Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2008


Despite its aversive label, deception is an extremely common social behavior that the average person performs on a daily basis (Camden, Motley, & Wilson, 1984; DePaulo, Kashy, Kirkendol, Wyer, & Epstein, 1996; Turner, Edgley, & Omstead, 1975). In fact, the use of white lies is so widespread they are often viewed as a form of communication competency that is necessary to successfully negotiate social interactions (Camden et al, 1984; Di Battista, 1994; Knapp & Comedena, 1975; Knapp, Hart, & Dennis, 1974). This study aimed to explore how college students perceive white lies and differentiate them from other types of lies using in-depth interview and focus group data. Participants' evaluations of deception indicate three main types of lies: real lies, white lies, and gray lies. In order to differentiate between the three types of lies participants reported considering the intention, consequences, truthfulness, acceptability, and beneficiary of the lies. It was concluded that participants' perceived real lies as being unacceptable, malicious, self-serving, complete fabrications of the truth that held serious consequences. White lies were perceived as altruistic lies that were trivial, partially true, lacking malicious motives, and generally acceptable to use. Gray lies were said to consist of lies that were ambiguous in nature or held the characteristics of a real lie yet were still viewed as justifiable given the circumstance. These results, their practical and theoretical implications, and areas for future research are discussed.


Southern Illinois University

Publication Information

Kaleidoscope: A Graduate Journal of Qualitative Communication Research