Eighteen hours ago, I gave a presentation at the national convention of the American Psychological Association here in Washington DC. It was on the results from the newest study from my Science of Honesty project with co-author Lijuan Wang. She too is a professor at the University of Notre Dame.
The design of the study, which we just finished last week, was simple. Seventy-two healthy adults (average age of 41 years) were recruited through newspapers in the South Bend community. They were randomly assigned to two groups: a Sincerity group and a Control group. Both groups came to my laboratory at the University of Notre Dame every week for 5 weeks to complete polygraph tests and anonymous health measures. Whereas the Control group was told nothing of the following, the Sincerity group was told:
"Throughout every day of the next 5 weeks, you must speak honestly, truthfully, and sincerely -- not only about the big things, but also about the small things, such as why you were late. You must always mean what you say in situations where your statements are to be taken seriously, as opposed to when joking or obviously exaggerating. While you certainly can choose not to answer questions, you must always mean what you say.”
What was so amazing is that in the 5th and final week, the Sincerity group reported significantly fewer physical health complaints than did the Control group. Specifically, they had experienced 7 fewer symptoms such as sore throats, headaches, nausea that week. Because the only difference between the two groups was the sincerity instructions, we can conclude that these instructions actually caused the health benefit.
Ever since the fall, I too have been following these instructions. Normally get 8 hours of sleep and have 5-7 colds in a winter. Now at only 3 hours of sleep, I have been sick zero times since the fall. Thus, I could not hold off on telling you about the results. The impact is so compelling that I urge you to try it.
It might not be easy to “always mean what you say”. You might find that you have to go back and correct some of the things that pop out of your mouth. But don’t let that discourage you. Being sincere is a process. You will get there with some practice. And when you do, you will see that you are becoming more humble, more open to learning, and less sensitive to rejection. Being sincere brings you closer to the decent people you know, pushes away the nay sayers, and allows you to feel a certain hopefulness about the world. To the extent that you experience these, I believe you too will have profound health benefits. You are more than welcome to post your progress in the comments here. I would love to read them; and I believe it will help inspire other readers to stay the course with you.