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People May Lie More Often in Emails, Instant Messages

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Nov. 18 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that people are more likely to lie to strangers when they're communicating via email or instant messages rather than when they are talking face-to-face.

"It's not news that we lie. What's new is that we lie even more online," said study author Mattitiyahu Zimbler, a graduate student and senior researcher at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

In the study, the researchers recruited 220 undergraduate students and told them to converse with people of the same gender for 15 minutes, via email, instant message or face-to-face.

The participants introduced themselves to each other and researchers recorded their conversations. Then the researchers asked the participants to look at transcripts and note when they lied.

The researchers found that the participants averaged about 1.5 lies during each 15-minute period.

The lies tended to be minor, often matters of omission. One said, "I am short, credit-wise," instead of acknowledging the failing of classes. Some said they were doing "well" or "good" when that wasn't actually the case; one said "I wanted to be a waitress," when that wasn't true.

"People talking in email lied the most, people talking in instant messages lied the second most and those in face-to-face lied the least," Zimbler said.

When they figured out how often the participants lied based on how many words they spoke to each other, the researchers found that those talking via email lied about five times more than those speaking face-to-face; those speaking via instant message lied about three times more than those talking face-to-face.

"The farther away they were from the person they were communicating with, either physically or psychologically, the more apt they were to lie," Zimbler said, noting that the emailers, whose messages took the longest to get to their destination, lied the most.

Compared to in-person chats, "in email, you don't have to worry about your mannerisms giving anything away, so you could feel more free to lie about feelings," he said.

Dana Carney, an assistant professor of management at University of California, Berkeley, who studies lying, said it's easier to mislead via technology.

"When you're close to someone face-to-face, they're real to you and it's harder to do bad things, to lie to them," she said. "The more distance we have from someone, the more likely we are to make decisions in a cold, cognitive, rational way."

The study appeared in a recent issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

More information

To learn about the brain, the center of all lying, check Harvard University's Whole Brain Atlas.

SOURCES: Mattitiyahu Zimbler, senior researcher, University of Massachusetts-Amherst; Dana Carney, Ph.D., assistant professor, management, University of California, Berkeley; October 2011, Journal of Applied Social Psychology

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