You Can't Con a Con Man -- Or Can You?

There's an oft-repeated adage, you can't con a con man. The idea is that a dishonest person, because of their vast experience at being dishonest, can spot the dishonesty in others. There's also the implication that the con artist is wise in a world-weary sense: perhaps a bit cynical and pessimist but also less gullible and more grounded and realistic.

It turns out this isn't really true. Two new studies on lying and liars contradicts this conventional wisdom.

In the first, conducted by two researchers at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, scientists discovered that trusting people actually make better lie detectors. The more people showed trust in others, the more easily they could discern lies and the liars spinning their yarns.

Perhaps most interesting of all is the context of this study: researchers were looking at people in the context of MBA students trying to land employment. There's a widely held belief that business is inherently dishonest, that those who succeed in this arena excel through dishonesty and unethical behavior. That's one reason the findings of this study are so important. The more honest the person doing the hiring, the more likely they could tell when a prospective applicant was lying or unethical. In turn this means, that business that employ honest people are more likely to hire honest employees--you know, the very same people who would be less likely to cheat the business that hired them or get them into hot water in some other way down the road.

As the co-authors of the study concluded, "People who trust others are not pie-in-the-sky Pollyannas, their interpersonal accuracy may make them particularly good at hiring, recruitment, and identifying good friends and worthy business partners."

A second study conducted by a different group of researchers at the University or Notre Dame found that those who lie less have significantly better mental and physical health. The more honest we are in our daily lives, the less likely we are to suffer from melancholy, stress, and anxiety. Physically, honest people have fewer headaches and less prone to symptoms of colds or other illnesses.

It may seem to some like liars get ahead in this world--but don't believe it. The scientific evidence supports the opposite. Most importantly of all, with honesty comes authenticity. And with authenticity comes happiness. So the "moral" of these stories is that honest people can succeed in all phases of life--whether in the realm of business or in personal happiness. So the next time you're tempted to lie to get ahead in some way, remember that in the end, you'll probably just make things worse for yourself--and the world around you.