Saint or Sinner?

  1. Saint or Sinnner?

 

This column originally appeared in The Observer magazine/Guardian online

 

We all like to think that, deep down, we’re basically good people. But are we? To find out if you’re a saint or a sinner, simply answer the following questions with “True” or “False”.

 

  • I have never made a comment that I knew would hurt somebody’s feelings
  • I am always polite, even when dealing with people who are being very annoying
  • Before voting, I always compare all of the candidates fairly, with an open mind
  • I have never pretended to be ill to get out of doing something
  • When someone else gets lucky, I am always pleased for them, and never jealous

 

If you answered “True” to all of the above, then you are a true saint.

matt-le-tissier-001

Gotcha! If you answered “True” to all of the above, then what this actually tells us is that you are probably a bit of a fibber. In fact, although most people answer “True” to two or three of these questions, even this is probably stretching the truth a bit (really, never? always?).

 

A problem facing psychologists is that, when given a questionnaire, most people will fib a bit in order to portray themselves in a favourable light. In order to counter this tendency, many psychologists sprinkle their questionnaires with questions like those above. If a particular respondent answers “True” to all of them, then the psychologist knows to take his or her other responses with a pinch of salt.

 

This tactic is controversial, with many psychologists arguing that it doesn’t in fact help us get a true picture of people’s responses. However, one recent study found that the more likely people were to fib on questionnaires such as that above, the more likely they were to deny having used illegal drugs. So watch out! When trying to figure out someone’s personality, the old adage applies: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

 

A fully referenced version of this article is available at benambridge.com. Order Psy-Q by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, £8.99) for £6.99 at bookshop.theguardian.com

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