We are often told that humans are compulsive liars. But, a new scientific study has shown that humans are actually more honest than we were previously believed.

Alabama researchers examined more than 100,000 lies by 632 participants in a span of 91 days. 

They found that only 1% of people regularly tell more then 15 lies per day. Most were little white lies. 

Overall, the majority of lies were told by only ‘a few prolific liars’, the study found, but the majority of participants told few or no lies on a given day. 

As an example, the authors name former US President Donald Trump as someone who lies ‘considerably more than the majority of Americans’. 

Trump clocked up 9.9 lies per day on average throughout the study period, according to results from the Washington Post Fact Checker, which recorded false and misleading public statements from Trump on a daily basis. 

People are more honest in day-to-day life than previously thought - except for 'a few prolific liars', according to researchers in Birmingham, Alabama (stock image)

 People are more honest in day-to-day life than previously thought – except for ‘a few prolific liars’, according to researchers in Birmingham, Alabama (stock image)

Types and types of liars 

‘Super big liars’ (1 per cent): 15.5 lies per day 

Above average (15 per cent): 5 lies per day

Normal (but with bad lie days) (6 per cent): 1.3 lies per day

Honest majority (77 per cent): 1.3 lies per day

– Unusual honesty (1.5 per cent): 0.1 lies per day

The new study was conducted by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and published in the journal Communication Monographs. 

Professor Timothy Levine who studies deception, stated that people are generally honest. 

“There is a top 1 percent who tell more than 15 lies per hour, day in and day out.” 

Professor Levine states that for a long time, there has been the assumption that people lie a lot. 

For example, research in the past has shown that people lie about once to twice per day.

Pamela Meyer, a TED Talk presenter with over 31 million views, says that ‘on a given date, studies show that you might have lied anywhere from 10 to 200 time’. 

But the average number of lies per day reported in the literature does not reflect the behaviour of most people, according to the University of Alabama team. 

Graph shows the frequency of daily lies for all participants over three months. Note: The small circles on the x-axis indicate that at least one report of the indicated number of lies

The graph shows the daily lies reported by all participants over three-months. Note: The small circles in the x-axis indicate at least one lie report for the indicated number.

STUDY FINDS: WE SPEAK LESS IF WE’RE LYING 

According to a 2021 survey, Liars are more likely speak slowly and to put less emphasis on the middle of words. 

Paris-based researchers claim that the brain can detect a signature of a lie in the voice of a person by slowing down speech and putting less emphasis in the middle of words.

This process can occur even when we aren’t actively trying determine if someone’s honest or not. 

It is hoped that the police will be able to use the findings to create ‘light tools’ to help determine if a criminal is lying in the future.

Read more: Liars speak slowly and put less emphasis on the middle of words 

Researchers tracked the lying of 632 undergraduates over three months.

The participants – 75 per cent of whom were female – were asked to keep a ‘daily deception journal’. 

This took the form of a series of daily online questionnaires via smartphone, computer or tablet. 

Participants were asked how often they lied over the past 24 hours. They were also asked to estimate how many times a day they lied. 

Another measure asked participants to report their white lies (which are considered harmless or trivial) and big lies (which are rather more serious). 

The deception journals revealed a staggering 116,336 lies over the course of the study period.

Primary motives for lying were to ‘avoid others’, protect one’s self, impress or appear more favourable, protect another person or hurt another person. 

Other lies were used for personal gain, to benefit another person, or for humour. Others were also told without any reason. 

The results showed 77 per cent of the study participants were consistently honest, telling between zero and two lies per day – 1.3 on average. 

According to the authors, ‘These individuals told zero to two lies per days, and more that four lies per daily were two standard deviations for them. 

By contrast, a small subset of people – about 6 per cent – averaged more than six lies per day and accounted for a sizable proportion of the lies. 

Former US President Donald Trump (pictured) lies 'considerably more than the majority of Americans', according to the study authors

According to the study authors Donald Trump, the former US President, lies ‘considerably less than the majority Americans’. 

‘There are people who lie way more than the rest of us,’ Levine said. “About three quarters of us really are quite honest,” Levine said. There are a few people that are really honest.

Levine stated that people also have bad and good lie days. They may tell more or less lies than is normal for them. 

Also, for the most part, people do not lie unless they have a reason to – this depends on our ‘daily communication demands’, which Levine calls ‘a big driver for most of us on how honest or dishonest we are’.

The researchers concluded that everyday communication is safer than we think.

Levine stated, “That being said, there are a few prolific liars out here.” They are a real thing, according to this study.  

What are the NINE WAYS to Spot a Liar?

The big pause Lying is a complicated process that the body and brain must deal with. First, your brain creates the truth. Then it suppresses that truth before inventing the lie or performing the lie. 

This often leads to a longer pause than normal before answering, plus a verbal stalling technique like ‘Why do you ask that?’ rather than a direct and open response.

The eye dart: Humans have more eye expressions than any other animal and our eyes can give away if we’re trying to hide something. 

When we look up to our left to think we’re often accessing recalled memory, but when our eyes roll up to our right we can be thinking more creatively. People who are guilty of a lie will often cut off eye contact by looking away or down because they feel guilty.

The lost of breath: Bending the truth causes an instant stress response in most people, meaning the fight or flight mechanisms are activated. 

The mouth becomes dry, sweaty, and the pulse rate rises. The rhythm of breathing changes to shorter, deeper breaths that can be seen and heard.

Overcompensating In an attempt to convince more people, a liar will often over-perform by gesticulating and speaking too much. These excessive body language rituals can include too much eye contact (often with no blinking) over-emphatic gesticulation.

The more someone gesticulates, the more likely it is they might be fibbing (stock image)

The more someone gesticulates, then the greater chance they might be fibbing (stock illustration).

The poker face Although some people prefer to employ the poker face, many assume less is more and almost shut down in terms of movement and eye contact when they’re being economical with the truth.

The face hide: When someone lies, they often feel the need for concealment. This can lead them to make a partial cut, such as the well-known nose touch and mouth-cover.

Comfortable touches for self-comfort: Stress and discomfort from lying can often lead to gestures that are designed to comfort the liar. These gestures include rocking, hair-stroking, twiddling, or playing with wedding rings. Self-comfort gestures are something we all do, but it will be more effective when someone is lying.

Micro-gestures: These are very small gestures or facial expressions that can flash across the face so quickly they are difficult to see. Experts often use filmed footage to detect the true body language response in the middle of a performed lie. 

These are easy to spot in real-life. Look for the expression that appears after the liar has finished talking. An instant tell-tale sign is a skewy or rolling of the eyes.

Remarks: Hands and feet are the most difficult parts of the body to use. Liars often have trouble keeping them on-message when they lie. 

When the gestures and the words are at odds it’s called incongruent gesticulation and it’s often the hands or feet that are telling the truth.