The enigma of altruistic lying: Perspective differences in what motivates and justifies lie telling within romantic relationships


  • The first author completed this research in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the master's degree. Portions of this research were presented at the 2002 annual conference of the American Psychological Association, Chicago, IL.

should be addressed to Mary E. Kaplar or Anne K. Gordon, Bowling Green State University, Department of Psychology, Bowling Green, OH 43403, e-mail: (AKG); (MEK).


Lie tellers in intimate relationships often claim their lies were told to protect their partner. However, based on several converging theories (e.g., motivated reasoning, cognitive dissonance), we expected lie receivers to interpret lie tellers' motives less altruistically. We also made predictions regarding other variables on which we expected lie tellers' and lie receivers' perceptions to differ (e.g., justifications for the lie and responses to the lie, lie tellers' guilt, the temporal and situational context of the lies, perceptions of causality and blame). Participants wrote 2 autobiographical narratives, one from the perspective of lie teller and the other from the perspective of lie receiver. Participants also completed questionnaire items that mirrored the coding dimensions used in our content analyses of the narratives. As predicted, results indicated that the same participants, when occupying the role of lie teller as opposed to lie receiver, viewed their lies as more altruistically motivated, guilt inducing, spontaneous, justified by features of the situation, and provoked by the lie receiver. We discuss potential explanations for perspective differences in lying, the value of multiple perspectives when studying and evaluating lies, and the potential for an understanding of perspective differences to aid in conflict resolution.