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Study Shows People In Power Make Better Liars 265

Posted by Soulskill
from the practice-makes-perfect dept.
oDDmON oUT writes "MSNBC is reporting that a Columbia Business School study shows those who hold power over others make better liars. According to one of the study's coauthors, 'It just doesn't hurt them as much to do it.' For the average liar, she said, the act of lying elicits negative emotions, physiological stress and the fear of getting caught in a lie. As a result, she added, liars will often send out cues that they are lying by doing things like fidgeting in a chair or changing the rate of their speech. But for the powerful, the impact is very different: 'Power, it seems, enhances the same emotional, cognitive, and physiological systems that lie-telling depletes. People with power enjoy positive emotions, increases in cognitive function, and physiological resilience such as lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Thus, holding power over others might make it easier for people to tell lies.'"
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Study Shows People In Power Make Better Liars

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  • by selven (1556643) on Monday March 22, 2010 @04:16PM (#31575498)

    Or maybe the people who don't have moral or emotional problems with lying are more likely to get into power.

    • by MightyMartian (840721) on Monday March 22, 2010 @04:17PM (#31575544) Journal

      Maybe it's because most leaders are psychopaths, so they have absolute no problem telling lies at all.

      • by Hatta (162192) on Monday March 22, 2010 @04:55PM (#31576068) Journal

        The terrifying conclusion of this research is that when you randomly assign normal people to positions of power, they become psychopaths.

        • If positions of power are detrimental to human mental health then it should be illegal to put people in or allow people to attain positions of power.
          • by lennier (44736)

            If positions of power are detrimental to human mental health then it should be illegal to put people in or allow people to attain positions of power.

            And that in a nutshell is the political philosophy called democracy.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by radtea (464814)

          The terrifying conclusion of this research is that when you randomly assign normal people to positions of power, they become psychopaths.

          And in other news, when you apply a force to something it accelerates in inverse proportion to its mass...

          Seriously, why is it in the sciences we can prove things by experiment and they stay proved, but in the social "sciences" every repeat of a well-known, empirically proven result is considered new and insightful?

          Is it the lack of sound biological foundation for the social "sciences", so that there is no notion that some truths--like those revealed decades ago by the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Mil

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Krahar (1655029)
            Let's try a car analogy. Researchers might in great detail measure how much more likely you are to get into a car crash if you use a mobile phone while driving, and they might measure this for several different kinds of phones, hand-free sets and so on. They might compare it to simply talking to someone else in the car. The newsstory will read "researchers conclude that being distracted is likely to get you into a crash than if you were paying attention," but that's a very unfair characterization. What you
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by rtb61 (674572)

          You compete to gain positions of power. You are born a psychopath, you do not become one, although as a weak willed amoral person it is certainly possible to come under the influence of a psychopath and join them in their corrupt activities.

          The flip side of the report is that people get into modern capitalist based positions of power by being better liars, rather than be being competent managers. So being good a blaming other people for your mistakes and taking credit for other peoples work, all whilst s

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Maxo-Texas (864189)

          80% of people will give someone what they believe to be a lethal shock (despite the person begging them to stop) with slight prompting.

          So I'd say 80% of people are ready to be psychopaths-- they just lack the opportunity.

          (sources are the original study and the recent french TV program that duplicated it).

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by 517714 (762276)

        Maybe it's because most leaders are psychopaths, so they have absolute no problem telling lies at all.

        Let's just hope they are merely sociopaths!

      • Cops lie alot too (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DABANSHEE (154661)

        I doubt there's many people that lie as much as cops do on a daily basis & get away with it. & I've yet to see a polices facts statement or brief that wasn't full of lies. No wonder bugger all trust coppers these days

    • by DanTheStone (1212500) on Monday March 22, 2010 @04:22PM (#31575618)
      RTFA. There's an actual experiment here, not just observations like the summary here implies.
    • by Red Flayer (890720) on Monday March 22, 2010 @04:22PM (#31575622) Journal
      Or maybe you could RTFA where in the study they control for that... because the participants in the study were randomly assigned "leader" and "subordinate" roles.

      Fricking knee-jerk "Correlation != Causation".

      It's quite possible that both claims are true (TFA's and yours) -- but in this case, it appears from the study simply that:

      Causation = Causation.
    • by jmyers (208878) on Monday March 22, 2010 @04:29PM (#31575724)

      To become a leader you have to be able to look people in the eye and tell them exactly what they want to hear. The better you are at this the higher up the ladder you will climb. For some reason people will always believe what they want to hear. It seems to apply across all ideologies.

      • To become a leader you have to be able to look people in the eye and tell them exactly what they want to hear.

        Well, if that's all there is to it, then it would always be the salesman who climbs the ladder. But that's not the case.

        Being a leader is also being able to know and set boundaries. Being able to recognize win-win deals. Having wisdom.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by rxan (1424721)

      Their conclusion of the study sounds ridiculous in itself.

      They make it sound like some Jedi mind-trick -- as if you are channeling your power into a lie. "These are not the droids you are looking for..."

    • by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Monday March 22, 2010 @04:30PM (#31575746)
      You just put up another correlation-causation-problem here. Yet another alternative: While you are in power, your lies are a matter of controlling people, when you are not in power, you gotta lie to cover your arse. Different motivations for the lies, different reactions.
    • by migla (1099771) on Monday March 22, 2010 @04:32PM (#31575756)

      What you say about getting into power is undoubtedly so. All other things being equal, the ruthless person will have an easier time climbing the ladder.

      But, i actually rtfa (well, almost all of page one, so correct me if I'm wrong).Here's a snippet:

      "Carney and the other researchers, Andy Yap, Brian Lucas and Pranjal Mehta, used volunteers who were told they were either leaders or subordinates. The leaders were given a large office, and the subordinates given a small windowless space."

      So, it wasn't that the ones "in power" got there by being ruthless. So not a chicken/egg/correlation/causation thing.

      • by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday March 22, 2010 @05:04PM (#31576210) Homepage

        But, i actually rtfa

        Pfft. Great! There goes your chance to sound smarter than the professional researchers. Now you only sound smarter than the slashdotters racing to sound smarter than the researchers. Some accomplishment!

        Volunteers [were] told they were either leaders or subordinates. The leaders were given a large office, and the subordinates given a small windowless space.

        Ha! That doesn't solve the problem, there's still an issue here that started with the second run of the trial.

        Researcher: "Okay, now for control purposes we need to switch the groups. Now, who hasn't been a 'leader' yet?"
        Sociopath: "Oh, not me!"
        Researcher: "Wait, weren't a leader last time?"
        Sociopath: "Golly, no! I swear!"
        Researcher: "Okay then."

        See? The good liars are still more likely to be leaders. ;)

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cptdondo (59460)

        Well, what is the cost of lying? If you're a leader, someone might call you out, but probably not. More likely you get more power, as people follow you because you tell them what they want to hear.

        If you're a subordinate, you can get penalized - fired, demoted, reprimanded.

        So the punishment for lying is different.

    • by Livius (318358)

      Obviously. Haven't these people ever met anyone in power?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by John Saffran (1763678)
      That's one highly likely cause, but probably not the only one .. there's been some experiments that demonstrated that people in power change, generally for the worse. The Standford experiment is the classic example, though it's not definite (is anything in psychology definte though?), but it's a good indicator that power also changes normal people. Another good example would the Abu Ghraib occurrences, I doubt the prison guards would've pictured themselves that way when they were normal civilians.
    • People were randomly assigned to groups (power/no power, truthful/lying) so claiming power causes people to lie more easily seems valid, within the bounds of the experiment.
  • by KiltedKnight (171132) * on Monday March 22, 2010 @04:17PM (#31575542) Homepage Journal

    All you ever have to do is look at various high-level politicians and you'll know that it's true. The better study would be determining how often they get caught.

    • by Bodrius (191265) on Monday March 22, 2010 @04:37PM (#31575822) Homepage

      I'm guessing you're just being snarky, but taking your comment at face value: that's a hasty assumption to make; even if you assumed all politicians are liars (which isn't very scientific either) it doesn't follow that all leaders, or even most important leaders, are politicians. If you also consider all the differences between political processes in different countries and cultures, in terms of public exposure, accountability, and levels of direct and indirect power - there are a lot of variables that would account for the usual complaint.

      The experiment design seems to reduce this to few enough variables, in a general enough context, to legitimately say "power makes people better at lying".

      Note that from TFA this wasn't a survey among known leaders - they randomly assigned power relationships to equivalent populations in an experiment, and found a correlation. So this rules out many of the alternative arguments: self-selection ('better liars acquire power'), specialized populations ('publicly elected politicians need to be better liars'), or learned behavior ('people in power become desensitized to lying').

    • An even easier one is to look at your boss

  • ...an IgNobel prize a-cooking?

  • The reptile (Score:2, Interesting)

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/persuaders/interviews/rapaille.html [pbs.org] "The Reptile Always Wins" Traits such as the submission to authority are part of the deep underlying reptile brain. Even when other parts of brain saying not to, it very hard to ignore these base desire to submit. It is the core of our intelligent being. This is more than just "correlation imply causation," it is reflection of deep underlying trait that is known. There is not many news in this story. If you look on this pri
    • Traits such as the submission to authority are part of the deep underlying reptile brain.

      That's a pretty dubious statement, since most reptiles don't have much in the way of social structure. "Submission to authority" implies that there's an authority to submit to. Say it's part of the primitive primate brain, and it becomes a little more believable.

  • by Tumbleweed (3706) * on Monday March 22, 2010 @04:22PM (#31575630)

    Delegating! Good leaders know how to delegate better than lesser leaders. Thus, they delegate the lying to the professionals. Rent 'Wag the Dog' for a good example. There's also 'plausible deniability'. By not actually educating themselves on anything, they 'rely on what their researchers told them', when their handlers tell the researchers to tell them what the money men want them to say.

    • Delegating is something good managers have to know how to do, but it is completely separate from being a good leader.

      Being a good leader (in my opinion, obviously) is being someone that people want to follow. You can either be a just or an evil leader, but if people want to follow you, then you are good at leading.
  • Umm... (Score:4, Funny)

    by tool462 (677306) on Monday March 22, 2010 @04:23PM (#31575640)

    No we don't.

  • Makes sense (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Cyko_01 (1092499)
    People who are in power are generally very confident people. When you lie you need to be confident or people will not be convinced.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      People who are in power are generally very confident people. When you lie you need to be confident or people will not be convinced.

      Sometimes you simply need to be a good liar with a bunch of well placed people to back you up. People in power may make better liars, but people who lie without getting caught find out how to get the power. Or liars are often the ones with no care for anyone else and simply want to control them. There are many ways to spin the numbers.

      Oh, and vague statistics help make better li

  • I am no expert, but I have a feeling this has more to do with this. Especially in todays companies where there is a culture of promoting the biggest assholes and creating a play-field where you actually get rewarded if you F%@* somebody over. The elbow-way of making career gets you more. Unfortunately for those companies that work like this, they are actually selecting people to be liars and when you don't lie and so you come 2% of your target short, you're out. That guy next to you, who actually stole seve
  • by e2d2 (115622) on Monday March 22, 2010 @04:31PM (#31575752)

    You know there's worse things than lying. For instance bullshit. Bullshitters don't even acknowledge that the truth is important, at least liars do that by knowingly lying. Bullshitters believe the crap they spout.

    • by Shark (78448)

      Like you just did?

      Hehe, just messing with ya there... But it makes one pause to consider their statement, doesn't it?

  • No kidding (Score:2, Insightful)

    How do you think they got in power?
  • by Recovery1 (217499) on Monday March 22, 2010 @04:39PM (#31575854) Homepage

    They must have missed the study by another university that also reads that sociopaths tend to be in some position of power. Must be easy to miss too because not remembering a lot about the study I couldn't find the link to it with Google either. It still has to be somewhere on this vast web we call the internet. Anyone else happen to read and bookmark it?

  • Job skill (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Citizen of Earth (569446) on Monday March 22, 2010 @04:39PM (#31575856)
    Lying is an important job skill for people in power. Either people are born with the aptitude, they learn it, or they are at a disadvantage to good liars at acquiring and holding power.
  • Well yeah? How else would they have gotten into that kind of power?
  • by Stick32 (975497)
    Columbia University Business school finds "people in power makes better liars." The report goes on to state, "it's 'bitchin' cold in Antartica" and "people who cut me off in traffic are total 'dick's." Full story at 11.
  • I always thought cliches like "absolute power corrupts" included this concept well enough, but I must disclaim that I'm not an academic with a department to promote who feels in danger of perishing unless he publishes....

  • by thewils (463314) on Monday March 22, 2010 @04:55PM (#31576076) Journal

    Because this is exactly what high priests in religion have been doing for centuries.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Toze (1668155)

      Pastafarianism clearly descends from and owes a great deal to Christianity, since both deities are edible.

      Religious debate-y enough for ya? ;P

      • by thewils (463314)

        Religious debate-y enough for ya? ;P

        For sure, you've obviously been touched by His noodly appendage.

  • So which is the cause, and which is the effect?

  • 'It just doesn't hurt them as much to do it.' For the average liar, she said, the act of lying elicits negative emotions, physiological stress and the fear of getting caught in a lie

    "It just doesn't hurt them as much". Let's put it another way. If you're at the bottom of the heap, there's plenty of people with the ability to administer punishment if they don't believe you.

    But if you're at the top, if you lie and they don't believe you -- you're the one who can dish out the punishment.

  • People will buy into what you think of yourself. And then react accordingly. Which then fulfills your prophecy that you are like that. Because everyone confirms it.

    This is what creates the bullies, nerds, winners and losers in schools, companies, in all communities, and even on state/world level.
    The guy who is the most secure of himself, becomes what most people listen to and believe in. Hence they become leaders.

    The problem is, that we all think this would be something unchangable. That we ourselves would

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