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People more likely to lie when texting, study finds

December 20, 2011 |  1:16 pm

Text
A new paper to be published next year in the Journal of Business Ethics finds that people are more likely to lie via text compared to face-to-face communications, video conferencing or audio chat.

The paper is based on a study of 140 students that were grouped into pairs and asked to engage in a role-playing game. One student took on the role of a stockbroker, the other student played a buyer. Researchers told the "stockbroker" that the stock they had to sell would lose 50% of its value in one week. They also gave the "stockbroker" a financial incentive to sell as much of the bad stock to the "buyer" as possible.

Researchers found that the stockbrokers were most likely to engage in duplicitous behavior -- either lying about the quality of the stock, or not mentioning how bad it was -- if they conducted the buy/sell conversation via text message.

They were most likely to be honest about the quality of the stock if the conversation happened via video, which beat out both face-to-face communication and audio chat.

Lying via text makes intuitive sense. It's what researchers call "lean media," which means it doesn't effectively transfer the rich emotional cues that might alert someone to duplicitous behavior. You can't stutter over text, or twist your hands nervously, or dart your eyes.

But researchers did find something that surprised them. When they asked buyers how angry they were that the stockbroker had lied to them, the researchers found buyers were more furious if they had been lied to via text than if they had been lied to in a face-to-face conversation.

"That was a big surprise to us," said Ronald Cenfetelli, a professor at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, who co-authored the paper.

"What we speculated was going on is there is some instant rapport-building, and some quick trust that happens when you talk to someone face to face, and it acts as a buffer and an inoculation -- almost like a vaccine -- against negative reactions. People are still angry or upset if they are lied to face to face, but when they are lied to in the leaner communications, they are more angry."

What's the takeaway here? If you are running late and considering texting your dinner date "I'm almost there" when you are actually 20 minutes away, you may want to relay the message in a phone call instead. The person may still be mad, but according to this research, they will at least be less mad.

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-- Deborah Netburn

Image: A person holding a phone, and texting, while driving. Credit Pat Wellenbach/Associated Press

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