Self-Reported Anxiety and Observable Anxiety When Telling People White Lies Versus Blunt Truths




Washington, J'Lynn

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Understanding how different situational factors impact social anxiety has important implications for understanding everyday anxiety. One common dilemma that may heighten anxiety is deciding whether to tell a prosocial, or white, lie. In this situation, individuals must weigh the stress of trying to successfully deceive someone versus potentially hurting someone else’s feelings. In spite of the frequency of prosocial lying, little is known about exactly how anxiety can influence this behavior and how deciding to tell a prosocial lie can in turn influence anxiety. The current study examined anxiety when telling prosocial lies versus blunt truths. Specifically, we examined how participants’ baseline anxiety impacted their choice to lie and how subjective feelings of anxiety corresponded to observable verbal and non-verbal behaviors when lying or telling the truth. We used an experimental paradigm in which participants gave feedback about a poorly written essay directly to the author over Zoom. Participants could choose whether to tell a prosocial lie or blunt truth. After giving their chosen feedback, participants reported on how anxious they felt in the moment (state anxiety) as well as their everyday generalized and social anxiety levels (trait anxiety). Additionally, we evaluated the Zoom recordings to rate participants’ displays of verbal and non-verbal anxiety (observable anxiety). We found no differences between those who told lies versus blunt truths on any of our anxiety measures. Additionally, we found that observable anxiety was related to state anxiety, but not trait anxiety. The results from this study have implications for understanding the link between self-reported and observable anxiety during common social dilemmas.



psychology, prosocial lie, anxiety, behavior


Washington, J. (2023). Self-reported anxiety and observable anxiety when telling people white lies versus blunt truths. Honors College, Texas State University.


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