In a recent episode of Radiolab, they discussed the topic of deception and at the 48:51 minutes mark, they referred to work by two psychologists about how people lie to themselves by compartmentalizing two contradictory beliefs in their minds and allowing only one into consciousness. They mentioned the work of Harold Sackeim and Ruben Gur who had developed a list of 20 questions that they would ask people to respond on a 1-7 scale with 1 being ‘not at al;’ and 7 being ‘very much so’.
I tracked down the 20 questions and give them below.
- Have you ever felt hatred toward either of your parents?
- Do you ever feel guilty?
- Does every attractive person of the opposite sex turn you on?
- Have you ever felt like you wanted to kill somebody?
- Do you ever get angry?
- Do you ever have thoughts that you don’t want other people to know that you have?
- Do you ever feel attracted to people of the same sex?
- Have you ever made a fool of yourself?
- Are there things in your life that make you feel unhappy?
- Is it important to you that other people think highly of you?
- Would you like to know what other people think of you?
- Were your parents ever mean to you?
- Do you have any bad memories?
- Have you ever thought that your parents hated you?
- Do you have sexual fantasies?
- Have you ever been uncertain as to whether or not you are homosexual?
- Have you ever doubted your sexual adequacy?
- Have you ever enjoyed your bowel movements?
- Have you ever wanted to rape or be raped by someone?
- Have you ever thought of committing suicide in order to get back at someone?
(Gur and Sackeim’s original papers were in the Journal of Personality Social Psychology, vol. 37, no. 2, February 1979, p. 147-169 and Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, vol. 47, No. 1, 1979, 213-215.)
They claimed that these feelings are universal and that everyone agrees with them and should answer high on the scale. Thus people who answered low were people who were lying, though perhaps not consciously so, because to agree to at least some of them (say the one about rape) would be embarrassing for most people. Apparently this questionnaire is used widely to identify people who lie to themselves and use that to measure the effects that such lying has on other factors. Researchers find that the self-deceivers seem to do better at certain types of tasks because they convince themselves that they can achieve more, and they are even happier while more realistic people are more depressed than others.
While it is plausible that most people might have experienced most of those feelings, what I could not find was how they knew that all these feelings were universal and that anyone who denied them was lying, at least to themselves. As far as I can tell, they were guessing. But maybe there was other research that I am not aware of.