Study: People Lie More Over Text Messages

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Text-message lovers beware: People are more likely to lie to you via text messaging compared to other forms of communication, a new study suggests.

In the study, 170 students at the University of British Columbia engaged in mock stock transactions face-to-face, or over video, audio or text chatting. The researchers told students who took on the role of “broker” that their cash rewards would depend on how many stocks they sold to the student “buyers.” Buyers, on the other hand, would receive a cash reward based on the yet-to-be-determined value of the stock they bought.

At the start of the role-play, the researchers told the brokers that the stocks they sold were rigged to lose half of their value, but they only informed the buyers of this fact after the transactions were completed. They then asked the buyers to report if the brokers were deceitful in their attempts to sell the stock.

As it turned out, buyers reported being deceived over text more often than the other forms of communication. Perhaps surprisingly, brokers were most truthful about the quality of the stock if they were selling it over video chat, surpassing even face-to-face transactions.

“Our results confirm that the more anonymous the technology allows a person to be in a communications exchange, the more likely they are to become morally lax,” Karl Aquino, a business professor at the University of British Columbia and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

Communicating over text doesn’t allow a person to convey emotional cues that would alert someone of duplicitous behavior, while video chatting, the researchers suggest, produces a so-called “spotlight” effect — it increases a person’s awareness of being scrutinized, effectively suppressing the inclination to be dishonest.

The researchers see practical implications from the study’s results. For example, the researchers said that people shopping on websites such as eBay should speak with sellers over video to make sure that they are getting the most accurate and honest information about a product they are looking to purchase.

The study will be published in the March 2012 edition of the Journal of Business Ethics.

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