The Impact of Communication Technology on Lying Behavior
Lying is a frequent, and sometimes necessary part of our lives. A study finds that 26% a person’s of overall daily interactions involved some sort of deception (1.6 lies/day on average).
But how does technology impact the number of lies we tell? Researchers asked 30 volunteers to record their daily interactions and lies told during the interactions.
Four modes of communication were investigated:
Phone: 37% of phone calls involved deception.
Face-to-Face: 27% of face-to-face conversations involved deception.
Instant Messaging: 21% of IM conversations involved deception.
Email: 14% of emails involved deception.
Two existing theories fail to explain the difference in lying frequency among technologies.
The Media Richness Theory says that people will lie more if the medium of communication is richer. However, the data contradicts this because lies during phone conversations occur more often than lies in face-to-face communication.
The Social Distance Hypothesis claims the opposite — people prefer to lie when the medium of communication is less rich. This is because it’s more difficult to detect, and because lying makes them nervous. However, this is also contradicted by the results since face-to-face lies occur more so than lies over email.
The paper presents an alternative theory — the amount of lying is affected by whether the medium of communication is asynchronous, recorded, or if the persons are in the same physical location. Phone conversations feature none of the above, so lying is most likely to occur. On the other hand, email is only distributed, so lies happen least frequently over email.
However, aren’t the functions of each medium somewhat different? Email is more likely to be used to make announcements or detailed plans. It would seem that this type of communication is unlikely to contain a lie. Instant messaging is often used for quick exchange of information and so there is also not a lot of room for lying there. The study also mentioned but didn’t take into account the difference in length of communication between mediums, which would likely skew the results. Hence, it would seem that the likelihood of lying is less discrete than suggested by the paper and instead influenced by a wide range of factors.
One other finding from the study is that lies were more likely to be premeditated when over email; this may be somewhat obvious since email is the only asynchronous form of communication investigated, giving the liar more time to perfect the lie.
Hancock, J. T., Thom-Santelli, J., & Ritchie, T. (2004). Deception and Design: The Impact of Communication Technology on Lying Behavior. Proceedings from CHI ’04: Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 129-134. [PDF]