100 Things You Should Know About People: #86 — How Much People Lie Depends On The Medium

Woman Talking On Phone

There are many ways to communicate: paper and pen, emails, face to face, telephone, instant message. Some researchers have been interested in whether there are differences in how honest we are based on the medium.

92% of the graduate students lied — Charles Naquin from DePaul University and his colleagues have conducted research on how honest people are when they communicate with emails vs. pen and paper. In one study, forty-eight graduate business students were given $89 (imaginary money), and had to decide whether to tell their partner how much money was in the “kiddy”, as well as how much of the money to share with their partner. One group communicated by email and the other group by writing on pen and paper. The group that wrote emails lied about the amount of money (92%) more than the group that was writing by hand (63%). The email group was also less fair about sharing the money. In addition, participants in the email group felt justified in not being honest or fair.

Managers lie too — Lest you think only the students would lie, Naquin and team performed additional studies with managers. One hundred and seventy-seven managers played a group financial game. Participants were assigned to teams of three. Each member of the team had a chance to play the role of a manager of a project team who was allocating money for projects. They played with real money, and they were told that the amount of money that was available would be revealed after the game. Some participants were told to communicate via email and others with paper and pen. The managers who communicated via email lied more, and kept more money for themselves, compared to the managers who communicated with paper and pen.

People lie most on the telephone — At this point you might be thinking that emails are the worst in terms of lying. They are not. Hancock (2004) conducted a diary study. Using self-reporting, participants admitted to lying most on the phone, and least in email, with face-to-face and instant messaging interactions equal and in the middle of the other techniques.

What do you think? Are you aware of lying in different amounts depending on the medium?

If you want to read the research:

Hancock, Jeffrey T., Currya, L.E., Goorhaa, S., & Woodworth, M. (2008). On lying and being lied to: A linguistic analysis of deception in computer-mediated communication. www.informaworld.com, 45(1), 1-23.

Naquin, C.E., Kurtzberg, T.R. & Belkin, L.Y. (2010). The finer points of lying online: e-mail versus pen and paper. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(2), 387-394.



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One Reply to “100 Things You Should Know About People: #86 — How Much People Lie Depends On The Medium”

  1. I find it amusing that no one wants to comment on telling lies.

    The e-mail thing is interesting because it is treated as a slap dash means of communicating in the first place. The web is a virtual reality and no one takes it as seriously they do a material reality (hard copy).

    We tend to think that our e-mail conversations are private, but the hard copy is published and real.

    And yet, look at all the people that have been found out by having their e-mail correspondence revealed. It seems that there is a lot of truth telling in those e-mails that were never mentioned elsewhere nor suspected of being published.

    There is the expression – “If it wasn’t written down, it didn’t happen.” So talking on the phone is an easy choice for lying your face off.

    If we ever thought that our words would be held up to scrutiny we would spend more time to be precise, or we would say less. Is saying less also a way to lie?

    Call me and we’ll talk about it :)

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