A few prolific liars in Japan: Replication and the effects of Dark Triad personality traits

Abstract and Figures

Truth-Default Theory (TDT) predicts that across countries and cultures, a few people tell most of the lies, while a majority of people lie less frequently than average. This prediction, referred to as “a few prolific liars,” is tested in Japan. The study further investigated the extent to which the Dark Triad personality traits predict the frequency of lying. University students ( N = 305) reported how many times they lied in the past 24 hours and answered personality questions. Results indicate that the few prolific liars pattern is evident in Japan thereby advancing TDT. Results also show that Japanese frequent liars tend to have Dark Triad personality traits, but the nature of the findings may be unique to Japan. Results of the generalized linear model suggest that the Dark Triad components of Machiavellianism and psychopathy exacerbate lying behavior by reducing the guilt associated with lying. However, narcissism encourages guilt and therefore inhibits lying behavior with both direct and indirect effects. These narcissism findings appear to contradict prior studies but stem from use of a more appropriate statistical analysis or the Japanese context.
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A few prolific liars in Japan: Replication and
the effects of Dark Triad personality traits
Yasuhiro DaikuID
*, Kim B. Serota
, Timothy R. Levine
1Graduate School of Human Sciences, Osaka University, Suita, Osaka, Japan, 2Department of
Management and Marketing, Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan, United Statesof America,
3Department of Communication Studies, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama,
United States of America
Truth-Default Theory (TDT) predicts that across countries and cultures, a few people tell
most of the lies, while a majority of people lie less frequently than average. This prediction,
referred to as “a few prolific liars,” is tested in Japan. The study further investigated the
extent to which the Dark Triad personality traits predict the frequency of lying. University stu-
dents (N= 305) reported how many times they lied in the past 24 hours and answered per-
sonality questions. Results indicate that the few prolific liars pattern is evident in Japan
thereby advancing TDT. Results also show that Japanese frequent liars tend to have Dark
Triad personality traits, but the nature of the findings may be unique to Japan. Results of the
generalized linear model suggest that the Dark Triad components of Machiavellianism and
psychopathy exacerbate lying behavior by reducing the guilt associated with lying. However,
narcissism encourages guilt and therefore inhibits lying behavior with both direct and indirect
effects. These narcissism findings appear to contradict prior studies but stem from use of a
more appropriate statistical analysis or the Japanese context.
Most people lie at least once in a while, but how often people lie is frequently misunderstood.
For example, DePaulo et al. [1] used a daily diary method to investigate both the nature and
number of lies people tell. They found that college students told 1.96 lies and non-students
told 0.97 lies on average per day. Murai [2] replicated their findings in Japan, obtaining very
similar results. He asked undergraduate and graduate university students to record their lies
for a full week and found that male students told an average of 1.57 lies per day and that female
students told 1.96 lies. According to these averages, lying seems to be a ubiquitous, everyday
phenomenon, and this is just how these findings are often interpreted in the literature [3].
Truth-Default Theory [3,4], however, posits that the average is misleading in this case
because the distribution of lying in human populations is heavily positively skewed. A few pro-
lific liars cause the mean to depart from the median and mode. According to TDT, most peo-
ple lie infrequently and most lies are told by a few prolific liars, and this pattern is predicted to
PLOS ONE | April 15, 2021 1 / 13
Citation: Daiku Y, Serota KB, Levine TR (2021) A
few prolific liars in Japan: Replication and the
effects of Dark Triad personality traits. PLoS ONE
16(4): e0249815.
Editor: Peter Karl Jonason, Univeristy of Padova,
Received: November 20, 2020
Accepted: March 26, 2021
Published: April 15, 2021
Copyright: ©2021 Daiku et al. This is an open
access article distributed under the terms of the
Creative Commons Attribution License, which
permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided the original
author and source are credited.
Data Availability Statement: All relevant data are
within the manuscript and its Supporting
Information files.
Funding: This work was supported by JSPS
KAKENHI Grant Number 18J10661 and 20K22268.
Competing interests: The authors have declared
that no competing interests exist.
be universal across human cultures. Simply put, when it comes to how often people lie, most
people are not average.
TDT is a pan-cultural theory. TDT’s core presumptions concern human nature and are not
tied to any particular culture, religion, government, or social structure. According to TDT, the
prevalence and distribution of lying in communication are critical considerations because
prevalence rates have implications for the utility of the truth-default. Truth-default is the idea
that people passively and uncritically accept the content of incoming messages as honest and
truthful unless some trigger event prompts suspicion [35]. The truth-default is functional and
adaptive in a social world where deception is infrequent, but it is disadvantageous in environ-
ments and circumstances where deception is prevalent. Thus, the truth-default will only evolve
in social environments where deception has a low base-rate [6]. It follows that investigating lie
prevalence in various countries and cultures is theoretically important for advancing TDT
because all the propositions and modules, including the few prolific liar pattern, are specified
to be pan-cultural.
Finding infrequent lying is important to TDT because humans tend to believe others. Most
often people are in a truth-default state in which they passively believe others and where
thoughts about deception do not even come to mind. Even when suspicion is triggered, people
still tend to be truth-biased. Believing others through the truth-default and truth-bias is advan-
tageous if more people are honest (i.e., deception prevalence is low) [3,6].
Initial support for the few prolific liar prediction from TDT was reported by Serota et al. [7]
who surveyed a representative sample of 1,000 American adults, asking them to report how
many times they have told a lie in the past 24 hours. As predicted, the distribution of the fre-
quency of lies in a day was extremely skewed. The results indicated that 59.9% of participants
reported no lies in the past 24 hours, while 7.9% reported six or more lies. One-half of all
reported lies in the United States study were told by just 5.3% of the population. Seventy-five
percent of respondents reported lying less frequently than the average (mean). The study con-
cluded that “a few prolific liars” tell the majority of lies. The few prolific liars pattern of results
has been subsequently observed in other countries such as the United Kingdom [8], Korea [9],
the Netherlands [10,11], and Israel [12]. These findings all challenge the classic view of “every-
one lies every day” and support TDT.
The phenomenon of a few prolific liars appears to be broadly recurring and TDT’s predic-
tions are pan-cultural [3]. However, research has been conducted in only a few countries and
more data from other countries are needed to confirm its universality. Therefore, this study
aimed to replicate the findings in Japan. Since the Murai study [2] did not report the data dis-
tribution we opted to collect new data in order to test the prolific liar hypothesis.
Extending beyond TDT predictions, we additionally investigated the personalities of pro-
lific liars. TDT’s specification of a few prolific liars implies that there are individual differences
in the proclivity to lie. If this is the case, then this individual variation may be explainable in
terms of various personality traits and dimensions. Although numerous traits are associated
with individual differences in communication, the Dark Triad psychological traits seem espe-
cially relevant due to their “dark” nature. The Dark Triad refers to socially aversive personality
traits that include Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism [13]. Prior studies have
indicated that the Dark Triad personality traits lead to people telling more lies [11,14]. How-
ever, these studies may have not considered the distribution of lies during their analysis. For
example, Halevy et al. [11] simply calculated the Spearman’s Rho correlation between Dark
Triad and the frequency of lies. In our view, ignoring distribution characteristics sometimes
leads to misconceptions; therefore, we tested this assumption using a more robust statistical
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Besides Dark Triad, we wondered if other personality traits investigated by previous studies
might mediate the effects of personality (the Dark Triad) on lie frequency. For example, Halevy
et al. [11] indicated that prolific liars will be psychopathic people who presumably experience
less guilt. Their argument appears reasonable, considering Dark Triad is theoretically charac-
terized by lack of empathy [15] and empirically related toto feeling of guilt [16,17]. Also, as
Wright et al. [18,19] pointed out, acceptance of lies and ability to detect lies are associated
with ability to lie.
This study employs a generalized linear model (GLM), which is useful when a dependent
variable is not normally distributed. In this study, we investigated the personality traits of a
few prolific liars—including the Dark Triad—by using GLM while controlling other variables
to replicate the long-tail phenomenon of a few prolific liars.
This study was approved by the Osaka University’s School of Human Sciences’ ethics commit-
tee (HB300-07). All participants provided written consent on the survey page.
The initial sample included 340 undergraduate students (187 males, 153 females, M
19.61 ±3.33 years) at two Japanese universities. The first author called on university students
to voluntarily answer the survey after a colleague’s class. Only students who agreed to answer
participated in our study. Participants were excluded if they reported that they did not under-
stand the instructions of this survey (5 participants), or marked a wrong number on the DQS
(see below, 27 participants), or their first language was not Japanese (23 participants), or if
they reported over 10,000 lies in the past 24 hours (1 participant). Several participants violated
more than one of these criteria. After these exclusions, a total of 305 participants (174 males,
131 females, M
= 19.39 ±3.31 years) were included in the analyses. This sample size provided
statistical power of .94 to detect a zero-order correlation of r= .20 at p<.05.
The participants voluntarily answered our survey after their class. The survey included
three sections: a lying frequency questionnaire, personality trait measures, and demographics.
A confidence of response measure was also included.
The first section concerned lying frequency. These questions were a Japanese translated ver-
sion of the one used by Serota et al. [7]. We asked participants how many times they had lied
in the past 24 hours. Before reporting their lying frequency, they read the survey explanation
provided and were then asked whether they understood the goal of the survey. After indicating
their understanding, participants answered separately for lies to family members, friends, busi-
ness contacts, acquaintances, and total strangers. For each type of receiver, they were also
asked about lies in both face-to-face and mediated situations. If they answered 0 (no lies) in all
boxes, they were asked the additional question: “When was the last time you did tell a lie to
someone?” There were five answers from which to choose: “more than 24 hours ago but within
the last two days,” “more than two days ago but within the last week,” “more than a week ago
but within the last month,” “more than a month ago,” and “never.”
Linguistically, there are no big differences in meaning between the English “lie” and the
Japanese 「うそ」. There may be a slight difference in nuance; the English “lie” sounds more
negative, while Japanese 「うそ」 includes just joking. But, within this study, we used the
same instruction as the original study [7], in which we explained that we are interested in all
kinds of lies, and only those who understood the instruction participated the study. There
should be no effects due to the difference in language.
After the lying frequency questions, subjects were asked to complete the personality traits
section, including the Japanese version of the Dark Triad Dirty Dozen (DTDD) [20]. The
DTDD is a validated scale for measuring the three components of the Dark Triad with four
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five-point items [21]. Participants also answered three items from Serota and Levine’s [8] UK
study using a five-point scale: “Do you think there is such a thing as an acceptable lie?” indicat-
ing acceptance, “Do you ever feel guilty after telling a lie?” indicating feelings of guilt, and “Do
you think you can tell when people are lying to you?” indicating perceived detection ability.
We explored the potential effects of these three questions, although we did not have established
hypotheses about these concepts.
To exclude random and biased responses, the personality traits questionnaire also included
the directed questions scale (DQS) [22] and the Yanai et al. [23] lie scale. DQS is an item that
asks participants to mark a specific option (e.g., “Mark four at this item”). Participants who do
not read questions are likely to mark the wrong number. DQS was also set to preclude random
responses. The Yanai et al. lie scale examines to what degree participants try to make them-
selves socially desirable. The lie scale included three items with five-point answers extracted
from the Yanai et al.’s [23] 13-scale personality inventory (e.g., “I do not care about criticism
from other people at all”). In the analysis, we initially aimed to use the lie scale as a control var-
iable to suppress social desirability effects, but we excluded it from the analysis due to its
extremely low reliability (α= .29).
At the end of the survey, participants provided demographic information and indicated
confidence in the accuracy of their lie responses. Participants used a five-point scale to answer,
“How accurate do you think the number of lies you reported was?” This question was added to
confirm that the few prolific liars phenomenon is not merely an artifact of guessing as some
participants might not remember how many times they had lied in the past 24 hours. The aim
of this check was to investigate whether the phenomenon replicates even when we exclude
unsure participants’ answers.
The number of lies in the past 24 hours were calculated and graphed (see Fig 1). Prior studies
involving student samples generally report more lies on average than adult samples [1,7]. Con-
sistent with these higher rates, an average of 2.96 lies (SD = 9.50, Median = 1.00, Range: 0 to
150, Mode = 0) during the prior 24-hour period was reported. The mode was zero (37.4% of
participants reported that they did not lie in the past 24 hours), and 51.5% reported that they
told one to five lies. Only 11.1% reported six or more lies; but this group accounted for 59.3%
of total reported lies (536 out of 904 lies).
Of the 114 participants who reported no lies in the past 24 hours, 36.0% answered “more
than 24 hours ago but within the last two days,” 39.5% answered “more than two days ago but
within the last week,” 14.9% answered “more than a week ago but within the last month,” 7.9%
Fig 1. Total number of lies reported (all participants).
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answered “more than a month ago.” Only 1.8% answered “never.” Overall, 96.4% of total study
participants (including those who reported one or more lies in the past 24 hours) reported
lying in the preceding month, consistent with monthly rates observed in United States studies
After excluding the 153 low-confidence participants (i.e., participants who marked one or
two in the “confidence” question), the shape of the distribution was replicated (Fig 2). These
participants told 2.14 lies on average (SD = 4.64, Median = 1.00, Range: 0 to 37, Mode = 0).
Concerning the distribution, 45.4% of participants reported no lies in the past 24 hours, 47.4%
reported one to five lies, and only 7.2% reported six or more lies, which accounted for 47.2% of
the total reported lies (154 out of 326 lies). The distributions for the high-confidence and low-
confidence participants were highly correlated (r(20) = .91, p<.001 and r
= 0.82 for the raw
frequencies; r
= 0.89 for the power law trends fitted to the high- and low-confidence distribu-
tions; see Figs 2and 3). Both forms of results show that the “few prolific liars” distribution
observed elsewhere is also found in Japan. Since we observed very similar results regardless of
perceived confidence, we used the complete data set in the next analysis.
To examine the personality traits of prolific liars, we calculated the zero-order Pearson’s
correlations among the variables measured (above the diagonal in Table 1). The Dark Triad
measures had minimally sufficient reliability (Machiavellianism: α= .76; psychopathy: α= .56;
and narcissism: α= .77). The correlation analyses revealed that lying frequency was positively
correlated with psychopathy (r[305] = .14, p= .012) and marginally correlated with Machia-
vellianism (r[305] = .10, p= .087). For narcissism, however, there was no significant correla-
tion with lying frequency (r[305] = -.08, p= .168). In addition, guilt (r[305] = -.21, p<.001)
was negatively correlated while perceived detection ability (r[305] = .10, p= .087) had a mar-
ginal correlation with lying frequency.
Since the distribution of lying frequency was very skewed, we also calculated Spearman’s
rank correlations (below the diagonal in Table 1). The Spearman’s correlations of lying fre-
quency with other variables were different from the Pearson’s. For example, in the Spearman’s
correlations, Machiavellianism (r[305] = .21, p<.001) and narcissism (r[305] = .12, p= .043)
as well as psychopathy (r[305] = .14, p= .014) was positively correlated with lying frequency.
In addition, perceived detection ability did not have a significant correlation with lying fre-
quency (r[305] = .09, p= .105), while guilt (r[305] = -.19, p= .001) and acceptance (r[305] =
.11, p= .045) had significant correlations.
These difference between Pearson and Spearman’s correlations suggested that we need a
more sophisticated analysis that can accurately model the distribution of lying frequency.
Therefore, we conducted a hierarchical regression using the Generalized Linear Model,
Fig 2. Total number of lies reported by high-confidence participants.
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regarding lying frequency as count data. Since a Poisson regression caused an overdispersion
due to zero-inflation, we used a negative binomial regression. We placed control variables in
Step 1, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism in Step 2, acceptance in Step 3, ability
in Step 4, and guilt in Step 5 (Table 2). Table 2 also shows the means and standard deviations.
Based on the net increase of Cox and Snell’s pseudo R
, the composite Dark Triad measure
and guilt had greater influences compared with other variables. Moreover, only narcissism was
significant in Step 5, although all aspects of the Dark Triad had significant effects in Step 2.
This suggests that guilt mediated the effects of the Dark Triad, but narcissism by itself may
have direct effects when controlling for other variables.
To investigate the mediation effects in more detail, we conducted a generalized SEM (Fig 4)
by using Mplus (Version 7) [24]. This analysis assumed that the number of lies was subject to a
negative binomial distribution. We first estimated the direct effect of the Dark Triad (Machia-
vellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism simultaneously) on lying frequency. Then, we added
guilt as the mediating variable while retaining direct paths. Finally, we estimated indirect
effects and conducted Sobel tests [25] (see Table 3). The results showed that guilt mediated the
effect of the Dark Triad. Interestingly, narcissism had a positive effect on guilt, while
Fig 3. Total number of lies reported by low-confidence participants.
Table 1. Zero-order correlation between the variables.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1. Sex (Male) -.07 .10† .16�� .17.15�� .01 .08 -.15�� .08
2. Age -.04 .06 .00 -.04 -.01 .06 .10† .03 -.02
3. Confidence .10† .04 -.03 -.07 -.10† -.09 .09 .04 -.01
4. Machiavellianism .16�� -.01 -.04 .49��.32��.17�� .24�� -.29�� .10†
5. Psychopathy .16�� .00 -.09 .46��� .11† .15.10† -.27��.14
6. Narcissism .16�� .05 -.10† .31��.11† .10† .04 .07 -.08
7. Acceptance .03 .06 -.09 .23��� .15.14.08 -.18�� -.08
8. Ability .07 .03 .08 .23�� .09 .03 .05 -.05 .10†
9. Guilt -.16�� -.03 .04 -.28�� -.23�� .06 -.20�� -.02 -.21��
10. Lying. Freq. .04 -.12-.18�� .21�� . -.19��
Note: Entries above the diagonal are Pearson’s correlation coefficients, and below the diagonal are Spearman’s rank correlation coefficients.
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Machiavellianism and psychopathy had negative effects. Moreover, the direct effect of narcis-
sism remained (although marginally) while the direct effects of Machiavellianism and psy-
chopathy vanished.
The purpose of this study was to test the few prolific liars predictions in Japan and to examine
these prolific liars’ personality traits. Consistent with TDT predictions, the results documented
the existence of the few prolific liars pattern in the current sample of Japanese students. More-
over, the results demonstrate that people high in Machiavellianism and psychopathy reported
more lying, mediated by lowering guilt, while people high in narcissism reported less lying
through both direct and indirect paths. Although we cannot fully establish the causal relation-
ships with only this study, the results suggest that people high in Machiavellianism or psychop-
athy may be inclined to tell more lies due to reduced feelings of guilt and that people high in
Table 2. Results of the hierarchical negative binomial regression.
Step1 Step2 Step3 Step4 Step5 Mean (SD)
Intercept 1.561.632.30�� 1.783.43��
Sex (Male) 0.61��0.400.390.370.18
Age -0.03 -0.04 -0.03 -0.04 -0.04 19.39 (3.31)
Confidence -0.08 -0.18-0.20�� -0.20-0.19�� 2.84 (1.20)
Machiavellianism 0.280.310.23† 0.09 2.78 (0.87)
Psychopathy 0.290.25† 0.270.14 2.77 (0.77)
Narcissism -0.37��-0.35�� -0.32�� -0.213.43 (0.85)
Acceptance -0.17 -0.15 -0.15 4.41 (0.72)
Ability (1.01)
Guilt -0.33��3.28 (1.12)
θ.47 .55 .55 .57 .62
Cox & Snell R
.04 .14 .15 .16 .21
Note: θis the shape parameter of the negative binomial distribution.
Fig 4. Models of the generalized SEM for mediation effects.
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narcissism may tell fewer lies due to increased guilt. The reverse causal order alternative is that
the act of lying reduces guilt causing Machiavellianism scores to increase. While it is possible
that people who lie frequently come to experience less guilt over time, and as a consequence,
rate themselves as higher on Machiavellianism and psychopathy, this seems less plausible than
personality being the antecedent.
Consistent with prior studies, the distribution of self-reported lies is extremely skewed,
indicating the existence of a few prolific liars in our sample. The average lying frequency was
similar to that reported by prior studies, such as DePaulo et al. [1], Murai [2], and Serota and
Levine [8]. Most participants reported five or fewer lies in the past 24 hours and only a few
people reported six or more lies. Importantly, prior results demonstrate that the few prolific
liar phenomenon is not an artifact of the self-reporting methodology. Halevy et al. [11] showed
that the self-reported number of lies correlates with behavioral indices of dishonesty in a labo-
ratory and in our data, eliminating low-confidence participants does not change the overall
finding. Therefore, the self-reported results appear to represent a reliable index and the univer-
sality of the “few prolific liars” module of TDT.
TDT seeks to provide a pan-cultural account of human deceptive communication. Because
TDT predictions are not culturally bound, it is critical to test TDT in a variety of cultures.
Only by testing TDT in various countries can the robust nature of TDT’s predictions be ascer-
tained. Although TDT studies have previously been conducted in North America, South
America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, this research is the first to test TDT in Japan. The
current findings add to the cultural span of TDT by replicating effects documented elsewhere.
Investigating the personality traits of the prolific liars using GLM yielded a more complex
outcome than prior results. These results showed that Machiavellianism and psychopathy are
associated with more lying, similar to prior studies [11,14]. This suggests the two effects are
robust enough to endure more rigorous statistical analysis. In addition, this study revealed that
the effects are mediated by reduced feeling of guilt. Those high on Machiavellianism and psy-
chopathy are thought to have lower guilt than ordinal people do, and this lower inhibition con-
tributes to telling more lies.
These results, that the few prolific liars are Machiavellian and psychopathic people, may
shed light on the fundamental question, “why is the distribution so skewed?” from an evolu-
tionary perspective. Previous research found that people who have Dark Triad personality
traits take the fast life strategy characterized by short-term mating, selfishness, and other anti-
social manifestations [15,26] and that they account for only a small part of the entire popula-
tion [27]. Considering these findings, one possible explanation for the skewed distribution of
lying is that the few prolific liars are people who adopted the fast life strategy. In modern soci-
ety, the traits are seen as undesirable because most people do not adopt this strategy [28] but
Table 3. Results of indirect effects in the generalized SEM for mediation effects.
Est.SE 95%CI Z
Machiavellianism ×Guilt 0.12 0.04 0.04 0.20 2.98��
Psychopathy ×Guilt 0.08 0.04 0.01 0.15 2.20
Narcissism ×Guilt 0.08 0.03 -0.14 -0.02 -2.46
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prolific lying may help those who adopt the fast life strategy to survive and reproduce. This
evolutionary system may be the reason why we see the few prolific liars across cultures. This
hypothesis is speculative but warrants further investigation.
However, somewhat surprisingly, narcissism had a negative effect on the frequency of
lying. That is, results show people high in narcissism tell fewer lies. This result is contradic-
tory to prior studies, which may result from the choice of statistical analyses. Jonason et al.
[14] calculated the correlation coefficients and partial regression coefficients, finding a
slightly positive correlation between narcissism and the number of lies. Similarly, Zvi and
Elaad [12] found a positive relationship between narcissism and lying behavior. However,
without accounting for the extremely skewed distribution of lie frequency, calculating Pear-
son correlations may yield misleading results, especially Type I errors [29]. As this and
prior studies [7,8,11] indicated, approximately 40–60% of people asked about lying fre-
quency report no lies during any specific 24-hour period. Therefore, the distribution for
lying frequency will be positively skewed and substantial (Skewness >1.0 is considered sub-
stantial; for the Japan data Skewness = 12.67, SE of Skewness = 0.14). This inclination is not
only an extreme deviation from the assumption of normality, it is wholly unsuitable for cal-
culating Pearson’s correlations, which assume linear relationships between two variables. In
addition, just a few prolific liars might exorbitantly increase the correlation, as Pearson’s
correlation is very sensitive to outliers. For these reasons, Pearson’s correlations with lie fre-
quency may be unreliable when the skewed distribution is considered. Spearman’s rank cor-
relation suppresses the effect of outliers.
Moreover, we found the negative effect for narcissism (i.e., narcissists tell fewer lies) when
controlling Machiavellianism and psychopathy. While the zero-order correlations of narcis-
sism include the effects of Machiavellianism and psychopathy, the result of the negative bino-
mial regression partials out the effects of them when assessing the effect of narcissism. Thus, it
may be safe to say that the negative coefficient of narcissism is the pure effect of narcissism on
lying frequency. This may be the reason why we had the negative coefficient while we had a
positive correlation between lying frequency and narcissism in Spearman’s rank correlation.
This negative effect of narcissism on lying is interpretable from three perspectives. The first
is narcissism’s relative brightness. Narcissism is considered the least dark trait among the three
[30]. Narcissism has weaker relationships with anti-social behavior [15,31,32] and the ability
to lie [33] than do either Machiavellianism or psychopathy. Considering these findings, per-
haps it is not so surprising that narcissism had a different effect from Machiavellianism and
psychopathy in our study. Narcissism is characterized by entitlement, superiority, and domi-
nance [14]. The narcissist’s priority is keeping self-image positive, and frequent lying may hurt
self-image. If so, it may be a reason why those higher on narcissism tell fewer lies.
The second consideration is lying types. Our study did not classify lying types, so all kinds
of lies are included in the analysis. Narcissists are thought to tell lies mostly about themselves
to make a good impression on others. In fact, Jonason et al. [14] revealed that narcissism had
its strongest relationship with the number of self-gain lies. Future research might benefit by
classifying lie types as well as motives to lie.
The third possibility is cultural differences. Narcissism scores may differ across coun-
tries. Foster et al. [34] found that narcissism was higher in an individualistic culture than
in a collectivistic culture; the United States, especially, produced the highest levels of
reported narcissism. According to their study, Japan’s narcissism is predicted to be lower
than that of the United States. Moreover, Japan is thought to have a shame culture rather
than a guilt culture [35], suggesting that in Japan, social behavior might be determined by
feelings of shame rather than guilt. Replicating the current study in a western country
could facilitate a comparative cultural analysis.
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Further research on the subtypes of narcissism also might be useful for interpreting this
result. Narcissism can be divided into vulnerable narcissism—associated with introversion,
defensiveness, anxiety and vulnerability to life’s traumas—and grandiose narcissism—associ-
ated with extraversion, self-assurance, exhibitionism, and aggression [36]. Previous research
has revealed that grandiose narcissism is more strongly related to unethical behaviors than vul-
nerable narcissism [16]. The Dark Triad Dirty Dozen, which we used in the current study,
does not measure the two types separately. Consequently, there is a possibility that the DTDD
is primarily measuring vulnerable narcissism and that this form of narcissism, which is associ-
ated with a positive self-image, is more likely to inhibit lying.
The current study has three limitations to consider. First, our analysis did not control for
the frequency of social interaction. The Dark Triad personality traits are positively correlated
with extraversion among the Big Five personality traits [13]. Thus, an alternative explanation
for high lie frequency could be that prolific liars have more social interactions in a day rather
than having an anti-social personality. However, studies that have controlled for frequency of
interaction [1,37] found prolific liars even with a known rate of interaction. Future research
may resolve this point by controlling for interaction rate.
Second, the results of this study are based solely on lies reported by college students. To
improve the generalizability of the results, a study obtaining lie reports from a broader sample
could be conducted. Fortunately, research in other countries is informative about how student
samples are similar and different from more broadly representative samples. Research has doc-
umented the few prolific liars pattern (i.e., positive skew) in studies of both students and adult
samples [7,8,10]. The primary difference is that students tend to tell more lies on average. It is
reasonable to expect that we would find a similarly skewed distribution among Japanese adults
even though they may tell fewer lies, overall.
Third, the measurement of the Dark Triad used in this study may be insufficient. The Japa-
nese version of the DTDD has differences from the original English version (e.g., lower reli-
ability of psychopathy). The differences are most evident in Machiavellianism and
psychopathy, but due to the strict translation procedures they are not substantial. It appears
unlikely that the divergence for narcissism may have resulted from a translation problem.
Future research might examine other TDT propositions in Japan and other countries in
Asia. Truth-bias has been documented in Korea [6] and Murai [2] found that Japanese par-
ticipants reported (knowingly) receiving far few lies each day than they told. Both prior
findings are consistent with TDT’s applicability in Asian countries. Future research might
provide a more direct test of the truth-default using the method developed by Clare and
Levine [5] thus investigating if thoughts of deception come to mind unprompted. Given
known cultural differences (e.g., collectivism versus individualism; power distance), TDT’s
predications regarding pan-cultural deception motives and the projected motive model
also need to be tested across Asia.
Overall, this research clearly indicates the existence of a few prolific liars in a student sample
in Japan. As observed in other parts of the world, most Japanese people tell few or no lies on a
given day and a small number of people, prolific liars, tell the majority of lies. Additionally, the
study found that lying frequency increased with higher Machiavellianism and psychopathy
scores, and that these factors are mediated by feelings of guilt. Documenting the mediating
effects of guilt expands our knowledge about lying and its prediction. This mediating effect
suggests that people with certain personality traits such as Machiavellianism may feel less
guilty about lying and consequently have fewer inhibitions about lying. Practically, it may be
effective to activate people’s feelings of guilt to suppress lying in real world. We further
observed an unexpected effect of narcissism, which inhibited lying frequency. How narcissism
affects lying should be investigated further.
A few prolific liars in Japan
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Supporting information
S1 File.
S2 File.
Author Contributions
Conceptualization: Yasuhiro Daiku, Kim B. Serota, Timothy R. Levine.
Data curation: Yasuhiro Daiku.
Formal analysis: Yasuhiro Daiku, Kim B. Serota.
Funding acquisition: Yasuhiro Daiku.
Investigation: Yasuhiro Daiku.
Methodology: Yasuhiro Daiku, Kim B. Serota, Timothy R. Levine.
Project administration: Yasuhiro Daiku.
Resources: Yasuhiro Daiku, Kim B. Serota, Timothy R. Levine.
Software: Yasuhiro Daiku.
Supervision: Timothy R. Levine.
Validation: Kim B. Serota, Timothy R. Levine.
Visualization: Yasuhiro Daiku.
Writing – original draft: Yasuhiro Daiku, Kim B. Serota, Timothy R. Levine.
Writing – review & editing: Yasuhiro Daiku, Kim B. Serota, Timothy R. Levine.
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... Specifically, they both reported increased lie frequency and propensity to lie across contexts in all studies (e.g. Baughman et al., 2014;Daiku et al., 2021), compared to Narcissism, in case of which results are mixed. Baughman et al. (2014) also found that all individuals scoring high on all three DT dimensions reported positive emotions when lying and those scoring high on Narcissism and Machiavellianism shared the belief that others will believe their lies. ...
... In two studies, Narcissism was unrelated to the general propensity to lie (Azizli et al., 2016) and lie frequency (Daiku et al., 2021) while in another, it was associated with a willingness to lie in professional and academic contexts (Forsyth et al., 2021). One explanation in this regard may lie in their self-deceptive tendencies (Wright et al., 2015). ...
... In addition to their frequent use, they even report enjoying it. These are the "few prolific liars" (Daiku et al., 2021), mainly responsible for the most lies being reported. A possible explanation for the use of deception either for altruistic or self-serving purposes, might lay in an individual's personality structure. ...
People deceive for different reasons, from avoiding interpersonal conflicts to preserving, protecting, and nurturing interpersonal relationships, and to obtaining social status and power. A growing body of research highlights the role of personality in both deception detection and production, with a particular focus on high Dark Triad (DT) traits (Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy), for their shared tendency to engage in unethical self-benefitting behaviors, despite negative consequences for others. The main goal of the current scoping review was to bring together the studies investigating self-reported and performance-based deception production and detection performances, as presented in individuals characterized by high DT traits and point out the possible contribution of DT to deception research. To do so, we identified the relevant studies documenting the similarities and discrepancies between the three personality traits and presented their results, based on the procedure used for deception assessment: subjective or objective measurements for production / detection. Then, we discussed possible explanatory mechanisms for inter-individual differences in lie detection / production and argue for the contribution of DT to deception research beyond the typical personality models, particularly for the antisocial character of deception.
... First, in the 20 years between the time of the original data collection and now, several studies have pointed out the existence of "a few prolific liars" [3][4][5][6][7]. Since Murai's dataset [2] is a valuable one collected in everyday life by the diary method, it is worth revisiting to examine whether or not "a few prolific liars" exist in Asia. ...
... Since Murai's dataset [2] is a valuable one collected in everyday life by the diary method, it is worth revisiting to examine whether or not "a few prolific liars" exist in Asia. Although a couple of studies have examined this concept before [6,7], both were based upon the one-shot survey method. We feel that stronger evidence of "a few prolific liars" can be confirmed by the diary method. ...
Full-text available
Very little research has focused on the subject of lying in everyday life, despite the benefits such study would provide. In this paper, we reanalyze the data from Murai’s work in 2000, which examined the telling of lies and the perception of being lied to in daily life by using a diary method in which participants recorded events in a diary for a certain period of time as directed by the researcher. Our reanalysis led us to three key findings. First, we found one prolific liar in the data. This is relevant because previous deception studies have only discussed the existence of “a few prolific liars” in Asia through one-shot surveys, whereas we confirm it through the reanalysis of the data collected by the diary method. Second, we did not find any significant rank correlation between the number of lies told and the number of perceptions of lies, nor was there evidence of any “prolific lie perceivers”. Third, we found that the mean percentage of the subjective accuracy of recording was roughly 80%, which demonstrates the accuracy of the diary method. In this paper, we report our findings, discuss the limitations (in particular, the small sample size), and mention future research directions using the diary method in deception studies.
... Stockman (2017) observed the long-tail distribution in Belgium, and a re-examination of data reported by Zvi and Elaad (2018) found the same distribution among Israeli subjects. Most recently, the skewed lie distribution has been replicated in South Korea (Park et al., 2021) and Japan (Diaku et al., 2021). In studies of mediated communication, the skewed distribution of lie frequency has been reported in both general text messaging (Smith et al., 2014) and mobile dating situations (Markowitz & Hancock, 2018). ...
... The current findings align well with prior studies of lie prevalence (e.g., Debey et al., 2015;Diaku et al., 2021;Halevy et al., 2013;Markowitz & Hancock, 2018;Park et al., 2021;Serota et al., 2010;Serota & Levine, 2015;Smith et al., 2014), documenting the positive skew in lie behavior and showing that most people are generally honest. The current findings add confidence to prior conclusions showing that the findings of these prior studies extend beyond cross-sectional data. ...
Testing truth-default theory, individual-level variation in lie frequency was parsed from within-individual day-to-day variation (good/bad lie days) by examining 116,366 lies told by 632 participants over 91 days. As predicted and consistent with prior findings, the distribution was positively skewed. Most participants lied infrequently and most lies were told by a few prolific liars. Approximately three-quarters of participants were consistently low-frequency liars. Across participants, lying comprised 7% of total communication and almost 90% of all lies were little white lies. About 58% of the variance was explained by stable individual differences with approximately 42% of the variance attributable to within-person day-to-day variability. The data were consistent with both the existence of a few prolific liars and good/bad lie days.
... The current view about frequent lying is that not many people lie frequently, and most reported not lying in the previous 24 h ( Serota et al., 2010;Halevy et al., 2014;Serota and Levine, 2015;Daiku et al., 2021). For example, Serota et al. (2010) asked 1,000 adults to report the number of lies they told in 24 h. ...
Full-text available
Two studies examined gender differences in lying when the truth-telling bias prevailed (study 1) and when inspiring lying and disbelief (study 2). The first study used 156 community participants (91 women) in pairs. First, participants completed the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, the Lie- and Truth Ability Assessment Scale (LTAAS), and the Rational-Experiential Inventory. Then, they participated in a deception game where they performed as senders and receivers of true and false communications. Their goal was to retain as many points as possible according to a payoff matrix that specified the reward they would gain for any possible outcome. Results indicated that men lied more and were more successful lie-tellers than women. In addition, men believed the sender less than women but were not more successful detectors of lies and truths. Higher perceived lie-telling ability, narcissistic features, and experiential thinking style explained men’s performance. The second study used 100 volunteers (40 women) who underwent the same procedure. However, the payoff matrix encouraged lying and disbelieving. Results showed again that men lied more than women. As to performance, men were more successful lie detectors than women, but there was no truth detection difference. Women did not differ in their success in telling and detecting lies and truths. The inconsistent gender differences in production and detection lies and truths dictate caution in interpreting them.
... Many people do not lie at all during any given 24-hour period, and most of the lies are told by a few prolific liars. Serota et al.'s (2010) findings have been replicated several times by different sets of authors (e.g., Halevy et al., 2014;Markowitz & Hancock, 2018); with data collected in different countries (e.g., Daiku et al., 2021;Debey et al., 2015;Park et al., 2021;Serota & Levine, 2015), with student and representative adult samples (e.g., Serota et al., 2010), and with different media (e.g., Markowitz & Hancock, 2018;Smith et al., 2014). Importantly, self-reports of lie frequency have been behaviorally validated (Halevy et al., 2014). ...
Full-text available
Lie frequency and motives were examined from the perspectives of senders and receivers. Participants (N = 294) were randomly assigned to either report on recent lies they told or on lies told to them by others. Based on truth-default theory, it was predicted that the frequency of reports of own lies told would be positively skewed, that most lies would be told by a relatively few prolific liars, and that people would report similar reasons for lying and being lied to. A key question is, do receivers report receiving fewer lies than senders reported telling? The results show that lies reported by senders and receivers did not differ in frequency. Senders, however, consider their own lies to be less important, less wrongful, and less hurtful compared to lies received.
The purpose of this paper is to review recent research about the possibility that some people are more honest than others and about the causes of them being so. We tackle four big questions about consistency of honest behavior, the content and breadth of trait honesty, the mechanisms underlying trait honesty, and the measurement of trait honesty. Recent research reveals we are only at the beginning states of answering these questions about honesty. Invigorated research is needed to firmly resolve whether individuals differ in honesty and if so, integrate the determining mechanisms and develop strong measurements.
Prior work suggests those who lie prolifically tend to be younger and self-identify as male compared to those who engage in everyday lying, but little research has developed an understanding of prolific lying beyond demographics. Study 1 ( N = 775) replicated the prior demographic effects and assessed prolific lying through situation-level (e.g., opportunistic cheating) and individual-level characteristics (e.g., dispositional traits, general communication patterns) for white and big lies. For these two lie types, prolific lying associated with more opportunistic cheating, the use of fewer adjectives, and being high on psychopathy compared to everyday lying. Study 2 ( N = 1,022) replicated these results and observed a deception consensus effect reported in other studies: the more that people deceived, the more they believed that others deceived as well. This piece develops a deeper theoretical understanding of prolific lying for white and big lies, combining evidence of situational, dispositional, and communication characteristics.
The present study examined how narcissistic features, self-assessed lie- and truth-related abilities, and thinking processing style influence successful lying and convincing truth-telling. To this end, 100 undergraduate students completed the NPI, REI, and LTAAS questionnaires and drew two drawings each. They then presented to a panel of four fellow student judges, 0, 1, or 2 of their drawings together with other pictures, and tried to convince the panel that they had not drawn any of the drawings. Finally, judges reported whether they believed the presenter. Results showed positive correlations between narcissism, self-assessed lying ability, and self-reported rational thinking. Intuitive thinking predicted success in lie detection. The present results enrich our understanding of situational and personal factors involved in intuitive lie detection.
Full-text available
This novel research focuses on the relations amongst narcissistic features, self‐assessed communication abilities related to lies and truths, and reports about actual lying. One hundred twenty‐five participants rated their ability to succeed at telling lies, telling the truth convincingly, detecting lies, and believing others. The participants also completed the Narcissistic Personality Inventory and reported their weekly lying frequency using designated questions. Results indicated a positive link between narcissism and self‐ratings of the lie‐telling ability. High narcissistic scorers further exhibited confidence in their abilities to detect lies and to convince listeners using truthful communication. Finally, narcissism correlated with reports of telling frequent lies. Different narcissistic subscales correlated with telling different kinds of lies. The theoretical significance of the present results and their importance to the legal system were discussed.
Full-text available
Narcissists are described as individuals with dysfunctional personality traits such as lack of psychological awareness and empathy. Theories of ethical behaviour assume that unethical actions trigger moral emotions of guilt and shame. Currently, there is a lack of knowledge on moral emotions as dispositional traits and their potential influences on behaviour in individuals with narcissistic traits. The present study examined vulnerable and grandiose narcissism’s differences in the propensity to experience guilt and shame as a proneness, across a range of personal transgressions. Guilt proneness was measured by negative evaluation of unethical behaviour, and whether this evaluation could influence reparation of tendencies of unethical action in vulnerable and grandiose narcissism. Shame proneness was investigated by negative evaluation of the self, and then whether the previous tendency could affect unethical decision making and behaviour (e.g., hiding), in vulnerable and grandiose narcissism. Two hundred and sixteen participants responded to the Guilt and Shame Proneness Scale, the Narcissistic Personality Inventory Scale and the Hypersensitive Narcissism Scale in an online questionnaire. Findings indicate that grandiose narcissism was negatively associated with guilt proneness, and the relation between the vulnerable narcissism and guilt proneness was negative. Additionally, the results confirm a negative association between grandiose narcissism and shame proneness, especially related to the subscale ‘shame negative self-evaluation’. Furthermore, guilt and shame proneness explained 20% of the variance in vulnerable narcissism and 11% in grandiose narcissism. This research indicates that both vulnerable and grandiose narcissism have the tendency to make unethical decisions, and they are more likely to enact in unethical behaviour. These findings are relevant for the detection of narcissistic individual’s propensity to act unethically in social context.
Full-text available
The Dark Triad (DT) is a constellation of three socially undesirable personality traits: Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism. This study developed a Japanese version of the Dark Triad Dirty Dozen (DTDD-J) which used a self-report measure of the DT, and examined its reliability and validity. Undergraduate students (N=246) completed the DTDD-J, three measures of each DT personality trait, and the Big-Five Scale. Hierarchical confirmatory factor analysis indicated that the DTDD-J had three group factors corresponding to each DT personality trait, and one general factor of comprehensive DT. Internal consistencies of the DTDD-J were high, except for psychopathy. Concurrent validity and discriminant validity of the DTDD-J were almost consistent with previous research. Although there are remaining issues, the results generally support the reliability and validity of the DTDD-J.
The sub-clinical personality traits of narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and everyday sadism (i.e., the dark triad/tetrad) are known to predict subversive behaviours. Given increases in the prevalence of social media and internet use, and the growing knowledge about the negative consequences of their use, it is important to understand how these traits relate to online behaviours. We conducted a systematic review of the evidence for these relationships and found 26 studies which reveal these traits are related to trolling, cyber-aggression, cyber-loafing, sending unsolicited explicit images, the non-consensual dissemination of 'sexts', cyberbullying, problematic social media usage, problematic online gaming, problematic internet use, internet-use disorder, social media addiction, intimate partner cyberstalking, technology facilitated sexual violence, and technology facilitated infidelity. The review revealed evidence that psychopathy is the trait most strongly associated with these behaviours - Machiavellianism and everyday sadism were also consistently related to these behaviours, albeit to a lesser degree. Narcissism is the trait least consistently related to antisocial online behaviours.
The core idea of truth-default theory (T. R. Levine, 2014) is that when people cognitively process the content of others’ communication, they typically do so in a manner characterized by unquestioned, passive acceptance. Two deception detection experiments tested the existence of the truth-default by comparing prompted and unprompted evaluations of others. The first experiment involved viewing videotaped communication, and the second experiment involved live, face-to-face interactions. In both experiments, research confederates told the truth and lied about plausible and implausible autobiographical content. Participants completed both traditional, prompted, dichotomous truth-lie assessments and open-ended thought-listing measures. The order of the two types of measures was experimentally varied. The results supported the concept of a truth-default. Coded thought listings showed that, absent prior prompting, receivers mentioned consideration of the veracity of other’s communication less than 10% of the time.
Two experiments provided the first tests of the Park-Levine Probability Model in an intercultural context. The Park-Levine Model predicts a linear relationship between truth–lie base-rates in messages judged and the proportion of correct truth-lie judgments. Korean students watched and judged videotapes of American students denying that they cheated on a task. The proportion of honest and deceptive denials was experimentally varied to be predominantly honest, equally honest and deceptive, or predominantly deceptive. A second experiment clarified the results of the first experiment by providing a stronger base-rate manipulation. The data were consistent with the prediction that as proportion of judged messages is increasingly honest, there is a corresponding linear increase in accurate truth–lie discrimination. These results add to a growing number of findings showing the cross- and intercultural applicability of Truth-Default Theory.