what lies they told for a week. The student group reported telling a total of 1,000 lies over that time, an average of about two a day for each student.
Researchers took the total number of lies told to people in particular categories and divided it by the number of conversations college students had with those people.
The diaries showed students lied in 28% of conversations with both a best friend or a regular friend; in 48% with an acquaintance; and in 77% with a stranger. Mom came in at 46%, and lovers, 34%.
Mothers may have gotten more than their share of lies, given the closeness of mother-child bonds, because they have the power to bestow things such as money and approval, DePaulo said.
Among the lies told to parents:
* Saying a required book cost $50 to $60 when it really cost about half that “so they’d pity me and send me money,” one student wrote.
* Saying they were staying in to study for a test.
Among the lies told to other people:
* Getting out of baby-sitting some “brats” by claiming a prior commitment.
* A woman telling an interesting man she’s not dating someone else regularly so he’ll ask her out.
Not all the lies were selfish.
The study found that in close relationships, lies were more likely to be told for the other person’s good. One example: telling a friend who has just broken up with a boyfriend to have confidence in herself because she is pretty.
Niall Bolger, a psychology professor at New York University, called the research important and praised the use of daily diaries. “There’s probably no better method to really get a fix on this phenomenon,” he said.