Texting turns us into liars

A new study suggests the anonymity of digital conversation encourages deceit

Published September 10, 2013 7:28PM (EDT)

We already know that people will lie to us––especially if they're tired––but new research shows that the cozy confines of a text message makes folks prone to deceive us, too.

And here's the thing: You can tell––to a degree––if they're lying by how long they take to text you back.

That is according to a new joint study of more than a 100 students at two American universities who had conversations with computers that asked them 30 questions a person. The subjects were asked to lie in half their responses––and those deceitful texts took 10% longer to write and were edited more than the truthful messages. Seems that lying takes more cognitive effort.

(Statistical sticklers, take note: This is not quite enough of a sampling to be statistically significant; however, since the results are sensational, we're going to go ahead and write about them, though do take this with a grain of salt. Hey, at least we're not texting you this.)

The media is full of lies.

What's fascinating here is the way that our media shapes our behavior. Brigham Young University information systems professor Tom Meservy, who coauthored the study, says that digital conversations––like over chat, text, or email––are fertile for lying "because people can easily conceal their identity, and their messages often appear credible."

Add that to the fact that humans can only detect lies 54% of the time, he says.

Even more intriguing, the media we're using shapes the kind of truth telling––or lying––we're up to.

As we've noted before, "lean" media (like emails and texts) can easily offend people since they don't have the expressiveness of "rich" media (like a phone or video call)––so a quickly typed message, even if you mean well, can come off curtly.

But earlier studies have shown something more sinister: We're more likely to deceive people over lean media than rich media. The more anonymous we feel, the more likely we'll lie.

Hat tip: Gizmodo

[Image: Flickr user Marco Mayer]



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