Director: Yael Melamede/2015

Street Date: January 24, 2017/Kino Lorber

(Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies is a compelling documentary that looks at why we lie, under what conditions, and to what effect. Duke University Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics Dan Ariely, a popular researcher and TED Talk speaker, hosts this look at the lies we tell.

What makes this compelling is that we get inside looks of Dan, and his fellow researchers at Princeton, Harvard, Duke, and others, conducting compelling research.  The main experiment that is conducted and altered throughout the program involves a test where individuals are to match numbers that add up to a certain sum.  They are given very little time to take the test and simply asked at the end, how many problems they correctly answered.  They do not need to show the proctors their test, simply tell them before shredding the test in the shredder.  Unbeknownst to them, the shredder has been altered and only shreds the outside edge of the test paper, leaving their actual test papers intact.  Researchers can then calculate the actual scores and measure it against the responses of the test-takers as to how many problems they successfully answered.

(Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies is a compelling film that is at once entertaining because it is something that is part of our common human experience.

Intermingled with these types of tests and portions of Dan Ariely’s public talks are compelling interviews from various individuals, some famous and some not, and how they began their path down telling lies.  These include a housewife who finds herself involved with the Ashley Madison website, lying to her husband about the extra-marital affairs she is having, to an interview with Ashley Madison founder, and former CEO, Noel Biderman on what makes a site like his so successful despite undermining well-established sacred pillars of society like marriage.

One compelling interview features Tim Donaghy, the former NBA referee who was convicted for betting on games in which he was officiating.  Though claiming to have been a “by-the-rules” kind of guy, we see the slow shifting moral compromises he began to make in order to begin laying the foundation for the lies that would eventually be the seeds of his downfall, including exposing him to the wrath of the mob.

Lesser known individuals recount their tales of lying for “good” reasons, such as the mother who lied about living at her father’s address so that she could use his address to enroll her kids in a better school.  One individual lied by doping as a professional cyclist in order to better compete with the other athletes in the sport.

Through it all, Dan Ariely, breaks down the different types of lies, what makes us susceptible to telling them, and the effect it has on our lives.  Most compelling is the look at the brain chemistry, and how we can establish patterns of lying due to the immediate “high” we get the first time or two, but how further lies begin to be rationalized by the brain as the default position, despite getting decreasing pleasure each time we lie.  Eventually, we are lying, and receiving little positive pleasure from it, as was evident in the beginning.

Finally, the film shows a school in India where school supplies can be bought on the honor system.  At first, students just take what they need or want without paying, but then certain conditions are introduced that have an effect on lying and it causes the students to become more truthful.  The same goes for those who are asked to lie after writing down all of the “10 Commandments” that they can remember from memory.  Afterwards, lying does not happen in these controlled experiments.  The same is true in an academic setting with students repeating an honor code, or in Princeton’s case, an “awful song”, as Dan Ariely describes it.

(Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies is a compelling film that is at once entertaining because it is something that is part of our common human experience.  We all do it.  Understanding why and how to curb this distructive behavior becomes a fascinating journey of discovery in the hands of a professor as engaging as Dan Ariely.

The DVD release features a number of interviews, including one with Sen. John McCain, that were left out of the final film, but make for compelling vignettes to supplement the documentary.  There is also a trailer, and some sound options.