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Admit it: You've lied. You told a friend that his shirt looked stylish when you actually thought it was tacky and garish. Or maybe you said to your boss that her presentations were fascinating when in fact they were insipidly mindless. Or perhaps you told your landlord that the rent check was in the mail.
A growing body of research shows that people lie constantly, that deception is pervasive in everyday life. One study found that people tell two to three lies every 10 minutes, and even conservative estimates indicate that we lie at least once a day. Such incessant prevarication might be a necessary social evil, and researchers have recently discovered that some fibbing might actually be good for you. "We use lies to grease the wheels of social discourse," says University of Massachusetts psychologist Robert Feldman. "It's socially useful to tell lies."
Small embellishments can have positive psychological effects, experts say. In a study released last year, researchers found that college students who exaggerated their GPA in interviews later showed improvement in their grades. Their fiction, in other words, became self-fulfilling. "Exaggerators tend to be more confident and have higher goals for achievement," explains Richard Gramzow, a psychologist at the University of Southampton in England and one of the study's coauthors. "Positive biases about the self can be beneficial."
Lying begins early. By the age of 3, most children know how to fib, and by 6, most lie a few times a day. Experts believe that children learn to lie by observing their parents do it—that they become practiced in the art of deception by imitating Mom and Dad. And parents sometimes explicitly encourage children to tell lies. Grandma Suzy will send some ugly wool socks or an itchy sweater, and parents will ask their son or daughter to say the item is lovely. As one study concluded, children "may learn to lie in the same way as they learn to speak."