A man goes to see his doctor. He says, “Doctor, I want to be healthier.” The doctor says, “No problem. From now on, always mean what you say.”
That may sound like the start of a joke, but it’s actually a crib note version of results from a new study suggesting that sincerity and honesty are keys to good health.
The study’s author is Anita E. Kelly, a psychology professor at the University of Notre Dame who runs a Templeton Foundation-funded research project called The Science of Honesty. She presented findings from the project’s latest study (conducted with co-author Lijuan Wang) at the national convention of the American Psychological Association last week and wrote about them at her Psychology Today blog, “Insight”.
Kelly and her team recruited 72 adults and randomly assigned them to two groups: a Sincerity group and a control group. The control group wasn’t given specific instructions (other than they’d be in a study for the next five weeks, topic unstated), but the Sincerity group was given the following mandate:
“Throughout every day of the next five weeks, you must speak honestly, truthfully, and sincerely — not only about the big things, but also about the small things, such as why you were late. You must always mean what you say in situations where your statements are to be taken seriously, as opposed to when joking or obviously exaggerating. While you certainly can choose not to answer questions, you must always mean what you say.”
During the next five weeks, both groups came to the lab for periodic polygraph tests and standard measures of physical health. By the fifth and final week, Kelly says that the results were “amazing.” The Sincerity group reported significantly less physical health symptoms than the control group – specifically fewer sore throats, headaches, and nausea. They also reported fewer mental health complaints like feeling tense.
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