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The truth about lying during the COVID-19 pandemic

September 23, 2020

Robert Feldman, Psychological and Brain Sciences, was recently featured in a New York Times article regarding an increase in the rate at which people are lying during the COVID-19 pandemic— particularly about symptoms and other health concerns. As the number of well-documented instances of dishonesty regarding symptoms increases, a new study by Brock University has found thirty-four percent of Covid-positive research participants had lied about their health when asked by others. But what is leading to all of this dishonesty? Feldman uses his experience researching deception to weigh in. 

 

From “Are You Lying More in the Pandemic? Some Certainly Are” 

The exact reasoning behind lying during the pandemic is complicated. The fact that the current social environment may not provide people what they need could tempt people to act in ways that get them what they need. 

“It’s part of what we do as members of society,” Professor Feldman said. “We tell people that we’re feeling well when we’re not feeling so well.”  

“Society operates on lies in many ways,” he said. “Most of these lies are probably fairly trivial in the grand scheme of things, but they are lies.”  

Professor Feldman said he believed the number of lies people tell had gone up during the pandemic and that there were incentives to being dishonest.  

“It’s important, during the course of this pandemic, to be honest, stay at home and to wear a mask, to do social distancing,” he said. “But I also think there are a lot of subtle pressures that push people to not be totally truthful.”  

When people do lie, he said, they sometimes give themselves excuses that it’s OK because they’re just trying to cope with the pandemic. 

Professor Feldman said, they make a risk-reward calculation: “If you’ve been in lockdown for months, you begin to feel like you deserve to be free,” he said. 

“Because you tell yourself, ‘I’ve suffered, I’m still suffering — who knows when life is going to get back to normal?’” he said. “The fact that we’ve been through a period, and are still in it, of such uncertainty and lacking in clarity of when it’s going to end, it sort of gives us permission to be less honest.” 

 

Full New York Times article >> 

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