Liars Are Less Attractive |

6 min read
Toa Heftiba/Unsplash

Toa Heftiba/Unsplash

New research by Leanne ten Brinke and colleagues (2023), published last month in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, details three studies showing evidence that people who tell the truth are perceived as more attractive than those who lie.

Despite our best efforts, most of us struggle to discern whether others are lying or telling the truth. As ten Brinke and colleagues state, we tend to have a “truth bias” when asked to make judgments of others’ truthfulness, and when we are not asked, we “rarely even consider the possibility that [we] may be deceived.” However, we may be subtly attuned to lies because we perceive others as less attractive when they are lying, even when we are not consciously trying to detect untruthfulness.

In a series of three studies, the researchers presented videos to perceivers, and those perceivers were asked to rate their own attraction to or the general attractiveness of the target individuals. Importantly, the perceivers were not told that some of the targets might be lying. Perceivers also judged the targets on factors such as warmth and openness.

Studies 1 and 2

In Study 1, participants rated their attraction to opposite-sex targets in 24 different videos. (Most of the participants identified as heterosexual.) The videos included individuals responding to questions about stealing $100 from a laboratory. Some participants were randomly assigned to “steal” the money, while others were not. All of the target individuals were motivated to appear honest because they would be able to keep the money if they convinced their interrogator that they were telling the truth.

All targets answered baseline questions truthfully and then responded to the interrogation either truthfully or untruthfully (all targets tried to convince the interrogator that they did not steal the money) based on their assigned condition. The videos were edited by the experimenters to exclude discernable words but retain cues such as voice pitch, pauses, and vocal variation. The perceivers rated their attraction to each target, as well as the perceived warmth and openness of the targets.

Study 1 revealed that perceivers reported heightened attraction to targets who were telling the truth versus targets who lied. Additionally, men reported feeling more attracted to women than vice versa, and, specifically, men were more attracted to women who told the truth rather than women who lied. Although the corresponding effect was slightly weaker, women also perceived men who told the truth as more attractive than men who lied. Finally, perceivers’ ratings of targets’ warmth and openness mediated the relationship between truth, lying, and attraction, such that targets who told the truth were perceived as more warm and open and, therefore, more attractive.

Study 2 replicated Study 1, except that in Study 1, different target individuals were assigned to lie or tell the truth, while in Study 2, the same targets were presented while lying and while telling the truth. In Study 2, the perceivers were shown a “critical question video” in which the targets were either lying or telling the truth about a “crime” that they were assigned to commit or not to commit, as well as a “baseline video” in which all targets were asked to answer honestly regarding a question which was not related to the “crime.”

Once again, the perceivers reported stronger feelings of attraction to those who told the truth rather than those who lied. Furthermore, perceivers reported less attraction to the same target person when that person lied in response to the critical question (versus telling the truth in their baseline response) and more attraction to the same target person when that person told the truth in response to the critical question (versus their truthful baseline response). The researchers called this finding the “truth attraction effect” and speculated that this finding might be driven by reduced levels of stress over time for those who were assigned to tell the truth and increased levels of stress over time for those who were assigned to lie.

Study 3

In Study 3, the researchers used the Miami University Deception Detection Database for their stimuli. This database includes videos of the same people telling the truth and lying about individuals they like and dislike. In this study, both male and female participants were asked to judge the attractiveness of the targets in the videos (rather than their own feelings of attraction to the targets), so all participants judged videos of both male and female targets.

The participants rated targets in 20 videos (five women telling the truth, five women lying, five men telling the truth, five men lying) in a random order. The videos included targets discussing “a person they genuinely liked” and a person they disliked “as if they liked that person.” Once again, the participants were not alerted to the fact that some of the targets were lying. In these videos, the targets were visible, and in contrast to the first two studies, the wording was audible. The participants rated the attractiveness, warmth, and openness of the target.

Deception Essential Reads

The results again showed that targets who told the truth were perceived as more attractive than those who lied. Interestingly, in Study 3, women who lied were judged as less attractive than those who told the truth; however, men who lied were judged as similarly attractive whether they lied or told the truth. Replicating the results of Study 1, ratings of attractiveness were once again mediated by ratings of warmth and openness.


The researchers concluded that “even when participants are not made aware of the possibility that some targets will be lying—ratings of attraction differentiated liars from truth-tellers.” Leanne ten Brinke et al. suggest that these changes in attraction might lead us to “make wise social choices—approaching truth-tellers and avoiding liars.” Subtle changes in ratings of attraction might also serve as a proxy to help us discern who is lying and who is telling the truth when our explicit efforts to identify liars may fail. The researchers recommend future research using more diverse samples of participants as well as stimuli more directly related to romantic relationships, such as dating profile videos. They also suggest that future research investigate the behaviors that might cue warmth and openness, such as smiling and eye contact.

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