Why they lie

It will come as no surprise to most people that politicians occasionally lie. But does it matter why they lie? And do those reasons affect public opinion?

Assistant Professor of Psychology Matthew Gingo says it does.

In a recent article published by The Washington Post, Gingo says that different motivations for lying affect how voters view U.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. So far in their respective campaigns, Clinton’s misstatements have tended to be defensive, in response to allegations made against her. Meanwhile, Trump’s falsehoods have been more on the offensive or self-promotional. And that distinction is key.

“Me lying to get myself out of trouble is not nearly as bad as me lying to get someone else in trouble,” Gingo says in the Washington Post article. “People view defense as more legitimate, such as physical self-defense.”

But that doesn’t mean voters will necessarily side with Clinton.

Some of the former secretary of state’s lies, including false statements made about her private email server and the messages it contained, are viewed by the public as “cover-ups”—as planned or calculated—and that may make her seem less trustworthy overall, Gingo says.

The Wheaton professor’s academic research focuses on lying—specifically the role deception plays in the social and moral development in children. He and his students have gained insight into how and why people lie by observing children at the Elisabeth Amen Nursery School, a laboratory preschool on the Wheaton campus.


Watch Professor Gingo talk about his research on the role lying plays in children’s development, part of Wheaton’s “A Conversation With…” faculty video series.