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更新时间:2017-12-16 13:12:33 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

The disturbing art of lying by telling the truth

It is no secret that politicians often lie, but consider this ­– they can do so simply by telling the truth. Confused?


That statement becomes clearer when you realise that we've probably all done it. A classic example might be if your mum asks if you've finished your homework and you respond: "I've written an essay on Tennessee Williams for my English class." This may be true, but it doesn't actually answer the question about whether your homework was done. That essay could have been written long ago and you have misled your poor mother with a truthful statement. You might not have even started your homework yet.

如果你意识到我们可能都做过这样的事情,这种情形就比较清楚了。一个经典的例子可以是:你妈妈问你有没有做完家庭作业,而你的回答是:"我为英语课写完了一篇关于田纳西·威廉姆斯(Tennessee Williams)的论文。"这可能是事实,但实际上并没有回答你的家庭作业有没有完成的问题。这篇文章可能很久之前就写完了,而你用一个事实误导了你可怜的妈妈。你甚至可能都没开始做作业。

Misleading by "telling the truth" is so pervasive in daily life that a new term has recently been coined to describe it: paltering. That it is so widespread in society now gives us more insight into the grey area between truth and lies, and perhaps even why we lie at all.


We lie all the time, despite the fact that it costs us considerably more mental effort to lie than to tell the truth. US president Abraham Lincoln once said that "no man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar".


In 1996 one researcher, Bella DePaulo even put a figure on it. She found that each of us lies about once or twice a day. She discovered this by asking participants for one week to note down each time they lied, even if they did so with a good intention. Out of the 147 participants in her original study, only seven said they didn’t lie at all - and we can only guess if they were telling the truth.

1996年,有一位名叫贝拉·德保罗(Bella DePaulo)的研究者甚至给出了一个数据。 她发现我们每个人每天都会说一两次谎。她的这个发现是通过要求参与者在一周的时间内记下他们撒谎的次数,哪怕他们这样做是出于好意。在她最初研究所调查的147名参与者中,只有七人说他们根本不撒谎——但是连这个表述是否属实我们都不得而知。

Many of the lies were fairly innocent, or even kind, such as: "I told her that she looked good when I thought that she looked like a blimp." Some were to hide embarrassment, such as pretending a spouse had not been fired. DePaulo, a psychologist at the University of California Santa Barbara, says that the participants in her study were not aware of how many lies they told, partly because most were so "ordinary and so expected that we just don't notice them".

这其中许多谎言是无辜甚至是好意的,例如:"我告诉她,她看上去不错,尽管我觉得她看上去很糟糕。" 有些是为了隐瞒尴尬处境,比如假装不知道配偶已经丢了工作。德保罗说,在她的研究中,参与者们并没有意识到他们说了多少谎言,部分原因是大多数谎言如此"普通而不出所料,所以我们只是没有注意到它们"。 德保罗是一位在加州大学圣塔芭芭拉分校的心理学家。

It is when individuals use lies to manipulate others or to purposely mislead that it is more worrying. And this happens more often than you might think.


When Todd Rogers and his colleagues were looking at how often politicians dodge questions during debates they realised something else was going on. By stating another truthful fact, they could get out of answering a question. They could even imply something was truthful when it was not. Politicians do this all the time, says Rogers, a behavioural scientist at Harvard Kennedy School. He and colleagues therefore set out to understand more about it.

当托德·罗杰斯(Todd Rogers)和他的同事们发现政客们在辩论中频繁地回避问题时,他们意识到同时还有其他事情正在进行。通过陈述另一个事实,政客们可以回避回答眼前的问题。他们甚至可能暗示有些事物可信,尽管真相并非如此。作为哈佛大学肯尼迪学院(Harvard Kennedy School)的一位行为科学家,罗杰斯表示,政客们一直如此。因此,他与同事们开始进行更深一层的探索。

He found that paltering was an extremely common tactic of negotiation. Over half the 184 business executives in his study admitted to using the tactic. The research also found that the person doing the paltering believed it was more ethical than lying outright.


The individuals who had been deceived, however, did not distinguish between lying and paltering. "It probably leads to too much paltering as communicators think that when disclosed, it will be somewhat ethical, whereas listeners see it as a lie," says Rogers.


It is also difficult to spot a misleading "fact" when we hear something that on the face of it, sounds true. For instance, the UK's Labour Party campaign video to lower the voting age said: "You're 16. Now you can get married, join the Army, work full-time." The BBC's reality check team discovered that these facts do not tell the whole truth.

当我们听到一些表面上听起来真实的东西时,也很难发现其中存在的误导性的"事实"。例如,英国工党呼吁降低投票年龄的宣传视频说:"你们已经16岁了,你们现在可以结婚,参军,全职工作。" BBC的事实核查小组发现,这些事实并不能说明真相。

"You can only join the Army aged 16 or 17 with your parents' permission,” the Reality Check team wrote. “At that age you also need your parents' permission to get married unless you do so in Scotland. Since 2013, 16 and 17-year-olds cannot work full-time in England, but can in the other three home nations with some restrictions."


In another example, the then-presidential-nominee Donald Trump paltered during the presidential debates. He was questioned about a housing discrimination lawsuit early on in his career and stated that his company had given "no admission of guilt". While they may not have admitted it, an investigation by the New York Times found that his company did discriminate based on race.

又如,唐纳德·特朗普(Donald Trump)作为美国总统候选人期间在竞选辩论时也使用了搪塞的手段。有人质疑他在其职业生涯初期经历的一起住房歧视诉讼,对此他表示他的公司"不承认有罪"。虽然他们可能没有承认,但《纽约时报》的调查发现他的公司当时确实是进行了基于种族的歧视。

And even if we do spot misleading truths, social norms can prevent us from challenging whether or not they are deceptive. Take a now infamous interview in the UK, where journalist Jeremy Paxman interviewed the politician Michael Howard. He repeatedly asks Howard whether he "threatened to overrule" the then prisons governor. Howard in turn, continues to evade the question with other facts in a bizarre exchange that becomes increasingly awkward to watch. Not many of us are comfortable challenging someone in that way.

而且即使我们确实发现了这种误导性的事实,社会常规也能够阻止我们去追究这是否具有欺骗性。可以拿这个现在在英国已经声名狼藉的采访作为一个范例,当记者杰瑞米·帕克斯曼(Jeremy Paxman)采访政治家迈克尔·霍华德(Michael Howard)时,记者反复质问霍华德是否"威胁撤职"当时的监狱管理局局长。而霍华德以某种古怪的形式持续不断地用其他事实来回避这个问题,以至于来回的对话变得越来越令人尴尬。我们中大部分人都无法以这种方式来挑战别人。

While it's common in politics, so too is it in everyday life. Consider the estate agent who tells a potential buyer that an unpopular property has had "lots of enquiries" when asked how many actual bids there have been. Or the used car salesman who says a car started up extremely well on a frosty morning, without disclosing that it broke down the week before. Both statements are true but mask the reality of the unpopular property and the dodgy car.


Paltering is perhaps so commonplace because it is seen as a useful tool. It happens because we constantly have so many competing goals, suggests Rogers. "We want to achieve our narrow objective – [selling a house or car] – but we also want people to see us as ethical and honest." He says these two goals are in tension and by paltering, people believe they are being more ethical than outright lying. "We show evidence they are making a mistake," says Rogers.


We can see the problems this sort of thinking can cause reflected in society today. The public are clearly sick of being lied to and trust in politicians is plummeting. One 2016 poll found that the British public trust politicians less than estate agents, bankers and journalists.


And despite the fact that we now frequently expect lies from those in power, it remains challenging to spot them in real time, especially so if they lie by paltering. Psychologist Robert Feldman, author of The Liar in Your Life, sees this as worrying both on a personal and on a macro level. "When we're lied to by people in power, it ruins our confidence in political institutions – it makes the population very cynical about [their] real motivations."

尽管我们现在对执政者的谎言已经习以为常,但要实时发现这些谎言仍然是一个挑战,特别是如果他们通过搪塞来撒谎的话。《你生活中的说谎者》(The Liar in Your Life)一书的作者,心理学家罗伯特·费尔德曼(Robert Feldman)认为无论对于个人或是对于宏观层面来说这都令人忧虑。 "当我们被当权者欺骗时,就会破坏我们对政治制度的信心——无论那些人真正的动机为何,大众都已经非常愤世嫉俗。"

Lying can and does clearly serve a devious social purpose. It can help someone paint a better picture than the truth, or help a politician dodge an uncomfortable question. "It's unethical and it makes our democracy worse. But it's how human cognition works," says Rogers.


Unfortunately, the prevalence of lies might stem from the way we are brought up. Lies play a role in our social interactions from a very young age. We tell young children about tooth fairies and Santa, or encourage a child to be grateful for an unwanted present. "We give our kids very mixed messages," says Feldman. "What they ultimately learn is that even though honesty is the best policy, it's also at times fine and preferable to lie about things."


So next time you hear a fact that sounds odd, or someone to be deflecting a question, be aware that what you think is the truth may very well be deceptive.