Texting ups truthfulness, iPhone study finds

If you want someone to tell you the truth, get them to text you rather than speaking face-to-face. Surprisingly, researchers have found it’s a much better way of getting people to communicate candidly.

“This is sort of surprising,” says Fred Conrad of the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR), “since many people thought that texting would decrease the likelihood of disclosing sensitive information because it creates a persistent, visual record of questions and answers that others might see on your phone and in the cloud.”

With text, the researchers also found that people were less likely to engage in ‘satisficing’ – a survey industry term referring to the common practice of giving good enough, easy answers, such rounding to multiples of 10 in numerical responses.

“We believe people give more precise answers via texting because there’s just not the time pressure in a largely asynchronous mode like text that there is in phone interviews,” says Conrad. “As a result, respondents are able to take longer to arrive at more accurate answers.”

“We’re in the early stages of analyzing our findings. But so far, it seems that texting may reduce some respondents’ tendency to shade the truth or to present themselves in the best possible light in an interview – even when they know it’s a human interviewer they are communicating with via text. ” says psychology professor Michael Schober.

“What we cannot yet be sure of is who is most likely to be disclosive in text. Is it different for frequent texters, or generational, for example?”

The researchers found that people answered questions such as how often they exercised or how much they drank more honestly via text. They also gave more precise answers to numerical questions such as how many movies they watched.

“This is the case even though people are more likely to be multitasking – shopping or walking, for example – when they’re answering questions by text than when they’re being interviewed by voice,” say the researchers.