“Men are liars!” says sales website happy to slander half the population

Which set of genitals make you more likely to be a liar? You may think it meaningless to even ask such a question, but the Daily Mail disagrees:

Men lie THREE TIMES more than women, study finds… and the most common fibs? ‘Yes, darling I’ve done it,’ and ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t have a signal’

Men are three times as likely to lie as women, a new study has found. 

And the average man lies three times every single day – or more than 1,000 times each year. 

In comparison, the study found that the average woman lies just once each day.

The survey of 2,531 adults across the UK shows that we are a nation of liars, with just five per cent of respondents saying that they told the truth ‘at all times’. 

The majority, 52 per cent, of men said that they lied three times a day on average; whilst one in seven, 14 per cent, said that they lied more than five times each day on average

Source: Daily Mail, 5 March 2013

It’s barely even worth pointing out the obvious flaws in this stereotype-hitting story, but we’ll go through the motions: this is a self-reported survey, so the most we could possibly say (if these results even prove to be a fair reflection of the survey done) is that men are more prepared to say that they lie.

There’s a number of reasons why men might be more willing than women to tell a survey about when they lie – only one option of which is that men actually do lie more often than women.

Another possibility may be that while men and women lie a roughly similar amount, societal pressures and familiarity with stereotypes mean men are more comfortable than women with the idea of admitting to lies.

Similarly, the same societal pressures may cause men to unknowingly over-report when they lie – not least because there isn’t a fixed definition of what counts as a lie, so in the borderline calls may be included more often by the parts of the population most often told they’re the gender who lies most.

And those are just the objections off the top of my head, and without seeing the data and sampling (without which, we can’t even tell how many of the respondents were of either gender).

A final, and most relevant to this blog, objection concerns the source of the data: 

The survey, cnducted (sic) by secret sales website HushHush.com, asked respondents who they lied to most regularly, and found that men and women are both most likely to lie to a manager or boss, with 31 per cent admitting that they lied at work most regularly. 

The idea that men lie significantly more than women – discovered via the medium of flawed self-reported opinion polls – is something of a headline-banker, with a moment on Google bringing up stories appearing on the BBC in May 2010 (placed by the Science Museum) and in the Daily Mail in September 2009 (placed by 20th Century Fox).

As we’d expect to see from research that’s driven by advertising rather than a quest for truth, each story has wildly differing results – with the 2009 survey finding that men lie twice as much as women (6 times per day for men), the 2010 survey finding that men lie 1.5 times as often as women (3 lies per day for men) and the 2013 survey finding that men lie 3 times as often as women (3 lies per day for men). The variance across the three surveys is entirely consistent with a self-reported and uncontrolled survey, of course.

Mark Pearson, founder of HushHush.com had the following to say:

‘It seems honesty is rare these days, but given the fact that the majority of us lie regularly, it’s hard to see anything changing anytime soon!’

Having been a keen observer of the media and PR industry for some time now, I have to say I quite agree with Mark’s parting sentiment.