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Poking Insights: Why do we lie?

Here is the second in our series of monthly chats where we have a poke at some insights being reported as facts.

What do you say to people when they ask how your weekend was? According to this research, a quarter of Brits lie about their days off so instead of saying what they’ve really done (been boring, slept, caught up on admin) they say they’ve been doing wildly exciting social and enjoyable things.

Research findings like this are constantly being pumped out by the PR industry as a hook for generating some news. This was conducted for Travelodge who have a talent for generating this kind of fluff (eg. a quarter of men take a teddy with them when they are travelling, we’re losing sleep because of our addiction to social networking) and what is apparently the fifth biggest lie? Taking a mini-break. Typical of this kind of press, there’s a quote from ‘a top UK psychologist‘ who uses this survey finding to identify a new psychological condition: ‘weekendvy’. That’s catchy, but there are at least 100 psychological conditions, all the result of thorough peer-reviewed research.

Many of us may well be gilding our weekend lillies but is it envy? According to the Mail it is to impress others, Cosmo say it’s to make us cool and sexy while the Independent has a more insightful if bleak thought from Furedi who says it is about not acknowledging our essential loneliness and isolation, and a reluctance to admit that our lives are not moving in line with our aspirations. If we are to do anything with a finding like this, we need to know why.

From a social media perspective, are social networking updates overly sunny? Can we trust what people publish online? We need to be sceptical rather than taking their comments at face value. If we know what is motivating updates we can place their comments in context.

A final thought, based on some rather more solid research from Stanford University. Happy posts may make the rest of less happy. Happiness, like a sense of wealth, is relative. Encouraging greater honesty at an individual level to say when things aren’t great may paradoxically make us all happier.

This post was filed under Marketing & PR, Social media, Working culture and tagged Comments are currently closed.


  1. Especially like the last point Paul – happiness is relative.

    In a society where it sometimes seems to me we practice envy systematically this is really helpful to know.

    Posted 4th April 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  2. Paul Hutchings

    Thanks Peter, in other research I’ve read, our sense of wealth depends on how wealthy we perceive others to be. The bigger the income gaps, the poorer we feel. And even the wealthy don’t feel wealthy:

    Posted 4th April 2011 at 4:35 pm | Permalink
  3. Kevin McDougall

    This is interesting. Has there been any research around correlation of the mappiness data with sentiment data from social networks? It would be cool to localise this stuff.

    I’d look into it but I’m booking my weekend trip to NY ;-)

    Posted 5th April 2011 at 7:38 pm | Permalink
  4. Paul Hutchings

    Thanks Kevin. It looks like LSE are still crunching the data, all I’ve seen is a lot of publicity encouraging people to take part.

    In the spirit of Poking Insights though, it’s an app that creates a lot of data from an atypical sub-group. First off, they’ll all iphone owners – there are a lot of them but they aren’t normal. Second, who is going to be motivated to talk about how happy they are? I’ll wager happy people.

    Posted 8th April 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  5. Kevin

    Hey Paul, Totally with you on your first point. Can’t help but thinking sentiment/happiness etc can be measured not only by what is being said but also by what is not being said, That, alongside other factors like response times to prompts and potentially geo movements etc.

    Harder data to get right though I Imagine.

    Posted 13th April 2011 at 5:51 pm | Permalink
  6. Paul Hutchings

    Hi Kevin, one of the things I think the whole research industry is struggling with is how to pick up what people don’t say. We used to solve that by asking specific questions or watching their non-verbal cues. One of the things I liked about mappiness was the request to take a photo as part of the evaluation. There’s an analysis challenge there but it would be really interesting to see what correlations there are.

    Posted 15th April 2011 at 11:36 am | Permalink

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