We do things to impress others - hype our achievements, downplay our faults, even fib on surveys, says a new study by an Indian-American researcher.
Ashok K. Lalwani, assistant professor of marketing, University of Texas, San Antonio (UTSA), sheds light on why we lie about ourselves in surveys and what, if anything, can be done about it.
"The tendency of people to portray themselves in a more favourable light than their thoughts or actions, called socially desirable responding, is a problem that affects the validity of statistics and surveys worldwide," writes Lalwani.
When asked about their own behaviour in relation to materialism, compulsive buying, drug and alcohol addiction, cigarette smoking, shoplifting, gambling, prostitution, and intolerant attitudes, people tend to answer in a less than honest manner.
The research teased out two separate forms of "socially desirable responding" and found that people's cultural orientations lead them to different forms.
"For example, people from cultures that have a "collectivist orientation" (China, Korea, India, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan) are more likely to engage in impression management," he said.
Impression management is "a conscious, active and deliberate attempt to fake good behaviour in front of a real or imagined audience", writes Lalwani. That need to give the "right" answer can be reduced by keeping survey participants "cognitively busy" by playing background music during surveys, he found.
Conversely, consumers with an individualist cultural orientation (US, Canada, France, Britain, Australia, Germany) are more likely to engage in self-enhancement, which is "a spontaneous tendency to present an internalised, unrealistically positive view of the self".
This behaviour is so unconscious that there is little that can be done to curtail it, said an UTSA release.
Lalwani did his B. Tech from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), New Delhi in 1994 and M.S. in marketing, University of Florida, 2002, Ph.D. in business administration (marketing), University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2006.
He has also been listed in Who's Who in the World, 2007, 2008 and Who's Who in America, 2007, 2008, 2009.
These findings were published in the Journal of Consumer Research.