It’s no secret that Donald Trump lies, and lies often. Indeed, he lies so often that we’ve coined a new term for them–“alternative facts.” He lies so often that at least one journalist thinks it’s a national emergency. But an expert on liars and lying recently discovered that there’s a different, and scary, dimension to Trump’s lies. She believes that Trump not only lies a lot, but does so with clearly malicious intent.
Bella DePaulo, a project scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, wrote extensively on the psychology of lying from the 1980s to the early 2000s. While she has recently turned her focus to the single life, she was intrigued by The Washington Post Fact Checker’s running total of Trump’s lies and flip-flops. As of November 14–Trump’s 298th day in office–he had made 1,628 statements that have been deemed to be either false, misleading, or a flip-flop.
So she decided to do a stripped-down version of a project she conducted in the 1990s at the University of Virginia. She’d asked several UVa students and Charlottesville-area residents to keep track of the lies they told every day for a week. She and her colleagues tallied the participants’ rates of lying, and categorized the lies based on their motivation
The first thing that struck DePaulo was how often Trump lied. By her estimate, Trump told about six lies per day during his first 298 days in office. By comparison, her research at UVa found that students told two lies per day, while community members told one lie per day. Trump’s lying also far exceeds the rate found in a 2010 study which found the participants told a little over one-and-a-half lies per day.
DePaulo also noticed that Trump’s “flood of deceit” has ramped up considerably since October. Based on Fact Checker’s data, Trump has told a whopping nine lies per day, dwarfing the rate found in her previous research.
What stunned DePaulo, though, was why Trump lied. She noticed that many of Trump’s lies served multiple purposes. For instance, 65 percent of his lies were at least partly self-serving–such as when he told Laura Ingraham that his tax reform plan would deliver “the biggest cuts in the history of our country.” By comparison, about half of the lies compiled during her research at UVa were self-serving.
Less than 10 percent of Trump’s lies were “kind” lies–intended to give an advantage to others. An example of such a rare kind lie from Trump came in the aftermath of the Vegas Strip shooting.
It is a "miracle" how fast the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police were able to find the demented shooter and stop him from even more killing!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 4, 2017
By comparison, DePaulo’s research at UVa found that about a quarter of the lies were kind.
Overall, Trump tells 6.6 more self-serving lies than kind lies–not surprising in the least to anyone who has watched Trump for any period of time. It far exceeds the rate found in the UVa study participants, who only told double as many self-serving lies as kind lies.
The real shocker for DePaulo, however, was how often Trump told lies solely to hurt others. While the UVa participants told so few cruel lies that she had to append them as a footnote, half of Trump’s lies had cruel intent. One egregious example was his suggestion that “political hacks” were behind the intelligence community’s finding that Russia hacked the election. Then there was this swipe at Michael Moore’s Broadway show.
While not at all presidential I must point out that the Sloppy Michael Moore Show on Broadway was a TOTAL BOMB and was forced to close. Sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 28, 2017
DePaulo believes that by telling so many lies, and doing so to intentionally hurt others, Trump frequently breaches “the most foundational norms of human social interaction and human decency.” Apparently the public notices it as well. Polls from Politico/Morning Consult and Quinnipiac found that less than 40 percent of Americans believe Trump is honest.
In a follow-up article at Psychology Today, DePaulo said that she hadn’t initially intended to track Trump’s cruel lies. After all, her previous studies found that most people don’t lie with the intent of hurting people. While she knew Trump frequently belittles and degrades people, she was dumbfounded at how often he did so when he lied. She also noticed that Trump doesn’t seem to feel “any embarrassment or shame” when he fibs.
We already knew that we have a president who simply can’t be trusted. But it’s quite another thing to have an expert outline hard proof that we have a president who can’t be trusted.
(featured image courtesy Gage Skidmore, available under a Creative Commons BY-SA license)