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Dishonesty Can Actually Damage Your Ability to Read People

·355 words·2 mins
Psyched for the Weekend

It’s well known that dishonesty can be damaging to interpersonal relationships. When we find out someone has lied to us, it can be very difficult to trust them again.

But how about the other side of things? When someone has lied to us, even if no one discovers that they have lied, does the act carry consequences for them as well?

Research indicates that it very well might.

Dishonesty and Empathy

In a recent study, researchers found that once someone had committed a dishonest act that they were subsequently worse at correctly identifying the emotions of others. Effectively, it would seem that dishonesty had damaged that person’s ability to empathize — what the researchers call “empathic accuracy” — at least in the short term.

Through a series of studies they also found the following:

  •  A single dishonest act could spur forth a vicious cycle and cause bad actors to dehumanize their targets and subsequently be more likely to engage in more dishonesty.
  • Participants who were more socially attuned were less likely to act dishonestly during the study.

Based on these findings, the researchers believe there may very well be a direct link between empathy for others and behaving honestly.

Empathy and Self-Control

I found this a very interesting study particularly when taken in conjunction with other work I’ve covered in the past on this blog that has found a link between empathy and self-control.

Most of us want partners who are honest with us. And most of us really don’t want to date people who are going to deceive us.

But for me, good liars can be hard to spot. However, people who are low in self-control typically jump right out at me, as do those who can exercise more discipline when the situation warrants it.

In any event, this is interesting research — and something I’ll be keeping an eye on.


This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.


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