By Deborah Goldstein
You’d gladly spot a friend who’s short on cash at lunch. Or listen sympathetically while she vents about her significant other (or lack thereof). And of course you’d tell her, discreetly, if she had something stuck in her teeth. But would you lie for her? A new study suggests that people will stretch the truth to help protect a friend’s reputationespecially if the friend is present, and if it’s a close friend.
Calling it the “wingman theory,” researcher Jennifer Argo, Ph.D. explains that little white lies are often told “when you don’t have the opportunity to make yourself look good, so somebody else does it for you.”
Sounds to us like that’s just being a good frienddepending on the lie. Posting “Beautiful!” on a pal’s unflattering Facebook photo is harmless. But let’s say a good friend was interviewing at your company and you knew she wasn’t exactly right for the job, but you were in a position to give her a recommendation. Would you? The research suggests that most people would exaggerate the truth, even in business situations.
“Based on the findings, it would seem reasonable to expect that people who understand their friends should be willing to step in as a wingman in a number of different contexts if their friends are in need,” Argo confirmed.
There’s a certain comfort factor that this research invokes. What’s the point of having good friends if you can’t count on their help? The trick is how to maintain your own integrity and reputation while doing so, and avoid having your lies backfire. “It does say something about [you], too. Because (as my friend), if you’re lying, and I know it, it might make me question or cause me to doubt how much you lie to me and others,” says Argo.
Would you lie for a good friend, and under what circumstances?