‘One shouldn’t lie’ has been the order of every religious book for centuries. Still, people lie every day. The reason given is often the protection of oneself or others. It is a challenge for every liar to consciously tell a complex lie, which leads to stress and tension. But what about lying in a foreign language? Is lying easier in a foreign language? Let’s find out.
In a series of experiments, the psychologists examined the reactions of up to 50 test subjects, to whom various questions were asked and to whom they were asked to answer truthfully, sometimes lying, sometimes in their mother tongue and sometimes in their foreign language. These were both neutral questions, such as ‘Is a Blue whale a fish?’, As well as emotional questions such as ‘Have you ever used illegal drugs?’ During the answers, the speed, skin conductivity, and pulse of the test subjects were measured.
Two Contradicting Theories
The researchers then compared their data with two existing but contradicting theories about lying. The so-called cognitive load theory, which assumes that lying in itself is an extremely demanding task. If you follow this theory, lying in a foreign language, which is an additional cognitive challenge, is even more difficult than lying in your mother tongue.
According to the second theory, the so-called emotional distance hypothesis, it is assumed that lying is associated with more emotions than true statements. Findings from language research indicate that speaking in a foreign language is less emotionally arousing than speaking in the mother tongue. Based on the emotional distance hypothesis, one would, therefore, expect that lying in a foreign language to trigger less emotional excitement.
The analysis of the data showed that, regardless of the language, it generally takes longer to tell a lie than, to tell the truth. Answering emotional questions takes longer compared to answering neutral questions. Respondents also needed more time to answer in a foreign language than to answer in their mother tongue.
It was shown that the time differences between truth and lies are smaller in a foreign language. The researchers conclude that lying in a foreign language is easier than in the mother tongue and is, therefore, more difficult to recognize.
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The researchers give the reason for the greater emotional distance when speaking in a foreign language. This compensates for the increased cognitive load during a lie, so that lies are easier overall.
Incidentally, lying is important in social life, whether in the mother tongue or a foreign language. They can protect the self-worth of others. Half-truths, on the other hand, can cause great damage. Unfortunately, it is a sad reality as society does not accept the truth easily.