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UW-L professor’s research finds people lie just a little — except for a few prolific liars

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You know poker players lie, but how about family, friends or acquaintances? Are they lying?

A new study co-authored by a UW-La Crosse faculty member may provide some reassurance.

Most communication is honest and most lies are told by a few prolific liars, says UW-L Professor Tony Docan-Morgan, who recently co-authored the publication, “Unpacking variation in lie prevalence: Prolific liars, bad lie days, or both?” in Communication Monographs, the flagship journal of the National Communication Association.

The study examined 116,366 lies told by 632 participants over 91 consecutive days. Participants self-reported their lies daily using an online survey.

About 75% of respondents did not lie much — about zero to two lies per day. And most lies were inconsequential, little white lies like saying you like a gift you really don’t. A small group — 6% of respondents — had similarly low levels of lying on average, but had days in which they lied much more frequently.

Unlike most previous lie studies, this new research examined lies over time instead of a one-day survey of behavior. The study’s authors found that day-to-day variance fluctuates considerably from person-to-person. People who are usually honest have days in which they lie more than is typical for them and prolific liars have days in which they tell few lies.

Generally, prolific liars exhibited much more day-to-day variation than the rest of the sample. And this variance was especially true for the top 1% of liars who averaged 17 lies per day. The only respondents who did not vary much day-to-day were the 1% who almost never lied.

Read more about the study at


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