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The Cultural Phenomenon of the Lying College Student

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In a recent conversation with a friend, I was surprised by what she was describing as a “cultural phenomenon of college-aged liars,” and convinced by her logic that it is completely realistic. It is easy for me to believe that college and all it entails can cultivate an unwitting liar. I can understand how the pressures of deadlines, parents, activities, etc., can instigate scads of little fabrications to ease the load of college life. However, I have seen time and time again how those little white lies become habit, and habits are very hard to break.

The Birth of the Lies

When I began my research, I was surprised to find that many, many studies have been done on what psychologists call “the use of fraudulent excuses.” Take a look at some of the data:

1. In a study by Caron, Krauss-Whitbourne, and Halgin, 1992/Roig and Caso, 1995, 565 students took a two-part questionnaire and 211 students completed both parts. Researchers found 72% of the student sample reported using fraudulent excuses at least once.

2. In the same study, “80% of those using fraudulent excuses used such excuses in an effort to obtain extra time to either complete an assignment or to study for an exam.”

3. A study by DePaulo, Kirkendol, Kashy, and Wyer, 1996, “Lying in Everyday Life,” found that “college students reported lying in approximately one out of every three of their social interactions,” contrary to the study of people in the community who lied in approximately one in five of their social interactions.

4. A study by Soozhana Choi, 1996, “How Many of Your Classmates Cheat?” “found that 54% of the respondents said they have cheated in some way while in law school, including plagiarizing, copying other students’ homework, using forbidden materials during exams, and inflating their achievements on their resumes.”

5. The Associate Press reported on a study by the University of Virginia uncovering that of their student group of 147 participants, 28% lied in conversations with both a best friend or a regular friend; 48% lied to an acquaintance, 77% lied to strangers. 46% of the students lied to their moms and 34% lied to their lovers. Bella DePaulo, who researched the findings, had students record every conversation and report what lies they told for one week. The group “reported telling a total of 1,000 lies over that time, an average of about two a day per student.” (Ritter, AP)

The Loss of Integrity is No Real Consequence

From my observation, the over-committed, pressured college student uses a lie as a defense mechanism, justifying the act of the lie for the lie’s benefits and only seeing the positive implications rather than the negative, for instance: lies like, “Yeah, I’ll be at that thing” or “Sure, I’ll help you with that” without any intentions of following through.

There are lies to professors; there are lies to friends, lies to family members. There is lying occasionally; there is lying constantly. The more the student lies, the more desensitized he or she becomes to the infraction of dishonesty. When the importance of honor integrity is no longer important, and there is no real perceived consequence (research has found almost 75% of professors provide no proof for excuses), what will stop the liar? (Caron, et. al.)

The Consequence is the Unbreakable Habit

The truth be told, no lies go un-penalized. The consequence is in the unbreakable habit that spills over into post-college life, i.e., marriage, family, and career. The older the liar, the less grace he or she will receive. After years of vindicating your ability to speak untruths to people, even it if is harmless at the time, you will find yourself in a painful process of breaking the lies for truth, unraveling the damage from lies gone by, and rebuilding your possibly tainted reputation as the “flake.”

The Truth Will Set You Free

As I am practicing this in my own life, I am finding the freedom in being transparent and honest. I have discovered how being honest in all situations has improved my dealings in relationships and work, even when it was most difficult. I have built my reputation upon trust and have seen the fruit of being trustworthy. I hope this will be a reminder and an encouragement to you to fly in the face of disturbing statistics and for the well-being of your own life, to always speak the truth.


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