Lying and Deception in Relationships
A bar in terms of casual and intimate relationships

    Bars today are full of people.  Tons of them socializing, drinking, dancing, and relating to each other.  Many of the people do not know one another prior to entering the bar while others may be old friends or longtime couples.  It is not uncommon to see individuals meeting for the first time, in a variety of ways including nonverbal methods.  That being said, one may ask, how genuine are these relationships? Is it possible to meet good people at a bar? How do I know if that old man is telling me the truth when he tells me he is only 22?  How can I tell if that blond in the corner meant it when she told me I was the best dancer she had ever seen?  Can I even characterize my two-second conversation with the bartender as a relationship?  To simply answer these questions, nothing is set in stone and we can only work with what we do know prior to entering these establishments.
    In many of our everyday relationships, there are several features that are valued.  Of them, trust is commonly decided to be one the most important characteristics of a relationship regardless if it is between lovers, friends, acquaintances or family members. Trust is an integral part of many relationships, regardless of the level of intimacy.  When a female asks her male friend to walk her home, she is trusting that he will not try to hurt her.  When a man confides his feelings in his partner, he is trusting that the partner will respect that privacy.  When a child has a parent help them to learn to ride a bike, they are trusting that the parent will not try to hurt them and do nothing but try to help them.  Every relationship, every interaction in this world requires at least a little amount of faith in order for communication and reliability to be procured.  Truth and the faith that the other person is telling the truth is often the foundation that a partnership if built on.  Life, though, is not really that simple.  Humans are indeed fallible and fall victim to not choosing the whole truth and complete honesty.  Often times the truth is not always the easiest alternative and in bars across the United States, lies run rampant.
    As we begin, we must understand the definition of a lie.  Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines lying as telling untruths, defrauding another, and deceiving another for personal gain.  Colloquially, lying has come to mean to not tell the “entire truth”, thus being economical with the truth.  Lying typically has attached to it a rather negative connotation but let’s begin by looking at the benefit of lying and deceiving others.
Lying altruistically can bring about harmony in a relationship.  This act of fibbing generally refers to telling “white lies” to protect the feelings of another.  These lies are typically of lower importance.  In Peterson’s Australian study, Deception in intimate relationships, it was found that couples closely involved tell predominantly insignificant lies to one another.  It was also found that subjects, who reported telling such lies, did so as a means of conflict avoidance.  Also, in DePaulo and Kashy’s study, Everyday lies in close and casual relationships, it is noted that we tell fewer lies to those we find closest to us and of those lies that are told, the majority of them are altruistic in nature rather than self-serving.  Not only were fewer lies told, but subjects also felt more uncomfortable about the prospect of telling untruths to those with whom subjects were more intimate.  In conclusion, in our relationships, we are more likely to tell altruistic, “white lies” to those closest to us rather than blatant lies with increased discomfort in the process, generally in an attempt to maintain satisfaction and harmony in the relationship.
    In our chosen setting of a bar/nightclub on college campuses, altruistic lies are quite prevalent.  They range from a dishonest approval of another’s appearance and/or personality, mood, approval of others’ companions, etc.  These are all examples of harmless, selfless strategies to maintain harmony that do not dramatically affect the quality of a pre-existing relationship.
    Now that the advantage of lying has been addressed, it is appropriate for us to turn our attention toward the detrimental, less altruistic effects of deception.  Lies can hurt.  When trust is broken or damaged, it is difficult for people to rebuild that which is integral to their interaction.  In many of the relationships and interactions in bars, are of the sexual or casual nature.  As a result, when lies are employed for self-serving agendas, extremely detrimental consequences arise.  In Knox, Holt, and Turner’s 1993 study, Sexual lies among university students, it was found that the most frequently told lies were about the number of previous sexual partners, the evaluation of the current sexual experience and the characteristics of and feelings for the current partner.  The implications of this study alert many us to a problem that is extremely prevalent in today’s bar scene, the dishonesty and insincerity of others, which can and will affect us physically if we choose to participate.  Diseases such as HIV and other STDs are not always disclosed to potential sexual partners.  According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sexually transmitted diseases such as Herpes is highest (28%-48%) in women under the age of twenty-five and it is predicted that 15%-20% of men will be infected with Herpes by the time that they reach adulthood.  With these staggering statistics glaring many young adults in the face, college students encounter this problem, of deciphering who is telling the truth and who is not in a social setting like a bar or club, with heightened stakes.
    It is now appropriate for one to ask, who lies? Is it even possible to predict who is lying and who is not? Many individuals believe that they can lie and get away with it proficiently while being adept at catching others when they are lying.  It is extremely easy for many of us to see the dark figure in a corner of the bar offering to buy girls drinks or offer cheesy pick-up lines, but most liars are not so obvious.  In a 1991 study by Ekman and O'Sullivan, 509 subjects, which consisted of judges, SecretService agents, college students, psychiatrists, and federal polygraphers, it was found that the only group that displayed any increased accuracy in predicting liars from non-liars was that of the Secret Service agents.  Approximately 53% of the agents could pick out the liar at least 70% of the time.  In an experimental training setting, individuals such as judges and robbery investigators followed far beyond. It is hypothesized that the Secret Service agents utilized nonverbal cues more effectively because of the constant demand for them to scan large crowds to identify possible law-breakers.  Detecting liars may not be as simple as many think if judges and psychiatrists are not even reliable detectors!
    One other point to make, in identifying who may be an individual who lies, is a simple characterization of the perpetrator.  Kashy and DePaulo, in a 1996 study, attempted to diagram the "liar".  It was found that those who tended to lie more were individuals who were more concerned with self-presentation and were more sociable.  Those that tended to tell fewer lies, were more highly socialized, and reported higher satisfaction with same-sex relationships.  It was also noted, not surprisingly, that individuals who tended to lie more, told more self-serving lies rather than altruistic, "white lies".
    Having addressed types of lies, who lies and the implications, where does this leave the average college student socializing at a bar on a typical evening?  This simply illustrates the need for students to be more discriminating with others with whom you engage in a conversation and not to believe everything that is said.  At the same time, this information is not intended to be a barrier to forming bonds of trust and relationships.  There is tons of fun to be had at bars clubs, but there are also many dangers to be aware of.

Beginning Page

Group Dynamics

Lying and Deception

Alcohol-Induced Behavior


This tutorial was produced for Psy 324, Advanced Social Psychology, Spring 2000 at Miami University.  All graphics are from the public domain, used with permission, or were created by the authors. Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA).   Last revised: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 16:49:50. This document has been accessed 1times since 1 May 2000. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman