Cultural Differences in Telling a Lie

  Last updated July 3, 2017 at 3:31 pm

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The differences in behaviour of liars and truth-tellers are often generalised and based on Western subjects, new research shows cultural backgrounds influence how a lie is told.

Your cultural background will have a strong influence on the way that you tell a lie according to a paper published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

By analysing lies constructed by members of different cultural groups, the researchers were able to tease out which elements are important in telling a fib according to their cultural background.

There were 320 participants in the study from four different cultural groups (Black African, South Asian, White European and White British). Each participant had to complete a ‘catch-the-liar’ task where they had to select between genuine and fabricated statements either about their own past or an opinion and counter-opinion.

The results showed some dramatic differences between how the different cultural groups go about telling a lie. Black Africans were more likely to use first person pronouns and less likely to use third-person pronouns when constructing a lie whereas within the White British, these relationships were completely reversed. Black Africans were less likely to include family and friends in a lie but the White British were very likely to do so.

Similarly Black Africans were most likely to include perceptual details in their lies while the White British were more likely to include social details. On all the elements of lying investigated in this study, the South Asian and White Europeans tended to fall between the Black African and White British groups.

To date most research into deception has tended to use Western subject populations, so this cross-cultural research offers new insights into how other cultures construct lies.



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About the Author

Paul Willis
Paul is a respected leader in the science community with an impressive career in science. He has a background in vertebrate palaeontology, studying the fossils of crocodiles and other reptiles. He also has a long history as a science communicator, with a career spanning as Director of The Royal Institution of Australia, presenter and host for Australia’s Science Channel, working for the ABC on TV programs such as Catalyst and Quantum as well as radio and online. He’s written books and articles on dinosaurs, fossils and rocks and is finding new ways to engage the people of Australia with the science that underpins their world. Follow him on Twitter @fossilcrox.

Published By

The Royal Institution of Australia is an independent charity, and the sister organisation of the prestigious Royal Institution of Great Britain, tasked with promoting public awareness and understanding of science.


The Royal Institution of Australia is passionate about building and connecting communities engaged with science, and as such works closely with scientific organisations, institutions, universities from Australia, and leaders to inspire the next generation of innovators and to create a lasting legacy for Australia.


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