Better at English

Better at English

051 – The good, the bad, and the flat-out liars. Real English Conversation

September 21, 2020

Imagine if you will, the following scenario. You’ve volunteered to take part in a psychology study, say, at your university. All you have to do is show up to the lab, sit by yourself in a little booth and play a very simple game of chance, something like flipping a coin, where there's no skill involved, only luck. You get paid one dollar just for showing up, that’s guaranteed. And if you’re lucky and win the game, you’ll get paid 5 dollars cash. But if you lose, you get nothing.

Here’s the kicker: it's up to you to tell the researchers if you won or lost, they won't be able to tell.

So there are three possible outcomes: you can win and get 5 dollars, you can lose and get nothing, can lose, but lie and still get the 5 dollars. And nobody will know. What would you do? What do you think other people would do?

As it happens, a recent study just looked at this, and there was a cunning little twist: those crafty researchers actually DID know if people won or lost. So they also knew if people told the truth about it or if they lied.

The study, called "Cheaters, Liars, or Both? A New Classification of Dishonesty Profiles" is absolutely fascinating. And today you'll hear a conversation ‒ in American English – with some people discussing it. The conversation is from one of my favorite podcasts, The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. It's a podcast featuring smart people having interesting discussions about science, technology, and critical thinking. If you are at all interested in those topics, I highly recommend it for your English listening practice. This is definitely a show that will make you smarter, and will teach you lots of vocabulary. The episodes don't always have transcripts, but I've transcribed the part you're going to hear today and put it in the show notes, which you can find at

You know, if you like, you can turn this episode into a more challenging task for yourself. In the show notes you'll also find a link to a New York Times article about the study. In the conversation you'll hear a woman summarizing this same article to her friends. So before you continue listening, you can hit pause and go read the article yourself. Then imagine how you might summarize it for friend and what you might discuss. What language would you use? What vocabulary would you need? Spend a few moments imagining how you might talk about it with a group of friends. Then listen to the rest of this podcast and compare your ideas with what you hear in the conversation.

All right, let's get to it. You'll hear a woman named Cara doing most of the talking. She explains the study's findings to her friends Steve, Bob, Jay, and Evan. They they all discuss what they make of it. Are you ready? Let's go:

Get the full transcript here

Steve: All right, Cara, you're gonna tell us about the psychology of lying and cheating.

Cara: Right! So this is a field of psychological inquiry that goes back basically to the beginning of experimental psychology, right? Psychologists, psychologists have always been interested in deception. So a new paper said, OK, well, we want to do is we want to see if we can sort of beef up and retest some old concepts in the kind of construct of lying, cheating deception, but we want to go beyond that. And we want to say, Okay, this is not an all or nothing phenomenon, right? Like, you could say, That person's a liar, or that person lied, or that person's a cheater, that person's dishonest, but there are shades of grey, aren't there?

Steve: Mm hmm.

Evan: Of course, of course.

Bob: Yeah, absolutely. Little white lies.

Cara: Totally. There lies that actually help us.

Bob: There are lies that actually get people killed.

Cara: Yep.