Monday, March 15, 2010

People in power make better liars

By Eve Tahmincioglu contributor
updated 6:57 p.m. ET, Mon., March. 15, 2010

New York Gov. David Paterson is embroiled in a scandal over whether he used his power and influence to intimidate a woman pursuing a domestic violence case against one of his top aides.

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Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, who went to prison after the spectacular collapse of the company, is appealing to the Supreme Court his 2006 conviction on 19 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying.

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There’s old saying: power corrupts. A new Columbia Business School study titled “People with Power are Better Liars” finds there may be truth behind the cliché.

“People in power are able to lie better,” said Dana Carney, a management professor at Columbia Business School and one of the co-authors of the study. “It just doesn’t hurt them as much to do it.”

The effects of lying
For the average liar, she said, the act of lying elicits negative emotions, physiological stress and the fear of getting caught in a lie. As a result, she added, liars will often send out cues that they are lying by doing things like fidgeting in a chair or changing the rate of their speech.

But for the powerful, the impact is very different, according to the study:

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How does this all translate into the real world? Carney said the research doesn’t show that power leads to lying, but it does suggest dishonesty comes easier to those in power.

David Childers, the CEO of EthicsPoint, a compliance company that offers more than 2,000 businesses a hotline where employees can report business issues such as integrity lapses, said he has seen a propensity by some leaders to lie.

“From my perspective and experience, the better a person can do at concealing their true motivation, the better they do climbing the corporate ladder, and the better they do in abuse and misappropriation of assets in an organization,” he said. “We see a high percentage of our reports where management is involved or implicated.”

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It is certainly feasible that power may enhance one's power to lie convincingly. However, the fact that liars often have an advantage in getting ahead is easily observed.


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