The depaulo article

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Please read the experiment in the DePaulo article and answer the following questions about it:

1) What are the independent and dependent variables?
2) How were they operationalized?
3) Evaluate the construct and internal validity of this experiment using specific examples from the article and referring to the method. 3) Evaluate external validity.
4) If deception was used, was it necessary?

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
1996, Vol. 71, No. 4,703-716

Copyright 1996 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.
0022-3514/96/S3.00

Truth and Investment: Lies Are Told to Those Who Care

Bella M. DePaulo
University of Virginia

KathyL.Bell
Texas Tech University

Participants discussed paintings they liked and disliked with artists who were or were not personally
invested in them. Participants were urged to be honest or polite or were given no special instructions.
There were no conditions under which the artists received totally honest feedback about the paintings
they cared about. As predicted by the defensibility postulate, participants stonewalled, amassed
misleading evidence, and conveyed positive evaluations by implication. They also told some outright
lies. But the participants also communicated clearly their relative degrees of liking for the different
special paintings. The results provide new answers to the question of why beliefs about other people’s
appraisals do not always correspond well with their actual appraisals.

In their formal roles as parents and supervisors, and in their
informal roles as colleagues and friends, people often provide
us with evaluative feedback. They comment on our work, our
behavior, our friends, and our lovers. These appraisals are im-
portant for many reasons, including three interdependent ones.
First, evaluative feedback can be of great emotional signifi-
cance. Second, it can have instrumental value; for example, it
can shape performance and guide important life decisions.
Third, the appraisals of others—or our perceptions of them—
can form and inform our sense of self (e.g., Baldwin, 1992; Fel-
son, 1992; Jussim, Soffin, Brown, Ley, & Kohlhepp, 1992;
McNulty & Swann, 1994;Mead, 1934). According to the sym-
bolic inter act ionists, the self that develops is a “looking glass
self” (Cooley, 1902) formed by our perceptions of others’ re-
sponses to us.

The looking glass metaphor seems to imply that the question
of the accuracy of perceptions is nonproblematic; we can sim-
ply look to others and see their opinion of us reflected back to
us directly (Felson, 1992; Glaser& Strauss, 1964). Yet the pre-
ponderance of evidence suggests that there is considerable error
in our perceptions of how others view us (e.g., DePaulo, Kenny,
Hoover, Webb, & Oliver, 1987; Kenny & DePaulo, 1993). Our
perceptions of others’ appraisals correspond imperfectly with

Bella M. DePaulo, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia;
Kathy L. Bell, Department of Psychology, Texas Tech University.

This investigation was supported in part by a Research Scientist De-
velopment Award from the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health
Administration and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
and an R01 Award from NIMH. We thank Malaika Almarode, Dan
Alter, Lori Cuatina, Robert Cooley, Alexandra Dahne, Irene Dalton,
Laura Daniel, Naomi Driesen, Dave Gawrylowicz, Darby Gibbs, Salina
Guliani, Joan Hairfield, Joe Ho, Ken Hodge, Alicia Hughes, Melinda
Lantz, Traci Mann, Joanne Moak, Nikki Picerno, Lynne Robinson,
Sean Robinson, Laura Rogers, Karen Swanner, Laura Tuck, Benita
Watson, Ken Watson, and Cheryl Witt for their help with this research.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Bella
M. DePaulo, Department of Psychology, Gilmer Hall, University of Vir-
ginia, Charlottesville, Virginia 22903. Electronic mail may be sent via
the Internet to [email protected]

their actual appraisals, and our self-perceptions are more
closely linked to our perceptions of how others view us than to
their actual views of us (Felson, 1992).

When we err in our perceptions of how others view us, we
may do so because others did not communicate their views of
us openly and honestly, or because we misinterpreted their ap-
praisals. Three elements are important: what the evaluators
tried to convey (as indicated by their own reports), what they
actually did convey (as indicated, for example, by transcripts of
what they said), and how their communications were perceived
(as indicated by people’s impressions). Studies of meta-accu-
racy typically omit the middle element: There is no precise
record of what evaluators actually said, or the record is never
analyzed. In the present research we assessed all three
components.

An important reason for dishonesty in evaluative communi-
cations may be that evaluators care more about the emotional
impact of their feedback than its instrumental value. The feed-
back that supervisors can provide to floundering employees, for
example, is potentially of instrumental value both to the em-
ployees and to the organization, yet supervisors are reluctant to
provide feedback to those employees and often delay doing so
(Larson, 1989). Honesty and openness are highly prized char-
acteristics of friendships, yet even friends are reluctant to share
their unflattering appraisals of each other (Blumberg, 1972;
Mayer, 1957). The persons directly affected by bad news have
the greatest need to know that news, yet people are more in-
clined to communicate such news to uninvolved third parties
than to the targets (Felson, 1992; Tesser& Rosen, 1975).

As an individual’s personal investment in an object increases,
both the instrumental and the emotional significance of evalua-
tive feedback are likely to increase as well. For example, when
an art student is discussing paintings with other people, the ap-
praisals that they can provide are more emotionally impactful
and also more useful when the paintings are the art student’s
own work than when they are the creations of other artists. Yet
we think that emotional considerations will prevail, and evalu-
ators will be less honest about the paintings when they are the
art student’s own work—particularly when they dislike the
work—even though it would be especially useful to the art stu-

703

704 D E P A U L O AND BELL

dents to know how their work really is perceived by other peo-
ple. For instance, art students whose work is poor yet who never
hear that from others may pursue a major or even a career to
which they are ill suited.

In the present research, participants looked over a set of
paintings, chose the two they liked the best and the two they
liked the least, and indicated just how much they liked each of
those four paintings. They also wrote out what they liked and
disliked about each painting. Only then did they learn that they
would be discussing those paintings with an art student who was
personally invested in one of the liked and one of the disliked
paintings. Those conversations were videotaped (and later
transcribed). After each conversation, we asked the partici-
pants how honest and how comfortable they had been and how
much liking they had tried to convey. We then showed the vid-
eotapes to judges who indicated their perceptions of the partic-
ipants* honesty and actual liking for the paintings. We predicted
that the participants would be more dishonest and more un-
comfortable, and would exaggerate their liking more, when they
were discussing the paintings that were special to the art stu-
dent—especially when they disliked those paintings.

Goffman (1967, 1971) provided a perspective for under-
standing people’s reluctance to say exactly what they feel. He
argued that in order for everyday social life to proceed smoothly,
it is important for people to give deference to the “faces”
(identities) that others seem to be claiming. As politeness the-
ory has documented (P. Brown & Levinson, 1987; R. Brown &
Gilman, 1989; Holtgraves, 1992), people understand this and
act accordingly. No one needs to tell us to be polite when dis-
cussing an ugly painting with the artist who created it. Dis-
agreements and criticisms are face-threatening and will be com-
municated only very politely, if at all—but even positive com-
munications, P. Brown and Levinson argued, can be face-
threatening (e.g., compliments that cause embarrassment).

Telling people explicitly to be polite and to try to avoid hurt-
ing another person’s feelings, then, should result in communi-
cations that are no different than if no instructions had been
given. In both instances, people will dishonestly convey overly
positive appraisals. To break down the sturdy barriers to the
communication of negative evaluations, it may be important to
underscore explicitly the importance of honesty. In the present
research, we explicitly instructed some of our participants to be
honest about their appraisals. Only from such honest evalua-
tions, we said, could the art students really learn about other
people’s perceptions of art. We predicted that these instructions
would dampen participants’ exaggerations, relative to condi-
tions in which participants were instructed to be polite or were
given no special instructions, but we were unsure as to whether
they would elicit evaluations that were totally honest.

The situation we created was a very difficult one for the par-
ticipants, especially when they were discussing paintings they
disliked with the art student who painted them. Bavelas and her
colleagues (Bavelas, Black, Chovil, & Mullett, 1990) character-
ized this situation as the most common sort of “communicative
avoidance-avoidance conflict: [Participants had] a choice be-
tween saying something false but kind and something true but
hurtful” (p. 58). On the basis of more than a dozen experi-
ments, Bavelas et al. concluded that, in these situations, people

equivocate. They avoid answering the question that is asked,
they avoid describing their own opinion, they are unclear in the
answers they do give, and they sometimes even avoid addressing
the person who posed the question. Bavelas et al.’s research,
then, tells us what people do not say in avoid-avoid situations
(or at least in role-play versions of them), but it stops short of
telling us what they do say. Even their conclusions about what
people do not say are based not on content analyses of the com-
munications but on judges’ global impressions.

We agree with Bavelas et al. (1990) that people prefer to avoid
telling either outright lies or hurtful truths. Therefore, we pre-
dict, as they did, that the rate of telling outright lies will be low.
However, we think that the rate of lying, though low, will still be
responsive to our experimental manipulations. Specifically, we
predict that participants will be most likely to lie when discuss-
ing paintings they dislike with art students who are personally
invested in them—especially if the participants had been in-
structed to be polite.

In the difficult situation we created, we think that partici-
pants have two goals: They want to mislead the art student
about how they feel, but they also want to be able to deny that
they lied. Their communications will be governed by what we
will call the defensibility postulate, that is, participants’ inclina-
tion to exaggerate their liking for the paintings and to convey
dishonest appraisals of them will be tempered by considerations
of defensibility (see also Schlenker, 1980). Participants will
craft communications which, if challenged, can be defended as
either truthful or at least not clearly deceptive. In the context of
this experiment, we think that one way they can do this is to
amass misleading evidence. As the art student continues to
probe them about their opinions of the paintings, they can men-
tion more and more of the things that they really do like about
the paintings, while being a bit more restrained in enumerating
the aspects of the paintings that they really do dislike. The result
is a communication that is likely to succeed in conveying a mis-
leadingly positive impression yet can still be defended as truth-
ful—after all, all of the positive aspects mentioned were ones
that the participants really did like about the paintings. Not
mentioning all of the disliked aspects, they might argue, is not
dishonest—they just did not mention them.

We think that the participants will also come up with entirely
new aspects of the paintings that they will claim to like—aspects
that they had not written down when we first asked them to
describe what they liked and disliked about the paintings. Per-
haps they will tell themselves that they just noticed these new
virtues of the painting during the conversation with the art stu-
dent. Defensibility is especially likely to remain intact if they
also notice some new aspects of the painting that they dislike.
Again, though, the newly discovered disliked aspects will be far
outnumbered by the new liked aspects.

The prediction made by Bavelas et al. (1990) that people will
avoid stating their own opinion is consistent with the defensibility
postulate and was directly tested by the coding of participants*
explicit expressions of liking or disliking for the paintings. When
participants are discussing a painting they dislike, especially one
that is special to the art student, they might stonewall—that is,
avoid making any explicit evaluations at all. They might also
mention fewer aspects of the paintings that they like or dislike.

LYING AND CARING 705

There is another very clever way that participants can defen-
sibly imply more liking than they really do feel for the paintings,
and that is by manipulating what they say about the paintings
in which the art students are not personally invested. That is, at
the same time that participants try to avoid saying explicitly
that they dislike the art student’s own paintings that they detest,
they can be far less reticent in voicing their distaste for the paint-
ings created by other art students. The strategy is one of social
comparison by implication. In comparison to the negative ap-
praisals that were explicitly stated about the other artists’ work,
the withholding of any explicit appraisals of the art student’s
own work will seem rather positive. Those communications are
also defensibly positive: If pressed, the participants can claim
that they did not say that they liked the art student’s own work;
they simply said that they did not like the other artists’ work.

When we showed the videotapes of the conversations to the
judges, we gave them the same information that the artists
would be likely to have in the comparable real life situations.
That is, the judges knew whether the paintings were special to
the artists, but they did not know what the participants really
did think of the paintings. They also did not know the partici-
pants* intentions—that is, whether they were making any spe-
cial effort to be honest or polite.

We predicted that the judges would report some of the same
things that the participants would say themselves—that the par-
ticipants were less honest and less comfortable, and exaggerated
more, when discussing the paintings in which the artists were
more invested (cf. DePaulo & Kirkendol, 1989; DePaulo, La-
nier, & Davis, 1983; DePaulo, Stone, & Lassiter, 1985b). If that
were all that the judges noticed, then those results might simply
reflect judges* theories about how people communicate to peo-
ple who care, rather than any real discernment. However, be-
cause the judges did not know whether the participants liked or
disliked a painting, if they also thought that the participants
seemed especially less honest when discussing the special paint-
ings when the participants disliked those paintings, then they
would be showing some insight into participants* true feelings.

It is important to note that we asked the judges directly just
how much they thought the participants really did like each of
the paintings. If they discounted the participants’ expressions
of liking too much in the special conditions (because they knew
that the participants were talking to artists who were personally
invested in the paintings), they would be wrong about the par-
ticipants’ actual feelings (cf. Gilbert & Malone, 1995; Snyder &
Frankel, 1976). If instead they were too inclined to take what
the participants said at face value (e.g., DePaulo, 1992, 1994;
DePaulo, Stone, & Lassiter, 1985a; Gilbert & Malone, 1995;
Jones, 1990), they would again be wrong, but in a different di-
rection. That is what we predicted. Because we expected the
participants’ verbal strategies to be effective in creating mislead-
ingly positive impressions, we expected the judges to believe
that the participants really did like the special paintings more
than the not-special ones.

Method

Participants and Art Students
Participants were 47 male and 47 female introductory psychology

students who participated for partial fulfillment of a course requirement

in an experiment that was ostensibly about psychology and art. Five
other participants were excluded: 2 men and 1 woman who surmised
the purpose of the experiment, 1 man whose speech could not be un-
derstood, and I woman who completed the forms improperly. Partici-
pants were randomly assigned to the six between-subjects cells formed
by the crossing of the two degrees of investment (paintings were de-
scribed as the art student’s favorites or her own) with the three kinds of
instructions (honest, no instructions, polite). There were 7 or 8 men
and 7 or 8 women in each of the cells.

Three women alternated in the role of the art student, and 3 women
and 2 men served as experimenters. Preliminary analyses in which art
students and experimenters were included as a factor in the design
showed fewer significant effects involving the factor than would be ex-
pected by chance.

Procedure

Participants were run individually and were told that the experiment
was designed to help art students learn more about how art is perceived
by people who are not experts. Participants were then left alone in a
room to choose the 2 paintings they liked the most and the 2 they liked
the least from 19 paintings that were displayed. (The paintings had been
painted by undergraduates in an introductory painting course.) Partic-
ipants rated each of these 4 paintings oa 9-point scales of liking, with
higher numbers indicating greater liking. The experimenter then re-
turned and gave the participant a second questionnaire on which the
participant was asked to describe briefly, in an open-ended format, what
he or she liked and disliked about each of the 4 paintings.

The experimenter then told the participant that he or she would now
discuss the four paintings with the art student. The experimenter men-
tioned that the art student may have actually painted some of the paint-
ings herself, and she would tell the participant if she had. The experi-
menter also informed the participant that the art student would not
know that the four paintings were ones that the participant selected and
that she would not ever see the participant’s ratings of liking for the
paintings or the brief descriptions of what the participant liked and dis-
liked about the paintings.

The art student always claimed that one of the participant’s two most
favorite paintings (randomly selected) and one of the participant’s least
favorite paintings (also randomly selected) were special to her in some
way. The two types of specialness, or degrees of investment, were ran-
domly assigned, In the moderate investment condition, the art student
claimed that the painting was one of her favorites (“This is one of my
favorites”); in the high investment condition, she claimed thai the paint-
ing was one of her own (“This is one that I did.”)- She introduced this
i nformation just before asking the participant what he or she thought of
the painting.

Participants were randomly assigned to one of three instructional
conditions. One third of them were instructed to be honest when dis-
cussing the paintings with the art student. Specifically, they were told:

If it turns out that the art student did paint some of these paintings,
you should still be very honest in describing your own opinions
about those paintings. Tell her truthfully what you liked and what
you disliked about each painting you discuss, even if the paintings
are ones she painted herself. This is supposed to be a learning ex-
perience for the students. For them to really learn about people’s
perceptions of art, they have to hear unbiased descriptions of those
perceptions. They need to know what you really did like and really
did dislike about each painting you discuss.

Some of the art students like to mention which ones they really
liked of the ones that are NOT theirs. Again, be sure to be honest
about your own opinions of the paintings. Tell her what you really

706 DEPAULO AND BELL

think of the painting, regardless of what her opinions might be.
They will learn more if they hear your true opinions.

Another third of the participants were instructed to be polite to the
art student and to try not to hurt her feelings. Specifically, they were
told:

If it turns out that the student did paint some of these paintings, try
to convince her that you really did like the ones she painted so that
her feelings won’t be hurt. It is OK to mention things you dislike
about her paintings when she asks, but just try to convey the im-
pression that overall, you like the ones she did. This study is sup-
posed to be a learning experience for the participants, but we don’t
want any of them to end up feeling badly because of it.

Some of the art students like to mention which ones they liked of
the ones that are NOT theirs. Again, it is OK if you don’t agree with
her—you can say that, but just try to be real nice about it.

In the no-instructions condition, participants were not given any par-
ticular instructions about what to do.

After determining that the participant understood the instructions,
the experimenter left the room, turned on a hidden video recorder, then
returned with the art student. After introducing the participant to the
art student, the experimenter left the room.

The art student, who was unaware of the participant’s instructional
condition (but did know which paintings the participants liked and
disliked), then proceeded to interview the participant about each of
the four paintings, in counterbalanced order. She asked the following
questions about each painting, giving the participant ample time to an-
swer each question before moving on to the next: “What do you think
of it? What are some of the specific things you like about it? (Anything
else?) What are some of the specific things you dislike about it?
(Anything else?)” Participants were instructed by the experimenter not
to ask the art student about her opinions. The art students were trained
to deflect any such questions.

After the discussion of each painting, the art student left the room
while the participant completed a questionnaire about the discussion.
On 9-point scales, participants indicated how much liking they tried to
convey to the art student, how honest and straightforward they had
been, and how comfortable they felt while discussing what they liked
and disliked about the painting. Participants were debriefed, and all of
them signed a consent form allowing us to use their videotapes.

Judges and Videotapes

Seven male and 14 female undergraduates were recruited to rate vid-
eotapes (with sound) of the discussions of the paintings. The tapes were
rated by just one judge at a time. Not all of the judges rated all of the
tapes; on the average, each tape was rated by 6 men (the range was 5-7)
and 12 women (11-14).

The discussions of the paintings were edited onto 17 videotapes of
about 1 hr each. A nearly equal number of participants from each con-
dition appeared on each tape. After each discussion of each painting,
there was a 10-s rating pause. During the pause, judges rated the partic-
ipant on 9-point scales of honesty, actual liking for the painting, degree
of liking that the participant was trying to convey to the art student,
and comfort, with higher numbers indicating more of each attribute.
Reliabilities (alphas) were .78 for honesty, .94 for actual and conveyed
liking, and .71 for comfort.

Transcripts and Coders

Exact typed transcripts were made of all of the discussions of all of
the paintings. Three undergraduates coded the transcripts. One coded

the conversations of half of the participants in each condition (188
conversations), and a second coded the other half. We used these cod-
ings in the analyses. The third person coded 48 of the conversations
coded by the first person and 44 of the conversations coded by the sec-
ond person. The conversations in each set included approximately equal
numbers from each condition. The codings of the third person were
compared with those of the first two to assess reliability.

Verbal Strategies

Each coder coded three verbal strategies separately for each discus-
sion of each painting.

1. Explicit evaluations of liking and disliking. Coders indicated
whether the participants explicitly said that they liked the paintings and
whether they explicitly said that they disliked them.

2. Total number of liked and disliked aspects that were mentioned.
Coders counted the total number of different aspects of the paintings
that participants said that they liked and the total number they said
they disliked. For example, if participants said they liked the color, the
shading, and the originality, they would get a score of 3 for total number
of liked aspects.

3. Number of new liked and disliked aspects that were mentioned.
Coders counted the number of aspects of the paintings that participants
said they liked and disliked that were different from the aspects that the
participants had described in writing before they knew they would be
meeting an art student. To code this variable, coders first identified each
of the liked and disliked aspects that participants described in writing,
then they identified the liked and disliked aspects from the transcripts
of the discussions, then they compared the two sets.

Reliabilities

There were two intraclass correlations for each variable: One was the
correlation between the first coder and the third, and the other was be-
tween the second coder and the third. For explicit evaluations of liking
the reliabilities were .96 and .96; for explicit evaluations of disliking
they were .85 and 1.00; for total number of liked aspects, .88 and .92;
for total number of disliked aspects, .88 and .80; for new liked aspects,
.75 and .80; and for new disliked aspects, .71 and .59.

Results

Manipulation Checks

On a manipulation check questionnaire, all participants in
the honest condition indicated that their goal was to be honest
about their feelings about the paintings. All participants in the
polite condition indicated that their goal was to try to be nice
and avoid hurting the art student’s feelings. When questioned
about their understanding of the instructions just before begin-
ning the discussion of the paintings, all participants correctly
reported that the art student may have painted some of the
paintings (or that some were the art student’s favorites) and that
they would not know whether the art student had painted any
of the paintings until they met her. Ninety-two of the 94 partic-
ipants correctly indicated that they would be discussing the four
paintings they had selected. (Because the 2 participants who
initially volunteered the wrong answer corrected it after farther
probing, and because all of their other manipulation check data
were correct, their data were retained in the analyses.) All of the
participants understood that the art students would believe that
the paintings picked for discussion were selected at random by

LYING AND CARING 707

Table 1
Effects of Participants’ Liking for the Paintings and Artists’ Investment on Participants’ and Judges’ Ratings

Ratings

Participants
Comfort
Honesty
Actual liking
Conveyed liking
Exaggeration

Judges
Comfort
Honesty
Actual liking
Conveyed liking
Exaggeration

Not
special

6.47
7.66
2.30
3.18
0.88

5.85
6.56
3.67
4.14
0.47

Disliked

Special

5.05
6.38
2.34
3.96
1.62

5.75
6.22
3.84
4.65
0.81

Type of painting

Difference

j 42****
1.28****
0.04
0.78**
0.74***

0.10**
0.34****
0.17*
0.51****
0.34****

Not
special

6.88
7.99
7.35
6.44

-0.91

6.08
6.51
5.91
6.41
0.50

Liked

Special

6.61
7.98
7.35
6.79

-0.56

6.06
6.37
5.98
6.70
0.72

Difference

0.27
0.01
0.00
0.35
0.35

0.02
0.14**
0.07
0.29***
0.22****

Artists’
investment

60.19****
48.50****
0.03

26.89****
19.94****

4.62**
46.94****

4.85**
45.19****
84.72****

i*(l,82)

Participants1

liking

58.69****
67.68****

1392.96****
176.90****
74.85****

73.70****
1.17

766.96****
670.52****

1.02

Interaction

19.52****
47.07****
0.04
2.90*
1.64

3.00*
6.65***
1.11
4.24**
3.40*

Note. The special paintings were the ones in which the artists were invested. Difference is not special minus special for comfort and honesty, and
special minus not special for actual liking, conveyed liking, and exaggeration. MSEs for artists’ investment were, from top to bottom, 2.22, 1.60,
0.82,2.27, 1.42,0.26,0.23,0.60,0.66, and 0.08. For participants’liking they were 3.11, 2.59, 1.70,9.82,4.93,0.37,0.41, 1.18, 1.30, and 0.12. For
the interaction they were 3.14,1.59,0.77,2.82,2.07,0.24,0.28,0.47,0.54, and 0.09.
*^^.1O. **p<.05. ***;><; .01. ****p^.001.

the experimenter. All participants also understood that the
art student would not see what they had written about the
paintings.

Analyses of participants’ initial ratings of their liking for the
paintings indicated that they liked their two favorite paintings
far more than their two least favorite ones (Ms = 7.35 and
2.32). Because the paintings that were described as special to
the art student were randomly assigned, participants should not
have liked them any better than the ones that were not special,
and in fact they did not (Ms = 4.82 and 4.84; see Table 1 for
significance tests).

vey to the art student were collected after the discussions. We
assessed the degree to which the participants had exaggerated
their liking by subtracting participants’ actual liking for each
painting from the degree of liking that they tried to convey. The
other dependent measure was participants’ ratings of their com-
fort during each of the discussions. Similarly, for the analyses of
the judges’ impressions, dependent measures were judges’ per-
ceptions of the participants’ honesty, comfort, actual liking for
the paintings, and degree of liking that they seemed to be trying
to convey. We computed exaggeration scores by subtracting per-
ceptions of actual liking from perceptions of conveyed liking.

Design and Measures

Data were analyzed with a mixed-design analysis of variance
(ANOVA). The between-subjects factors were the instructional
manipulation (participants were told to be honest or polite or
they were given no instructions) and artists’ degree of invest-
ment in the special paintings (those paintings were described as
either the artists’ favorites—the moderate investment condi-
tion, or as their own work—the high investment condition).
The within-subjects factors were the artists’ investment in the
paintings (they were invested in the special paintings and not
invested in the not-special ones) and the participants’ liking for
the paintings (disliking or liking).’

Participants’ reports of how honest and straightforward they
had been in their discussions were highly correlated, r(92) =
.86, p < .001, and so they were averaged to form a single mea-
sure of honesty. The measure of participants’ actual liking for
the paintings was their ratings of their liking for each of the
paintings before they knew that they would be meeting an art
student. Their reports of how much liking they had tried to con-

1 Sex of participant also was included as a factor in the design, but the
results of that factor are not of central relevance to the theme of the
present report and therefore are not included. They are currently avail-
able from Bella M. DePaulo and will be reported in a subsequent article
that will include several studies in addition to the data from this re-
search (Witt, Bell, & DePaulo, 1996). The significant effects for partic-
ipant sex that did occur in the present research generally indicated that
the overall effects were characteristic of both the men and the women,
but they were even more characteristic of the women. For example, the
judges believed that both the men and the women were trying to convey
more liking for the special paintings than for the not-special ones, but
they saw a bigger difference for the women than for the men. The degree-
of-investment factor was included to test whether our predictions for
investment would be qualified by degree of investment. Although those
results will not be presented, significant interactions did occur for par-
ticipants* self-reports and judges’ impressions. In alt instances, the in-
teractions indicated that the effects of investment were even stronger
when the art students were highly invested in the paintings (the paint-
ings were their own work) than when they were moderately invested in
them (the paintings were their favorites). Complete results are available
from Bella M. DePaulo.

708 DEPAULO AND BELL

Participants’ Self-Reports and Judges’ Impressions

Paintings that were liked and disliked, special and not special.
As we predicted, the main effect of investment was significant
for all relevant dependent measures (see Table 1 for statistical
tests and significance levels). When the paintings were special
to the art students (second and fifth columns of Table 1), com-
pared to when they were not (first and fourth columns), the
participants reported being more uncomfortable and more dis-
honest. They also tried to convey more liking, and they exagger-
ated their liking more. Similarly, all main effects of liking for
the painting were significant. Participants said they were less
comfortable and less honest when discussing the paintings they
disliked than the ones they liked. They tried to convey more
liking for the paintings they liked, but they exaggerated their
liking more for the paintings they disliked (i.e., they tried to
convey more liking than they really did feel). In fact, according
to their self-reports, participants actually understated their
Hking for the liked paintings. Also as predicted, the effects of
the artists* investment on participants’ honesty and comfort
depended significantly on whether the participants liked the
paintings. Participants were significantly less honest and less
comfortable when discussing the special paintings than the not-
special ones only when they disliked the paintings.

The judges also thought that the participants were more un-
comfortable and dishonest when discussing the special paint-
ings than the not-special ones and that they tried to convey
more liking, and more exaggerated liking, for the special paint-
ings. The differences in honesty and conveyed liking that they
noted were even more striking when the participants disliked
the paintings than when they liked them.

There was a significant main effect of investment, but no sig-
nificant interaction with liking for the painting, on judges’ im-
pressions of participants’ actual liking for the paintings. Partic-
ipants liked the special paintings almost exactly the same as the
not-special ones. The judges did not know this, and from watch-
ing the tapes, their impression was that the participants really
did life the special paintings even more than the not-special
ones,2

There was one other way in which the judges’ impressions
departed from the participants’ self-reports. The participants
said they exaggerated their liking for the disliked paintings but
understated their liking for the liked paintings. The judges
thought that the participants were always exaggerating their lik-
ing {especially so for the special paintings). Tests of whether
the exaggeration (or understatement) scores differed from zero
were significant for all four paintings for the participants’ self-
reports (allps ^ .05 or smaller) and the judges’ impressions (all
/?s<.001) .

Finally, although the judges were not told whether the partic-
ipants liked the paintings, their impressions of the discussions
of the liked and disliked paintings were accurate. They thought
the participants really did like the liked paintings more, and
were trying to convey more liking for them, and that they felt
less comfortable discussing the disliked paintings.

Honesty and politeness. Did the participants who were in-
structed to be honest or to be polite behave and feel differently
than those who were left to their own devices? Significant main

effects of the instructional manipulation for the measures of
honesty, F(2,82) = 8.42, p < .001, MSE = 6,92, and exaggera-
tion, F(2, 82) = 4.66, p = .01, MSE = 4.89, indicated that
they did. The means for self-reported honesty in the honest, no-
instructions, and polite conditions, were 7.71, 7.85, and 6.95,
respectively. The difference between the honest and the no-in-
structions conditions was not significant. The difference be-
tween the no-instructions and the polite conditions was signifi-
cant, F( 1, 82) = 14.31, p < .001. In their reports of their own
honesty, then, participants given no special instructions were
more similar to the participants instructed to be honest than to
those who were urged to be polite. The judges’ impressions of
the participants’ honesty showed the same thing, F(2, 82) =
3.03,i> = .05, MSE = 0.85. The judges thought that the partici-
pants were no less honest in the no-instructions condition (M –
6.49) than in the honest condition {M = 6.46, F< 1), but they
thought the participants were significantly less honest in the po-
lite condition (M = 6.30) than in the no-instructions condition,
F(U S2)^ 5.33,p = .02.

However, in the degree to which they reported exaggerating
their liking for the paintings, participants in the no-instructions
condition were more similar to participants who were told to be
polite. (The uninstructed participants did not differ signifi-
cantly from the polite participants [F < 1], but they did differ
significantly from the honest participants, F[l, 82] = 4.30,p =
.04.) In fact, participants in both the no-instructions and the
polite conditions said that they tried to convey more liking than
they really did feel (Ms = 0.37 and 0.61 for the no-instructions
and polite conditions, respectively), but participants in the

2 We thought that if our judges had instead been completely unaware
of the most important constraint in the present research—when the
participants were and were not talking to artists who cared—they might
have been even more taken by participants’ expressions of liking. To test
this, we prepared exact typed transcripts of the four conversations of 8
of the participants in the no-instructions and polite conditions who were
talking to the artists about paintings that were or were not the artists’
own. We recruited 65 raters (32 men and 33 women) to report their
impressions of how much the participants really did like the paintings
in each conversation, on the same 9-point scale used by our judges.
Approximately half of the raters (n = 33) rated the conversations with
the same information that our judges had—that is, they knew when the
artists claimed that the paintings were their own. For the other raters
(randomly assigned), that critical information was removed from the
transcripts. The key interaction between whether the paintings were or
were not special, and whether the judges knew that they were special,
was significant, F( I, 61) = 33.54, p < .001, MSE = 0.94. When the
paintings were not special, raters perceived almost exactly the same
amount of liking when they knew that they were not special (M = 4.75)
as when they did not know that (M = 4.79). However, when the paint-
ings were special and the raters knew that they were, they thought that
the participants liked those paintings much less (M – 4.66) than when
they did not have that information (M = 5.40). That is, raters dis-
counted some of the liking that participants expressed when they knew
that the participants were talking to an artist who cared. The implica-
tion for understanding the ratings made by our judges, who did know
when the paintings were special, is that they may have (inaccurately)
perceived even greater differences in liking between the special and not-
special paintings if they had not had that crucial information.

LYING AND CARING 709

Table 2
Effects oflnstructions and Artists’ Investment on Participants’and Judges’ Ratings

Ratings

Participants
Honesty
Conveyed liking
Exaggeration

Judges
Actual liking
Conveyed liking
Exaggeration

Fs(l,82)

7.42****
6.44***
8.58****

2.96*
6.30***
3.72**

Not
special

7.86
4.73

-0.25

4.86
5.36
0.50

Honest

Special

7.56
4.97

-0.17

4.84
5.50
0.66

Difference

0.30
0.24
0.08

-0.02
0.14
0.16***

Not
special

8.09
5.07
0.21

4.77
5.23
0.46

Instructions

No instructions

Special

7.59
5.42
0.53

4.86
5.64
0.78

Difference

0.50**
0.35
0.32***

0.09
0.41****
032****

Not
special

7.52
4.62

-0.02

4.73
5.24
0.51

Polite

Special

6.39
5.73
1.23

5.04
5.88
0.84

Difference

1.13****
1.11****
1.25****

0.31***
0.64****
0.33****

Note. Difference is not special minus special for honesty, special minus not special for conveyed liking, exaggeration, and actual liking,
• p ^ .10. **p<. .05. ***p ^ .01. ****p< .001.

honest condition said that they conveyed slightly less liking than
they felt (Af= -0.21).

Did the instructional manipulation influence the way the par-
ticipants discussed the paintings that were or were not special
to the art students? Significant interactions between the instruc-
tional manipulation and the investment variable for the mea-
sures of honesty, conveyed liking, and exaggeration, indicated
that it did. As shown in Table 2, in all three instructional condi-
tions, participants said that they were less honest when the art-
ists were invested in the paintings than when they were not, and
they also said that they tried to convey more liking and that they
exaggerated their liking more when the artists were invested.
The degree to which they showed these effects, however, in-
creased from the honest to the no-instructions to the polite con-
dition. (See the columns in Table 2 labeled Difference.) For the
exaggeration measure, for example, the degree to which partic-
ipants exaggerated their liking more for the special than for the
not-special paintings was only 0.08 (and not significant) in the
honest condition; it increased to 0.32 in the no-instructions
condition and to 1.25 in the polite condition. In fact, for all
three measures, participants in the no-instructions condition
were more similar to the participants in the honest condition
than they were to the participants in the polite condition. Con-
trast analyses showed that the difference between the special
paintings and the not-special ones was the same for the honest
condition and the no-instructions condition for all three mea-
sures (Fs < I); but the special versus not-special difference was
significantly greater in the polite condition than in the no-in-
structions condition for all measures (all ps = .007 or smaller).

The judges also thought that the ways that the participants
handled the discussions of the special (compared to the not-
special) paintings were influenced by their attempts to be
honest or polite. The judges thought that the participants tried
to convey more liking and more exaggerated liking for the spe-
cial paintings than for the not-special ones (and they tended to
think that the participants really did like the special paintings
more, which they did not), and they also noticed that the degree
to which participants tried to favor the special paintings in-

creased from the honest to the no-instructions to the polite con-
dition (see Table 2).

The way that the uninstructed participants compared to the
others was different for the judges’ ratings than for the partici-
pants’ own reports. In the self-report data, the degree to which
the participants favored the special over the not-special paint-
ings was essentially the same for the participants who were told
to be honest as for those who were left to their own devices—
contrary to our predictions. The judges, in contrast, thought
that uninstructed participants were no different from the polite
participants in the degree to which they favored the special
paintings. (The Fs were < 1 for exaggeration, and 2,52and 2.51,
both/;s = . 12, for actual and conveyed liking, respectively.) The
judges also thought that the uninstructed participants were
different from the honest participants in the degree to which
they favored the special paintings; for conveyed liking, F( 1,82)
= 3.46, p = .07, and for exaggeration, F( 1, 82) = 4.82, p = .03.

Finally, the instructional manipulation was especially impor-
tant to the way the participants dealt with the artists’ investment
when the paintings were ones the participants disliked. The
three-way interaction of instructions, investment, and liking for
the painting was significant for participants’ reports of their
honesty, F{ 2, 82) = 12.23, p < .001, MSE = 1.59. As shown in
Table 3, when participants liked the paintings (see last three
columns of the table), the instructions they received had virtu-
ally no effect in any of the conditions on how honest they were
about the special compared to the not-special paintings. How-
ever, when participants disliked the paintings (first three col-
umns of Table 3), they admitted to being less honest about the
ones that were special to the artists compared to the ones that
were not. This difference was significant in every instructional
condition, but it increased from the honest (M – 0.50) to the
no-instructions (M = 0.94) to the polite condition (M = 2.38).
Once again, the uninstructed participants, in their self-reports,
were more similar to the participants who were told to be honest
than to those who were told to be polite. The difference between
special and not special was not significantly greater in the unin-
structed condition than in the honest condition, F(y 82) =

710 DEPAULO AND BELL

Table 3
Effects of Instructions, Participants’ Liking for the Paintings, and Artists’
Investment on Participants’ and Judges’ Ratings

Ratings and
instructions

Participants: Honesty
Honest
No instructions
Polite

Judges
Honesty.

Honest
No instructions
Polite

Conveyed liking
Honest
No instructions
Polite

Not
special

7.58
7.90
7.48

6.52
6.67
6.49

4.27
4.01
4.15

Disliked

Special

7.08
6.96
5.10

6.39
6.31
5.97

4.30
4.59
5.07

Type of painting

Difference

0.50**
0.94****
2.38****

0.13
0.36****
0.52****

0.03
0.58****
0.92****

Not
special

8.14
8.28
7.55

6.54
6.58
6.42

6.46
6.45
6.32

Liked

Special

8.04
8.22
7.67

6.37
6.42
6.33

6.71
6.69
6.70

Difference

0.10
0.06

-0.12

0.17*
0.16*
0.09

0.25*
0.24*
0.38***

Note. The special paintings were the ones in which the artists were invested. Difference is not special minus
special for honesty and special minus not special for conveyed liking.
* / J < . 1 0 . **p^.Q5. ***;><; .01. ****p^.00I.

1.89, p = .17, but it was significantly greater in the polite condi-
tion than in the uninstructed condition, F( 1, 82) = 20.25, p<
.001.

The judges also noticed that it was especially difficult for the
participants to discuss the special paintings truthfully when the
participants disliked the paintings but were trying to be polite
about them, F{2, 82) – 3.27, p = .04, MSE = 0.28. As shown
in Table 3, the degree to which the participants seemed to be
more dishonest when discussing the disliked paintings that were
special to the artists (compared to the disliked paintings that
were not special) increased from the honest to the no-instruc-
tions to the polite condition. The same pattern occurred for
judges* perceptions of the liking that participants seemed to be
trying to convey, F{2, 82) = 4.74, p = .01, MSE = 0.54. When
the participants disliked the paintings, the judges thought that
they seemed to be trying to convey especially more liking for the
special than for the not-special paintings and that this tendency
increased from the honest to the no-instructions to the polite
condition. Again, the judges, in contrast to the participants,
thought that the uninstructed participants were more similar to
the participants who were told to be polite than to the partici-
pants told to be honest. For perceptions of honesty, the special
versus not-special difference for the disliked paintings was not
significantly smaller in the no-instructions condition than in the
polite condition, F{ 1, 82) = 1.57, ns, but it was nearly signifi-
cantly greater in the no-instructions condition than in the
honest condition, F(, 82) = 3.25,/? = .07. For the measure of
conveyed liking, the corresponding values were F(, 82) =
3.03,/? = .08, and F( 1, 82) = 7.93,p = .006.

Verbal Strategies

Design. The design for the analyses of participants’ verbal
strategies was the same as for the participants’ self-reports and

the judges’ ratings, except that one within-subjects factor of pro-
fessed affect (liking-disliking) was added. For the measure of
explicit evaluation, the levels were (a) whether the participants
explicitly said that they liked the painting and (b) whether they
explicitly said that they disliked it (see Cochran, 1950, and Ro-
senthal & Rosnow, 1991, for the use of ANOV with dichoto-
mous dependent variables). For total aspects mentioned and for
new aspects mentioned, the levels were number of liked aspects
mentioned and number of disliked aspects mentioned.

Initial likes and dislikes. To be sure that participants did
not like more aspects of the special paintings than the not-spe-
cial ones even before they met the art students, we analyzed the
number of liked and disliked aspects of all of the paintings that
participants had described in writing. The interaction of invest-
ment with number of liked versus disliked aspects was not sig-
nificant (F < 1). Thus, participants began by listing almost
exactly the same number of likes and dislikes for the special
paintings as for the not-special ones.

Professed affect. The main effect of professed affect was sig-
nificant for all three measures. Across the discussions of all of
the paintings, the participants were almost twice as likely to say
that they liked a painting (M = 0.44) than to say that they dis-
liked it (M = 0.24), even though all participants actually liked
the exact same number of paintings that they disliked, F( 1, 82)
= 56.09, p < .001, MSE = 0.13. They also mentioned many
more things that they liked than disliked about the paintings
(Ms = 5.26 and 3.61), F(lt 82) – 66.49, p < .001, MSE =
7.64, and of the aspects of the paintings that they mentioned
but had not originally listed, significantly more of them were
aspects that they liked than disliked (Ms = 3.26 and 2.04), F{ 1,
82) = 43.01,/? < .001, MSE = 6.47.

Liked and disliked paintings. Participants had more diffi-

LYING AND CARING 711

culty communicating truthfully about the paintings that they
disliked than about the ones that they liked. The interactions
between professed affect and liking for the paintings were sig-
nificant for all three measures. As shown in Table 4, when par-
ticipants liked a painting, they said so 81 % of the time; however,
when they disliked a painting, they said so explicitly only 48%
of the time, F( 1, 82) = 353.70, p < .001, MSE = 0.19. When
participants liked a painting, they mentioned many more things
about it that they liked than that they disliked, but when they
disliked a painting, they mentioned fewer than one more thing
about it that they disliked than liked, F( 1, 82) – 217.25, p <
.001, MSE = 5.05. Similarly, when discussing a painting that
they liked, participants mentioned 4.18 additional things about
it that they liked that they had not already listed, compared to
only 1.33 new things that they disliked; in contrast, the number
of new liked and disliked aspects that participants generated
when the painting was disliked hardly differed (2.34 and 2.75),
F{ 1, 82) – 114.39, p < .001, A/SE = 4.33.

Stonewalling was indicated by the main effect for liking for
the painting for the measures of explicit evaluation, F(l , 82)
= 30.37, p < .001, MSE = 0.09, and total number of aspects
mentioned, F(1, 82) = 7.87, p = .007, MSE = 4.09. These re-
sults showed that participants not only had a hard time telling
the truth about the disliked paintings, but they also had a hard
time saying anything at all. When participants disliked a paint-
ing, they were less likely to make any explicit evaluation
(whether positive or negative) than when they liked it (Ms –
0.28 and 0.41 for disliked and liked paintings, respectively).
Participants also mentioned fewer things that they liked or dis-
liked when they disliked a painting (M = 4.23) than when they
liked it (M = 4.64).

Not-special and special paintings. Professed affect in-
teracted significantly with investment, and in the predicted di-
rection, for all three measures. As shown in Table 5, when the
paintings were special to the art students (compared to when
they were not), the participants were relatively more likely to
say that they liked them and relatively less likely to say that they
disliked them, F( 1, 82) = 7.83, p = .006, MSE = 0.13. Sim-

Table 4
Participants’ Verbal Strategies Used in Discussing
the Disliked and Liked Paintings

Table 5
Participants’ Verbal Strategies Used in Discussing the
Not-Special and Special Paintings

Verbal strategy

Explicit evaluation*
Liked
Disliked

Total aspects mentioned
Liked
Disliked

New aspects mentioned
Liked
Disliked

Participants’ liking for the paintings

Disliked

0.08
0.48

3.84
4.62

2.34
2.75

Liked

0.81
0.00

6.67
2.61

4.18
1.33

Difference

0.73****
-0.48****

2.83****
-2.01****

1.84****
-1.42****

Verbal strategy

Explicit evaluation*
Liked
Disliked

Total aspects mentioned
Liked
Disliked

New aspects mentioned
Liked
Disliked

Artists’ investment

Not special

0.41
0.28

5.02
3.92

3.09
2.20

Special

0.48
0.21

5.49
3.30

3.42
1.88

Difference

0.07**
-0.07**

0.47**
-0,62***

0.33*
-0.32

a Proportion of participants who explicitly said that they liked or dis-
liked the paintings.
****p<.001.

Note. The special paintings were the ones in which the artists were
invested.
” Proportion of participants who explicitly said that they liked or dis-
liked the paintings.
*p<. .10. **p<. .05. ***/>*; .01.

ilarly, when the paintings were special, compared to when they
were not, the participants mentioned relatively more things that
they liked about them and relatively fewer things that they dis-
liked, F( 1, 82) – 13.14, p < .001, MSE = 4.22. Similarly, the
participants thought of relatively more new things to like about
the special paintings than about the not-special ones, and rela-
tively fewer things to dislike, F{ 1, 82) = 5.70, p < .05, MSE =
3.55. Thus, the ways in which the participants discussed the
special versus the not-special paintings paralleled the ways they
discussed the liked versus disliked paintings. It is important to
note that the interactions of professed affect with investment
were not qualified by participants’ liking for the painting
(except for one higher order interaction involving instructions,
discussed next). That means, for example, that participants
used their strategy of mentioning many more liked than disliked
aspects (of the special paintings) just as much when discussing
the paintings they disliked as the paintings they liked.

Honesty and politeness. A main effect of instructions on ex-
plicit evaluations indicated that the more polite the participants
were instructed to be, the less likely they were to offer any ex-
plicit evaluation at all, F(2, 82) = 3.30, p < .05, MSE = 0.10.
The means for the honest, no-instructions, and polite condi-
tions were 0.38, 0.35, and 0.30, respectively. The instructional
manipulation also moderated the way the participants explicitly
evaluated the paintings that were or were not special to the art
students. There was a significant interaction among the instruc-
tional manipulation, investment, liking for the painting, and
professed affect, F(2, 82) = 4.84, p = .01 (see Table 6). If par-
ticipants were being completely honest, then they would explic-
itly say that they disliked the paintings that they actually did
dislike and that they liked the paintings that they actually did
like. That is, the numbers in the middle two columns of Table 6
would all be exactly 1.00. But none of them were. The numbers
were fairly high for the liked paintings; when participants really
did like the paintings, between 69% and 91% of them explicitly
said that they did. And virtually none of them ever said that

712 DEPAULO AND BELL

Table 6
Effects of Instructions, Participants’Liking for the Paintings,
and A rtists’ Investment on Participants’ Explicit Evaluations

Instructions

Honest
Not special
Special
Difference

No instructions
Not special
Special
Difference

Polite
Not special
Special
Difference

Disliked paintings

Professed
liking

.09
.03.

-.06

.00

.16

.16**

.03

.16

.13*

Professed
disliking

.56

.62

.06

.64

.40
_24«**

.47

.22
-.25****

Liked paintings

Professed
liking

.81

.91

.10

.83

.79
-.04

.69

.81

.12″

Professed
disliking

.03

.00
-.03

.00

.00

.00

.00

.00

.00

Note. The special paintings were the ones in which the artists were
invested. Entries are proportions of participants who explicitly said that
they liked or disliked the paintings.
*p^A0, **/><;.O5. ****p^.0Ql.

they disliked any of those paintings. Neither the artists’ invest-
ment in the paintings nor the instructions the participants had
been given made much of a difference. But when participants
disliked the paintings, they often refrained from saying so ex-
plicitly, and both the instructions and the artists’ investment
mattered to them.

As shown in Table 6, participants strayed farthest from the
truth when they disliked a painting that was special to the artist
and they were trying to be polite about it. When instructed to
be honest, 62% of the participants explicitly acknowledged that
they disliked the painting that was special to the artist; among
the uninstructed participants, only 40% did so, and among
those participants urged to be polite, only 22% did so. (All
differences among these three numbers were significant [ps <
.01 or smaller].) In the no-instructions and polite conditions,
16% of the participants told outright lies: They explicitly said
that they liked the painting that they had already indicated in
writing that they hated- (In the hosest condition, 3% of the par-
ticipants did this.)

It is also informative to compare the relative percentages of
participants who explicitly said that they liked and disliked the
detested special paintings in each condition. In the honest con-
dition, 59% more of the participants said that they disliked than
liked the painting that they did in fact dislike. In the no-instruc-
tions condition the difference was 24%, and in the polite condi-
tion it was only 6%.

Participants’ explicit evaluations of the disliked paintings
that were not special to the artists showed that participants used
the predicted strategy of evaluation by implication. Participants
were somewhat less likely to say explicitly that they disliked the
disliked paintings when they were instructed to be polite than
when they were instructed to be honest, but this drop from
honest to polite was far less precipitous when the paintings were
not special to the artist (56 to 47) than when they were special

(62 to 22). The converse occurred for explicit statements of
liking—the outright lies. Participants in the polite condition
(and the no-instructions condition) told polite lies about the
paintings they disliked that were special to the art student: 16%
of them said that they liked those paintings, compared to 3% in
the honest condition. In contrast, when the disliked paintings
were not special to the artist, 3% of the participants in the polite
condition (and none in the no-instructions condition) explicitly
said that they liked them, compared to 9% in the honest
condition.

In sum, then, when participants were trapped in the challeng-
ing situation of trying to be polite about work they disliked that
was special to the artists with whom they were interacting, they
manipulated both their evaluation of the work in which the art-
ists were invested and their evaluation of the other artwork in
which the artists had GO investment. They refrained from say-
ing explicitly that they disliked the paintings that were special
to the artists. At the same time, they were much less restrained
when it came to condemning the paintings that were not
special.3

Discussion

A Looking Glass or a Reversible Figure?

Decades of research relevant to the reflected appraisal pro-
cess have indicated that our perceptions of others’ views of us
are not strongly related to their actual views and that our self-
perceptions are more highly related to our perceptions of oth-
ers’ appraisals than to their actual appraisals (Feison, 1992).
We began with two possible explanations for the poor fit be-
tween actual and perceived appraisals. First, people may not be
open and honest in communicating their appraisals. Second, we
may misperceive those appraisals.

The present study strongly supported the first explanation.
The participants refrained from saying how they really did feel
about the paintings, especially when they disliked them. By it-
self, this finding is hardly new. From the literatures on perfor-
mance appraisals (Fisher, 1979; Larson, 1984,1986,1989),the
MUM effect (Tesser & Rosen, 1975), and lying in everyday life
(DePaulo, Kashy, Kirkendol, Wyer, & Epstein, 1996; see also
Folkes, 1982), as well as the literatures that followed more di-
rectly from the symbolic interactionist tradition (Blumberg,

1 An example of a truthful answer to the question “What do you think
of it?” was given by a participant discussing a disliked painting that was
one of the artist’s favorites: “It’s ugly. It’s just ugly.” As example of a
truthful message about a liked painting that was one of the artist’s fa-
vorites was: “I liked it. This was, this was my second favorite of the
group. Um, it was the, the detail that was put into, uh, some of the, you
know, the, the nuances in color, the way the black is done. And um, and
it was, uh, yeah, I really liked it overall.” An example of an answer that
was coded as a lie (i.e., the participant claimed to like a disliked
painting) was given by a participant discussing a painting that was the
artist’s own work: “I like this one.” All participants had more to say
about each painting when asked additional questions, but these were
their complete answers to the artist’s first question (” What do you think
of it?”). Over the entire course of the discussion of each painting, par-
ticipants spoke an average of 217 words.

LYING AND CARING 713

1972; Felson, 1992; Swann, Stein-Seroussi, & McNulty, 1992),
we already knew that there are formidable barriers to the direct
communication of appraisals—especially negative ones—to the
persons they concern. What our work has shown that is new
is (a) the powerful impact on appraisals of the target person’s
personal investment in the object of the appraisals, (b) the
difficulty of eliciting totally honest evaluations, and (c) the
value of the defensibility postulate in predicting the verbal strat-
egies people use in dodging the truth. Perhaps even more im-
portant, our findings suggest that (d) when we look to others for
their appraisals, what we see is neither a looking glass nor a
hopelessly distorted image, but a reversible figure.

Truth and investment. Among the many motives that have
been postulated to account for the reluctance to convey nega-
tive evaluations, concern with the target person’s feelings is per-
haps the one that is most consistently cited and supported. If
the target person’s feelings are most important, then the more
the target person cares about the object of evaluation, the less
likely that person should be to hear a truthful appraisal, espe-
cially when the truth would hurt This is so, we predicted, even
though the instrumental value of honest appraisals should also
increase with the target person’s personal investment. Our study
was the first to manipulate target persons’ personal investment,
and our findings were strongly supportive of our predictions.
Across virtually every measure, communications were more
dishonest when the target persons cared about the objects of the
appraisals than when they did not.

Is the truth ever told to those who care? We predicted that,
when left to their own devices, people are practitioners of po-
liteness (P. Brown & Levinson, 1987). We are the first to test
people’s strategic use of polite dissembling by directly instruct-
ing some of the participants to behave as politeness theory pre-
dicts they would and then comparing their behavior to that of
participants given no special instructions. We thought that the
uninstructed participants would convey appraisals of the paint-
ings the art students cared about that were just as distorted and
dishonest as those conveyed by the participants who were ex-
plicitly instructed to be polite and avoid hurting the art stu-
dent’s feelings. According to the judges’ perceptions, this is what
usually happened. The participants’ reports, however, were of-
ten at odds with our prediction. The self-reports of the unin-
structed participants were usually more similar to those of the
participants urged to be honest than to those urged to be polite.

We are inclined to trust the judges’ perceptions. The partici-
pants in the uninstructed condition may have been motivated
to describe themselves as honest. (The polite participants, in
contrast, had an excuse for being dishonest—they were follow-
ing instructions.) The judges had no investment in perceiving
the participants as either honest or dishonest, and they made
their ratings without any awareness of the participants’ instruc-
tional conditions. We also trust the judges’ perceptions more
because they were more in line with the results of our objective
measures of what the participants actually said. The results
were clearest for our measure of outright lies about the disliked
special paintings. The percentage of participants who explicitly
said that they liked the paintings that they had already told us
that they detested was identical in the no-instructions and the
polite conditions (16%); in the honest condition it was lower

(3%). The same pattern is evident in the percentage of partici-
pants who refrained from saying explicitly that they disliked the
detested paintings when they were special compared to when
they were not special. In the honest condition, this withholding
of an explicit negative evaluation was equally likely for the spe-
cial as for the not-special paintings, but in the uninstructed and
the polite conditions participants were significantly more likely
to refrain from saying that they disliked the detested painting
when it was special than when it was not. Furthermore, the mag-
nitude of this difference between the special and not-special
paintings was virtually identical for the uninstructed and polite
participants (Table 6).

In that the participants who were urged to be honest told vir-
tually no Lies about the special paintings they disliked, and were
no more likely to withhold their explicit negative evaluations
of the special paintings than of the not-special ones, were they
evenhanded in their discussions of the special and not-special
paintings in every other way, too? If so, that would indicate that
there is an easy way to elicit totally honest feedback—urge oth-
ers to tell the truth and give them a compelling reason for doing
so (e.g., it is only by hearing totally honest reactions that art
students can learn how others really do perceive particular
paintings). According to the participants’ self-reports, they usu-
ally were evenhanded. The one important exception occurred
when they were describing the paintings they disliked; in that
condition they admitted that they were significantly less honest
about the special paintings than the not-special ones (Table 3).
The judges, too, thought that the honest participants were usu-
ally just as honest when discussing the special paintings as they
were when discussing the not-special ones. But again, there was
an important exception. The judges thought that the honest par-
ticipants exaggerated their liking more when they were discuss-
ing the special paintings than the not-special ones (see Table 2).

Another condition in which it may have been possible for all
participants to be just as honest about the special paintings as
the not-special ones was when they liked the paintings. Accord-
ing to their self-reports, participants were in fact evenhanded in
their discussions of the special and not-special paintings when
they liked the paintings. On no measure did they report signifi-
cantly less truthfulness. The judges, however, did think there
were some differences. For example, they thought that the par-
ticipants were trying to convey significantly more liking, and
that they were exaggerating their liking more, for the paintings
they liked that were special to the artists than for the liked paint-
ings that were not special (see Table 1). The objective measures
of what the participants really did say lend support to the
judges’ views. The strategy of amassing positive evidence pref-
erentially for the special paintings (relative to the not-special
ones) was just as evident when the participants liked the paint-
ings as when they disliked them. In this study, then, there was
essentially no condition under which art students who cared
about the paintings heard totally honest feedback about them.

The defensibility postulate. When participants give a paint-
ing one of the lowest possible ratings on the liking scale and then
tell the art student that they like that painting, it is hard for
them to defend that statement as truthful. For that reason, our
defensibility postulate predicted that outright lies would occur
infrequently, as in fact they did. But they also occurred exactly

714 DEPAULO AND BELL

when we expected them to—when the participants were dis-
cussing paintings they disliked that were special to the art stu-
dent, and especially when they were given no special instruc-
tions or were instructed to be polite.

The strategy of amassing misleadingly positive evidence when
one’s true opinion is negative is one that was noted in passing
nearly four decades ago in a study of the self-restraint of friends
(Mayer, 1957). In the present context, participants practiced
this strategy by mentioning many aspects of the special paint-
ings that they really did like while mentioning relatively few as-
pects that they actually disliked. The resulting communications
are highly defensible in that the positive qualities that the par-
ticipants mentioned were ones that they really did like. Al-
though participants were not equally forthcoming about the
qualities they disliked, they did not deny disliking those quali-
ties (which would not be defensible); they simply refrained
from mentioning them.

The mentioning of new positive qualities that were not ini-
tially listed is a riskier strategy, but one that perhaps can work if
participants convince themselves that they really do like these
newly discovered aspects that they simply had not noticed pre-
viously. Credibility is added if the participants also notice some
new aspects of the paintings that they dislike, though our pre-
diction is that they will discover fewer of these new disliked as-
pects than liked aspects when the paintings are special. The re-
sults supported that prediction, too.

We believe that future research will show that the strategy of
amassing misleading evidence is widely used. Most objects of
evaluation—for example, personalities, appearances, job per-
formances, paintings, and journal articles—are complex stim-
uli that routinely elicit both positive and negative reactions. It is
a fairly simple matter, then, when put on the spot to voice one’s
opinion, to reel off one positive comment after another.

Also as predicted by the defensibility postulate, participants
used the very clever strategy of evaluation by implication. By
explicitly stating their disliking for the paintings created by
other artists, while refraining from stating their disliking for the
art student’s own work, they implied a favorable social compar-
ison. They appeared to like the art student’s own work more
than the other artists’ work. They never exactly said that, how-
ever, so their communications can be defended as truthful.

In contexts in which it is possible for evaluators simply to
avoid communicating their appraisals, we think that they will
often do just that. In the performance appraisal literature, for
example, it has been noted that supervisors sometimes delay
giving negative feedback (Larson, 1989). Even when complete
avoidance is no longer possible, evaluators still manage to con-
vey less than the whole truth. For example, both supervisors
(Larson, 1986) and football coaches (Felson, 1981) hedge by
conveying specific appraisals rather than global ones. In the
present research, we found that participants stonewalled by
offering fewer explicitly evaluative comments and mentioning
fewer aspects of the paintings that they liked or disliked when
they were discussing paintings they disliked than ones they
liked.

The reversible figure. Our results suggest an unanticipated
answer to the question of why our perceptions of others’ ap-
praisals are not strongly related to others’ actual appraisals: Par-

ticipants described the paintings in ways that allowed the art
students a choice as to what to hear and what to believe.

When discussing disliked paintings that the artists cared
about, participants exaggerated their liking, withheld explicit
expressions of disliking, and even told some outright lies. This
gave the art students the opportunity to think that the partici-
pants really did like those paintings. But the participants also
dropped some blatant hints as to their relative degrees of liking
for the different paintings that the artists cared about. For ex-
ample, they did not even try to convey as much liking for the
paintings they disliked as for the ones they liked. They rated the
disliked special paintings a 2 on the 9-point scale at the begin-
ning of the study, and they tried to convey a rating of 4 to the
art students. Although this was substantially higher than the lik-
ing they really did feel, it was still significantly lower than the
degree of liking they tried to convey for the special paintings
they really did like—a 7.

By biasing their appraisals of the special paintings in a posi-
tive way—by mentioning relatively more things that they liked
about them and relatively fewer things that they disliked about
them, relative to the not-special paintings—the participants
again handed the artists the option of believing that they really
did like their paintings. Still, the ratio of liked to disliked aspects
that the participants communicated was not as lopsided as when
they were describing paintings that they really did like.

Participants’ explicit evaluations also allowed for interpretive
flexibility. Sixteen percent of the uninstructed and polite partic-
ipants explicitly said that they liked the special paintings that
they actually hated. However, that number was dramatically
lower than the 80% of the uninstructed and polite participants
who explicitly said that they liked the special paintings that they
really did like.

One of the most important qualifications of the symbolic in-
teractionist model that has emerged from research is that the
link from metaperception to self-perception is not unidirec-
tional. Although it is true, as the symbolic interactionists have
long mai ntained, that our perceptions of how others view us can
influence our self-concept, it is also true that our self-concept
can influence our beliefs about how others view us (Felson,
1992;Ju5simetal., l992;McNu!ty &Swann, 1994). The pres-
ent research shows how the latter effect might occur. The feed-
back that people receive, even in the very difficult situations like
the ones we created in this research, is unlikely to be totally
dishonest and univalent. Instead, it is complex and multifac-
eted, offering plausible evidence for very different inter-
pretations. This leaves lots of room for self-perceptions to in-
fluence the interpretation that is selected.

Qualifications

Our results are qualified in three ways. First, we recruited
only women as artists, to keep the size of the study manageable.
What was not known then, but is known now, is that people tell
more lies to protect the other person’s feelings when they are
talking to women than to men (DePaulo et al., 1996). If we had
included male artists, the overall rate of lying would probably
have been lower But we think that the key relationship between

LYING AND CARING 715

truth and investment would have remained unaffected- Still,
that is a question for future research.

Second, we argued that participants were being less than
truthful when they were more effusive about the special paint-
ings than the not-special ones, after indicating in their initial
ratings of the paintings that they liked the special and not-spe-
cial paintings just the same. However, it is possible that over the
course of the conversations, participants changed their minds
about the special paintings and really did come to like them
more. However, even if the process were one of genuine attitude
change rather than strategic dissembling, the consequences for
the artists remain the same: They heard evaluations of the
paintings they cared about that were strikingly more positive
than they would have heard if the paintings were not special to
them. They could not count on gleaning equally glowing ap-
praisals from evaluators who did not know, or did not care,
whether the paintings were special to them.

In fact, although we have argued that lies are told to those
who care, we must also acknowledge that sometimes brutal
truths are told instead. In our paradigm, this did not occur. Per-
haps participants would have told the truth if they cared more
about the long-term consequences for the artists of hearing mis-
leading feedback, rather than the short-term consequences of
hurting the artists’ feelings and feeling badly for having done so.
Some evaluators are in roles that demand that they pay atten-
tion to the long-term consequences. Pre-med advisors, for ex-
ample, are duty bound to warn their low-achieving advisees that
their career plans may be unrealistic. Still, we suspect they
would often find a way to do so politely. Perhaps evaluators will
be harshly critical when they are intellectually insecure
(Amabile, 1983). But even this effect, we think, is likely to oc-
cur only when the evaluators are either protected by anonymity
or when they do not need to deliver their feedback to the person
they are criticizing in a face-to-face interaction. We think that
naked truths will be told when the conventions of polite society
have not yet been fully internalized (as in the story of the em-
peror’s new clothes), or when they have been temporarily aban-
doned, as when adults are caught in the throes of anger or ha-
tred. Other possibilities are better left to research than to
speculation.

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Received December 1,1994
Revision received April 8, 1996

Accepted April 16,1996 •

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