An Investigation of Pro-Social Lying in Successful Relationships

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Keywords: Pro-Social Lying, White Lies, Relationship Satisfaction An Investigation of Pro-Social Lying in Successful Relationships The present study examines the correlation between pro-social lying and romantic relationship satisfaction. We hypothesized that the more deception present in a relationship, the less relationship satisfaction. A survey containing a Guttman scale and Likert scale was given to one-hundred randomly selected individuals around the Knoxville area.
The survey questioned frequency of lies within individuals’ relationships and questioned the overall quality of the relationship. A slightly negative correlation was found between pro-social lying and relational satisfaction. An Investigation of Pro-Social Lying in Successful Relationships In a study conducted by Carl Camden (1984), twenty students participated in a study in which white lies were collected and coded for analysis. Overall, findings confirm previous results that lies are often used to cope with difficulties in unequal power in relationships (Camden, p. 15). Therefore this study was conducted to develop an understanding of the correlation between pro-social lying and romantic relationship satisfaction. Pro-Social Lying Pro-social lying, also known as white lies, can be defined as an unimportant lie, especially one told to be tactful or polite. Kaplar and Gordon (2004) believe “lie tellers may not be fully aware of what actually motivated their behavior” (p. 490) which can be better explored in research involving pro-social lying and relationships.
By measuring the extent of which individuals lie can better inform researchers why individuals do it. When searching for information regarding why individuals lied, individuals may attend to evidence that justifies a positive construal for the lie. Thus lie tellers may give socially desirable responses and misrepresent their motivations for lying. In addition to white lies, this provides insight on the acceptance of lying in relationships whether to protect oneself or their partner.
Additionally, research indicated in the 2004 article, “The Right To Do Wrong”, studies showed results indicating that adolescents and emerging adults quite commonly lie to their parents, and that in part they frame lying to parents as a way to assert the right to autonomy (Jensen, p. 101). The article’s results propose that college students and high school students may lie to their parents when they believe it is necessary to avoid conflict and to maintain what they see and believe as their right to make decisions independently of their parents’ influence (Jensen, 2004, p. 09). By reviewing all of the contributing factors, this relates to pro-social lying and relationships in the future. If people believe in using white lies early on in life, this contributes to why people may use white lies in later relationships and still believe they are ok. Since some of the contributing factors in early relationships like avoiding conflict and making more desirable images are used in parent-child relationships, then also seen in later intimate relationships between partners gives a definite reason to believe they are related.
When studying persistence in lying and experiences while deceiving, Vrij and Holland (1998) determined that persistent lying was positively related to being manipulative, being keen on making a good impression and being good at controlling verbal and nonverbal behaviors (p. 299). A negative correlation was found, however, between manipulation, being keen on making a good impression on others, being good at controlling verbal and nonverbal communication and feeling awkward during deception, and finding it difficult to deceive, and expecting to give off signals of deception (p. 05). These finding suggest that the more persistent and confident the liar is, the more positive the situation in terms of believability. In context with lying in romantic relationships, it should be noted that lying may affect relationship satisfaction differently when considering the persistence, confidence, and expertise of the liar. Pro-social Lying and Relationship Satisfaction As determined by the study, relationship satisfaction has come to be defined as a mutually beneficial interaction characterized by happiness in both individuals.
Several different studies have looked at the motives for lying. Kaplar and Gordon (2004) defined altruism as “a motivational stat with the ultimate goal of increasing another’s welfare” (p. 490). Another study in Shusterman and Saxe’s (1991) research showed, “85% of participants reported having lied to their current romantic partner about a past relationship, and almost all reported that they lied to protect their partner” (p. 490). In relation to pro-social lies, this measures to what extent partners use white lies. Also these studies give reason to further investigate into relationship satisfaction.
According to Tim Cole (2001) in an article, “Lying to the One You Love”, deception has a modest positive impact on a partner, unless of course it is detected (p. 108). As a means of coping with relational problems, deception is an obvious factor. Through this study, it is clear that partners in intimate relationships use white lies to avoid conflict situations. This correlates with pro-social lying in relationships since people may be using lies to maintain and distress their relationship. This approach is potentially beneficial until the significant other discovers the deception.
If this occurs, the relationship could possibly be viewed as built on white lies and less on truth thus damaging trust and honesty supposedly there. According to Mary E. Kaplar and Anne K. Gordon (2004), “Lie tellers in intimate relationships often claim their lies were told to protect their partner” (p. 489). Related to pro-social lying in relationships, this enhances the number of reasons why people lie. Kaplar and Gordon’s experiment was different in the subjects were asked to think back on a time when they were lied to or lied themselves and say why in an autobiographical narrative.
Using this evidence, people can infer data and use it to reiterate consistent findings even in measuring white lies in relationships. Consistent with other studies, a Michigan State University study argued that the nature of relationships heavily influences factors involving deceptive communication. They posit that detecting deception is much different among relational partners than with strangers due to relational partners being able to can look at the consistency of what is being said to them and focus on any differentiations from usual shared, symbolic activities.
It can be determined that the more physically and emotionally dependent the relationship, the more apt individuals are to lie (Miller, Mongeau, & Sleight 1986). Although no solid explanation has been developed, studies show that friends are better detectors of deceptions. The authors suggest this may be due to intimate partners developing avoidance mechanisms in an attempt to help them think there is no possibility of their partners deceiving them.
Exceptions might stem white lying where, “parties to personal relationships might be more predisposed to stray from the truth than participants in transitory, casual, impersonal relationships” (Miller et. al. , 1986 p. 501). Many falsehoods occurring in intimate relationships derive from the desire to maintain the relationship. The authors do admit, however, that they are, “unaware of any research investigating the ways that concern for relational outcomes affects deceptive practices in personal relationships” (Miller et. l. , 1986, p. 502). In Davis and Oathout’s (1987) research, Maintenance of Satisfaction in Romantic Relationships: Empathy and Relational Competence, women scored higher than men on the empathy on their relationships. By women investing their feelings and emotions more heavily than men, they are more likely to maintain the relationships through white lies. Franzoi et al. (1985) also concluded that women normally have higher empathy ratings in their romantic relationships than men do.
In concordance with pro-social lying and relationships, higher empathy qualities contribute to a larger investment of time. In Battista and Abrahams study conducted in 1995, it was found that “persons planning to deceive dating partners engaged in significantly more extensive planning and were significantly faster in assessing their plan’s completeness than were persons whose target was a friend or stranger” (p. 120). This study not only reveals that deception is present in romantic relationships, but that people invest more time and energy in deceiving their significant others.
In another study pertaining to the use of negative behaviors to preserve relationships, it was discovered that negative maintenance behaviors such as control, avoidance, destructive conflict, infidelity, jealousy, and spying were negatively associated with relationship satisfaction, and positive maintenance behaviors such as advice, assurances, conflict management, networks, openness, positivity, and tasks were positively associated with relationship satisfaction (Dainton & Gross, 2008). This study supports that negative behaviors, such as lying, are detrimental to relationship satisfaction.
Although lying was not directly studied in this instance, lying is considered a negative behavior and items such as spying infidelity are closely related to deception. Interpersonal Deception Theory Interpersonal Deception Theory attempts to create a framework that explains deception, whether perceived or actual, in interpersonal communication on the conscious and subconscious levels. The theory proposes that most individuals feel confident in their abilities to detect deception; however, most overestimate this ability in reality.
Three dominant deceptive strategies are analyzed and include falsification, concealment, and equivocation (Buller & Burgoon 1996). Eighteen propositions dealing with deception in interpersonal communication in each phase were developed. In IDT, relationship factors between the sender and receiver significantly influence the outcome of deception. These factors include relational familiarity and relational valence. Relational familiarity, such as in intimate relationships, can help receiver’s better detect deception from their partners. Buller & Burgoon 1996) After researching previous studies related to pro-social lying and relationship satisfaction, it was determined that the intent of this study would be to answer the question: RQ1: Is there a relationship between pro-social lying and romantic relationship happiness? Methods Once more, the purpose of the research was to evaluate people’s relationships with their significant other and how successful the relationship is based on pro-social lying. Among all the various people who participated in the study, one-hundred people were asked to volunteer whereas ninety-one participated.
The hope for this paper is that this study will lay groundwork for future observations of relationship failure or success based on white lies in communication between significant others. Participants Since the study focused on romantic relationships, non-random sampling was used to obtain individuals who were currently in a romantic relationship. Individuals were approached at various locations on the University of Tennessee’s Campus and asked to participate in a study. Overall, ninety-one people participated in the study. All participants were at least 18 years of age.
This particular study involved diversity such as a person’s span of relationship, age of partners, and sexual preference. Researchers handing out the surveys did not show any bias or have conversations while participants took part in the research. Procedures Everyone who wished to participate in the study was asked to answer questions based on two different scales, Guttman and Likert, where their answers were then ranked and processed in comparison to other participants. For each survey, the researchers would take turns asking different people to fill out a survey.
Participants were given the opportunity to rank what is and is not good for their relationship success based on different small lies to major white lies. This was a voluntary study in which there were no incentives for the participants. Instrumentation Participants’ relationship satisfaction derived from pro-social lying was measured through a survey that took approximately five to six minutes. We hypothesized that pro-social lying would negatively affect romantic relationship satisfaction. Items on the Guttman scale attempted to determine what types of lies participants used in their romantic relationships.
However, the Guttman Scale failed to make a Guttman Simplex. A Likert scale was used to determine participants’ satisfaction in the relationship. This allowed the researchers to measure relationship satisfaction based on five questions. The least reliable question is number four at . 662 and the most reliable is question one at . 776. Results Correlation Data The responses from the Guttman Scale and Likert Scale reveal that pro-social lying only accounts for about 6% of what makes a relationship work (r= -. 247, p _).
The Guttman Scale failed to create a simplex, but information could still be derived concerning people’s willingness to lie to their significant others. A slightly negative correlation was found between pro-social lying and relational satisfaction. Essentially, the more a person lies, the less happy the relationship is. The study found that men lie almost twice as much as women, but women frequently lie to protect their significant other’s feelings. Discussion This was a pilot study intended to evaluate the correlation between pro-social lying and relationship satisfaction in romantic relationships.
The results indicate that lying plays a very small role in the overall satisfaction in romantic relationships. It also suggests that men lie more frequently than women, but women often lie to protect the feelings of others. However, the study contains several limitations. First of all, the sample size was quite small (N= 91), suggesting that these results may not truly represent all romantic relationships. Furthermore, the study was centered around participants surveyed solely on the University of Tennessee’s campus.
Lastly, the Guttman scale failed to create a simplex. Future research endeavors involving pro-social lying and relationship satisfaction should have a larger and more diverse population so that the population is more representative. It may also be valuable to try another type or scale or method to evaluate the two variables. To conclude, pro-social lying does have a small role in the overall satisfaction of a romantic relationship. Individuals should be aware of pro-social lying and the role it plays in various facets of life, particularly in romantic relationships.
The results from this study lay a foundation for those interested in discovering what factors into relationship happiness and perhaps what makes or breaks certain couples. If in fact there is not as much correlation between deception and unhappiness as predicted, than other factors may need to be explored. References Battista, P. D. , and Abrahams, M. (1995). The role of relational information in the production of deceptive messages. Communication Reports, 8, 120- 127. Buller, D. B. , and Burgoon, J. K. (1996). Interpersonal deception theory.
CommunicationTheory, 6, 203-242. Camden, C. (1984). White lies in interpersonal communication: A taxonomy and preliminary investigation of social motivations. The entity from which ERIC acquires the content, including journal, organization, and conference names, or by means of online submission from the author. Western Journal of Speech Communication, 48, 309-325. Cole, T. (2001). Lying to the one you love: The use of deception in romantic relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 18, 107-129. Dainton, M. and Gross, J. (2008). The use of negative behaviors to maintain relationships. Communication Research Reports, 25, 179- 191. Davis, M. H. , & Oathout, H. A. (1987). Maintenance of satisfaction in romantic relationships: Empathy and relational competence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 397-410. DePaulo, B. , et. al. (1996). Lying in everyday life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,70. 5, 975-995. Feeney, J. A. , & Noller, P. (1990). Attachment style as a predictor of adult romantic relationships.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 281-291. Jenson, L. A. et al. (2004). The right to do wrong: Lying to parents among adolescents and emerging adults. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 33, 101-112. Kalbfleisch, P. J. (2001). Deceptive message intent and relational quality. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 20, 214-230. Kaplar, M. E. , & Gordon, A. K. (2004). The Enigma of altruistic lying: Perspective differences in what motivates and justifies lie telling within romantic relationships. Personal Relationships, 11, 489 – 507.
Miller, G. , Mongeau, P. , & Sleight, C. (1986). Fudging with friends and lying to lovers: deceptive communication in personal relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 3, 495-512. Oathout, H. A. , & Davis, M. H. (1987). Maintenance of satisfaction in romantic relationships: Empathy and relational competence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 397-410. Vrij, A. , & Holland, M. (1998). Individual differences in persistence in lying and experiences while deceiving. Communication Research Reports, 15, 299- 308.

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