New research suggests a little time might make us more honest. A study found that people are most likely to lie when they are under time pressure to give an answer and they can justify the fib to themselves.
In the study, a group of international researchers instructed about 70 adult participants to roll a die three times. The subjects, who were out of the researchers' view, were told to report only the outcome of their first roll, and they earned more money for a higher roll. Some were instructed to report the outcome within 20 seconds, and others had unlimited time to give an answer.
By comparing the participants' responses to those that would be expected from fair rolls, the researchers determined that both groups lied, but those under time pressure were more likely to fib.
The researchers believe the participants likely reported the highest number they rolled, even if it occurred on the second or third try instead of the first. They probably felt justified in doing so because they really had rolled that number, just not the first time.
In a second version of the experiment, the participants only rolled the die once and reported the outcome. This time, those under time pressure were more likely to lie, while those without a time constraint more often told the truth, the researchers found.
The researchers say the experiments suggest people are more likely to lie when short on time, but without time pressure, they might only lie when they can rationalize the untruth.
"According to our theory, people first act upon their self-serving instincts, and only with time do they consider what socially acceptable behavior is," psychological scientist Shaul Shalvi, of the University of Amsterdam, said in a statement. Shalvi added that to promote honesty in business or personal settings, the study suggests it is important not push a person into a corner.
"People usually know it is wrong to lie, they just need time to do the right thing," he said.
Shalvi's study, which was conducted in collaboration with Ori Eldar and Yoella Bereby-Meyer of Ben Gurion University in Israel, was published in the journal Psychological Science.