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A new study identifies the world's biggest liars

If a new study is any indication, affluent North American households really need to double up on fire extinguishers.

There’s an epidemic of pants-on-fire BS.

That’s the conclusion researchers at University College London’s Institute of Education came to after conducting a survey 40,000 teens from around the world.

Specifically, they focused on 15-year-olds from nine English-speaking countries — and in a working paper, they pointed a finger at a very specific group:

“Boys are bigger bullshitters than girls, children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds tend to bullshit more than those from lower ones, and North Americans bullshit the most,” John Jerrim, lead author of the study, bluntly told The Guardian.

To reach that conclusion, scientists devised a BS calculator, with North American boys from privileged backgrounds standing atop the heap.

But before we point an accusatory finger at poor rich kids, let’s make sure researchers aren’t, in fact, BS’ing us. Especially with April Fools’ Day hanging over our heads.

In a press release, Jerrim explains that the 15-year-olds were given a list of 16 math concepts and asked how familiar they were with them. The responses were on a scale of “never heard of it” to “know it well, understand the concept.”

But the list also included three completely made-up concepts: proper numbers, subjective scaling and declarative functions.

Guess who most often pretended to “know them well”?

“We found that male participants were much more likely to bullshit about their knowledge of the fake constructs than their female counterparts,” Jerrim explains in the release. “This holds true for respondents from all nine countries, although the gender gap is significantly weaker in North America than Europe.”

A boy with his fingers crossed behind his back. Boys may be under more pressure to pretend they understand a concept — and they may stand a better chance of getting away with it. (Photo: Jeka/Shutterstock)

Respondents from Northern Ireland and Scotland, on the other hand, were more honest in their responses.

Why do certain groups make things up as they go along while others confess their ignorance? Jerrim suggests culture — “the positivity of North Americans and the supposedly dour nature of the Scots” — plays a role.

North Americans may like to paint a positive picture, facts notwithstanding, while Scots may prefer to tell it like it is.

As Carol Craig of the Glasgow-based Centre for Confidence and Well-Being once put it:

“America is a positive place because it’s an artificial population full of people with dreams and aspirations … We are the pessimists.”

What’s more, the researchers suggest, teens from affluent families may also be under additional pressure to feign competence, especially since they’re more likely to get away with it.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t buy a used car from a wealthy 15-year-old kid from Vermont. Everyone, at some point, traffics in BS.

The real question, Jerrim tells The Guardian, is how far in life it can take us.

“Everyone gets a question in a job interview that they cannot answer. If you’re an effective bullshitter, it might help you get your foot in the door,” he explains. “It might also help with academic grant proposals.”

That’s right kids. They may not teach you this in school, but a big factor in making friends and influencing people is the effective deployment of BS.

Seriously. We’re not pulling your leg. Honest.

A new study identifies the world’s biggest liars

Scientists devise a BS calculator to identify the world’s biggest liars.


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