A study conducted by David Xu, assistant professor at Wichita State University, and Karl Aquino and Ronald Cenfetelli, professors from the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, found that people are much more likely to lie in a text message than in any other form of audio/visual communication, according to a Feb. 1 USA Today article by Megan Gates.
The reason given was the lack of face to face contact between the two people communicating, contributing to the fact that people can plan text messages rather than concocting a cover story on the spot.
The results of the study were taken from a mock stock sale where the sellers were to intentionally lie to the buyers, according to the USA Today article. The sellers had insider information and their job was to dupe the buyer into buying bad stock over three different forms of telecommunication and an in-person meeting. Almost all buyers, 95 percent, reported lies from the text message category; the reports of sellers lying declined when it came to phone calls, video chat and in-person sales.
“Because of this anonymity there are little to no concerns with making a good appearance to the other party — which is the buyer in this setting — so they are more likely to violate the personal standpoint of honesty,” Xu said in the USA Today article.
Thomas Gould, associate professor of journalism and mass communication, said that the degree of anonymity offered by texting was a key factor in why people would try to get away with lying.
“Once, in the New Yorker, there was a great visual example of this,” Gould said. “It showed a dog sitting at a computer and the caption read, ‘On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.’ That degree of being faceless appeals to people running off and doing silly things.”
Richard Harris, professor of psychology, said that separation plays a key role in situations where outright lying occurs.
“Not being face to face, people would have fewer inhibitions about trying to get away with something,” Harris said. “If you don’t have to face them, it is less judgment over your nerve. You wouldn’t see their reactions and you become less accountable to the other person.”
This principle of removal from a situation seems to apply for people in situations akin to chat rooms, blogs and other forums. How does this same principle work between friends who communicate on the fly via text or social networks?
In the article about the study, Xu mentioned that participants were more upset over being lied to by text than from face to face interaction. Would it not make more sense for people to be angrier from being lied to in person?
Wei-Chun Chu, research associate in psychics, said that, to him, the results of this study make sense.
“I would be angrier if it was a lie told over a text message than something said to me in person. I usually treat something written down as being serious,” said Chu. “In text message, we are trying to communicate by saying everything in the most concise way possible, and to do that we have concise terms for saying things. That is unlike the situation when we are verbally communicating with others. Speaking face to face, people use terms much more softly.”
With this difference in how we communicate, we would also consider how we gauge people differently face to face. Chu said that when you are told a story, your reaction in each situation is noticeably different.
“If a friend told you something that sounded untrue or incorrect, your reaction would be disbelief and you would say that they must be joking to say something like that. You would give them the benefit of the doubt if they were wrong,” said Chu. “In a text message, you factor in that they took the time to contact you when you are not there with the likelihood of how much you think they are just wrong about what they said.”
More on the results of the study will be available when it is published in the March edition of the “Journal of Business Essays.”