Online chat boosts lying, say researchers

People are more likely to lie when communicating electronically, and email generates more fibs than instant messaging.

University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers looked at 110 same-sex pairs of college students who engaged in 15 minute conversations either face-to-face, using email or using instant messaging.

The team found some degree of deception present in all three forms of communication – well, we’re all human – but say it increased significantly for text messaging and, in particular, email.

“Ultimately, the findings show how easy it is to lie when online, and that we are more likely to be the recipient of deceptive statements in online communication than when interacting with others face-to-face,” say professor Robert S Feldman and graduate student Mattityahu Zimbler.

The explanation, they say, is deindividualization. As people grow psychologically and physically further from the person they are in communication with, there’s a higher likelihood of lying.

Another factor is that email communication has the added component of being asynchronous – in other words, not as connected in real time as instant messaging or face-to-face conversation.

“In exploring the practical implications of this research, the results indicate that the internet allows people to feel more free, psychologically speaking, to use deception, at least when meeting new people,” Feldman and Zimbler say.

“Given the public attention to incidents of internet predation, this research suggests that the deindividualization created by communicating from behind a computer screen may facilitate the process of portraying a disingenuous self.”